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'They want to take us back 14 centuries'


Thursday, 15 November 2007

Here's 'Um Zeinab', a mother of six, describing what life is like for women in Basra:

I was heading to work in the morning. I used to stop at the main road to wait for the bus. As normal I was wearing a shirt and skirt and some make-up.

Suddenly, a motorbike came heading towards me at top speed. Maybe it wasn't my day to die because the bike rolled over and the driver fell off.

He had a beard and a black robe worn by the militia. I was so shaken. He didn't say anything but I could feel his anger. After that I started to wear hijab and light make-up or even no make-up.

My daughter, who is at the university, told me that some men are watching how women dress and ask them: 'Why are you wearing a skirt and a shirt?' One of her friends who doesn't wear a hijab received a letter threatening her.

Two days ago two women were killed in al-Makal district. All these incidents are recorded as 'killers unknown' and the bodies remain unidentified, because no-one dares collect them.
People said the women had received a warning beforehand, and that the gunmen then came to their houses and killed them - one of them in front of her kids.

I blame dark, fundamentalist extremists for these incidents. I don't know what's happened - have we become savages? I don't know what's happened to people's way of thinking, they've changed overnight. I remember back in the 1970s our teachers used to wear miniskirts and have the latest hair-dos. These are terrible setbacks. We don't know what they want, or why they want to take us back 14 centuries.

This personal account forms part of a BBC World Service report on what the local police chief calls the 'terrible repression against women in Basra' at the hands of Islamic militias. Other examples have included a woman killed in her home in front of her six year old son, who was rumoured to have been conceived in an adulterous relationship, and a university student shot in the legs for not wearing a hijab. Apparently 42 women were killed between July and September.

The police chief, Major-General Khalaf, who deserves praise for his own bravery in speaking out, said that local police were too scared to investigate the killings and relatives reluctant to report the crimes for fear of a scandal.

Will the Shia religious parties who dominate the Iraqi government condemn the actions of their co-religionists in the south of the country?

Posted by Martin at 07:27

Labels: Human rights, Middle East, Religion

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