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Baghdad's Emo Killings

Punk, Goth and Emo Teens Targeted for Death in Iraq

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Baghdad's Emo Killings

Baghdad, where punk and emo teens are murder targets

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Before I made my way to Detroit, I weathered my teenage years in a pretty small town, where being a punk rock kid was pretty uncomfortable. The scene was all but nonexistent, reserved to a half dozen kids that had to drive to another city for shows or record stores, and the murals we boldly displayed on the backs of our leather jackets may have as well been bulls-eyes that presented us as targets for the occasional bully, sucker punch or derisive comment.

As uncomfortable as all that was, we were a close knit crew, believing that we were fighting the good fight by expressing our rebellious spirit and being who we wanted to be. And while physical violence wasn't altogether unheard of, and was more common than anyone would have liked, it's not like we lived in fear of our lives.

In that, we were lucky.

We could have been in Iraq.

There, various sources are now reporting that Iraqi teens in Baghdad are being stoned to death for the brash crime of being punk rock, embracing Western styles and sporting emo, punk or goth fashions and haircuts. Reuters has listed a death toll of at least 14, while other sources are listing a count of at least 100. No matter the actual number, the fact is that punk rock teens are falling prey to roving bands who have been beating and stoning them to death. Reuters is also reporting that leaflets are also being distributed through Baghdad neighborhoods listing teens who are being targeted.

And while the Iraqi government isn't going so far as condoning these killings, it's supporting the mentality behind it. The Egypt-based Al Akhbar newspaper has cited statements from the Iraqi interior ministry giving permission for religious police to target emo kids, reading in part:

The ‘Emo phenomenon’ or devil worshiping is being probed by the moral police who have the approval to eliminate it as soon as possible since it’s detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger.

It doesn't mince words, does it?

It's a bold step beyond even that of the plight of punks in the conservative Indonesian province of Aceh in Indonesia, where punk kids were recently arrested at a punk show and sent to a "reeducation camp," where their heads were shaved and they were subjected to religious indoctrination.

In much of the western world, we enjoy many political freedoms, especially as parts of the punk scene. In many countries, punk bands enjoy the freedom of criticizing their governments

When a government targets a minority for any reason, it doesn't bode well. It happens for various reasons - fear that a certain segment presents a threat to the current status quo, pure and unjustified hatred based on political, idealogical or religious differences, or a simple attempt at removing focus from larger issues at hand by targeting a highly visible yet unorganized or powerless minority.

Where does punk fit in this? Perhaps it's a matter of a little of each. In some places, the punks are targeted for political dissonance, as is the case with the Pussy Riot arrests in Russia, but in general I would think it's an attack on nonconformity by societies that make conformity a cornerstone of their edifice. If you have a government that bases its primary strength on having a population that follows unquestioningly whether its out fear, strict religious teachings or simply finding ways of making nonconformity or questioning the situation as it is a crime, then the biggest targets and the biggest threats are the most visible ones - not necessarily the most powerful ones.

In Aceh, Burma and Iraq, as in anywhere else, punks stand out. The punk rock style and attitude offends cultural sensibilities in many more enlightened societies, so they represent a direct threat to those societies that are more repressive. When a group of kids are allowed to express themselves visibly in a way that challenges social constructs, they present an example to the masses that suggests that maybe it's OK to go against the grain. And while a bunch of teenagers in skinny jeans with emo haircuts are most likely not the biggest threat to any governmental or societal construct, they are quite possibly the most visible, and a paranoid repressive regime views that as threat that must be snuffed out, before people start getting ideas.

After all, is a bunch of kids are allowed to do what they want, say what they want or express themselves how they see fit, it clears the way for anyone to start having free thoughts. Free thoughts can lead to questions, and questions can lead to dissonance. Dissonance can lead to chaos and revolution.

It's a stretch, but this is the stretch being employed by these repressive governments worldwide that are seeking to snuff out punk rock through arrests, reeducation and ultimately through murder.

Sadly, I can offer no solutions to the punk kids in these areas, other than to keep fighting the good fight, staying strong and standing up for what they believe in. Unfortunately, these offers of support are small consolation for kids in an area where doing just that can lead to imprisonment or death.

You punks in these places are the real rebels and the real punks. Political bands and punk rock anarchists in places like the States, Canada and much of Europe can't hold a candle to the sheer bravery you endure every day just be being who you are. Punk rock isn't a crime where we are, and it shouldn't be one where you are, and challenging that convention every day under the shadow of real danger is about as punk rock as it gets.

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