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    First Published: October 2002
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.

With a world on the brink of war, OutUK's Adrian Gillan talks to gay Arabs and Iraqis about being gay in an Arab state and what it's like for our lads in Baghdad. Is Saddam serious about killing queers and is his regime any worse than other Arab governments?

"I've always been discreet," 28 year old gay Iraqi Zoo from Baghdad tells OutUK nervously, against a backdrop of war-mongering and in the wake of Amnesty's recent reports of Saddam's death threat against queers.

"Being gay is not acceptable anywhere in the Arab world, not just Iraq. Arabs are still very conservative and that'll take decades to change - if ever."

"However," he continues, "there is little official reaction to homosexuality in Iraq so far as I know and I was unaware of any law pertaining to anything gay. If Saddam has indeed threatened death for homosexual behaviour, then I do not think it will be enforced."

"To be honest, I haven't witnessed or even heard about much overt gay abuse in Iraq," explains Zoo of a complex, repressive social landscape where people turn blind eyes or are more likely to use such homophobic edicts as a weapon against political opponents, rather than to target queers.

So though it's hardly a homo haven and no one wants a death threat hanging over them, Iraq probably isn't the all-out homo hell some might like to paint, and is certainly no where near as fearful as many other Arab states like Saudi Arabia.

"In fact, there is even a place I know of in the heart of Baghdad," says Zoo, though keen not to disclose too much and put others at risk. "You can't really call it a cruising ground. It's just a very public area where you find all kinds of hotels and businesses. If you walk around and look, chances are someone will soon look back."

No need to drop a bomb on Saddam then?

"I don't like Saddam and neither do most Iraqis," claims Zoo, "but I think any attack on any country is an outright disaster because the only victims of war are the ordinary people. And this view has nothing to do with my sexuality. Nobody can predict whether or how the regime will change but even if it does, Iraq won't turn into a paradise overnight - not for anyone."

"Actually," agrees Sahib who runs global online community GayArab, "I would certainly say Iraq is no worse than other Arab countries. Since the Gulf War, the Iraqi civilian population is rarely allowed internet access but of the few gay Iraqis I've encountered, none have mentioned anything about abuse."

"There are though surely no 'gay human rights' in the Arab World," he continues. "Gays are treated from good to bad depending on the situation and what country they are in at the time. Some Arab states are more lenient than others with less chance of social abuse, or punishment by law, if found out."

So what is it to be Arab? And how grounded is Arab homophobia in fundamentalist Islam?

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