Iraqi Women Broadcasters versus the Ayatollahs
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on Dec. 3 that officials of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq were launching a campaign of criticism against the television broadcasting (“the Iraqi Media Network”) sponsored by the US Coalition Provisional Authority. The Shiite clerics, who are close to the hardliners in Iran, object to programming that they consider indecent:
“The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has reportedly threatened to mobilize Iraqis against the U.S.-sponsored Iraqi Media Network television (IMN) on the grounds that the station is airing programs the Shi’ite group views as indecent and immoral, Al-Jazeera Television reported on 26 November. “If you do not change your programs and submit to our will, we will mobilize the Iraqi street against you. We will resort to another method. We will mobilize the Iraqi street to defend Islam,” the satellite news channel quoted SCIRI representative Sadr al-Din al-Qabanji as saying. Al-Jazeera also reported that SCIRI representatives have said they will issue fatwas against IMN if the station’s programming is not changed. The report did not provide details about the purportedly offensive programs. KR “
Now Sophie Claudet in The Middle East Online reports that the clerics are upset about soap operas from other Arab countries (presumably Egyptian ones, which can be racy compared to the fare on Iran where most SCIRI clerics spent the last 23 years). They also appear upset that unveiled Iraqi women newscasters appear on screen (they did wear a scarf for the month of Ramadan, but it is over now).
Shereen al-Ramahi, 20, the anchor of IMN, told Claudet, “Muftis can say whatever they want in their sermons, they can issue fatwas (religious edicts) in Najaf or elsewhere against the station, but I don’t care. I am a free journalist and a free woman. I chose not to wear the veil and nobody can force me to change my mind.”
Since the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is supposedly an ally of the US and has a seat in the Interim Governing Council, it is a little disturbing that al-Qabanji (earlier a proponent of rooting out Baathists in Najaf) is ready to call for anti-American street demonstrations over this issue.
The contradictions in Bush administration policy are illustrated by such reports. On the one hand, the Bush administration maintains that it is spreading democracy and women’s rights in the Middle East. On the other, it keeps allying with hardline Islamist groups like the Jami`at-i Islam (a.k.a. Northern Alliance) in Afghanistan and SCIRI in Iraq. The chief justice of Afghanistan has also banned several cable channels from the country. The position of women in Iraq has already deteriorated from what it was last year this time, and if SCIRI has its way, it will deteriorate further.