Between writing final papers, studying for exams, and nursing the mid-reading week hangover, most on-campus extracurricular events during the last two weeks of the semester go unnoticed. Two women, Amal al-Khedairy and Nermin al-Mufti, offered their “perspective as two independent Iraqis” on their nation’s history, the U.S. wars, and their experiences as Iraqi women on Dec. 10. Though regretfully under-advertised here at Yale (I was one among ten students at most), the event was part of a controversial “Women of Iraq” U.S. tour, meeting with politicians and celebrities to spread the story of “true” Iraqis.
Al-Khedairy and al-Mufti have been labeled everything from “unabashed Saddam sympathizers” to “poster women of peace.” Neither is true; they are simply women whose pure hatred America’s intervention in Iraq has so warped their perspective that they deny their fellow Iraqis’ suffering during the 40 years of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Despite their emotional anger, Amal al-Khedairy and Nermin al-Mufti came across as well-spoken and educated. Al-Khedairy was the product of a wealthy family, growing up in an ivy-covered mansion on the banks of the Tigris. Hosting functions for Iraqi intellectuals and supporting artisans through her salon, Al-Bayt Al-Iraqi, she lived the life of a Parisian Enlightenment socialite. Nermin al-Mufti is a respected journalist in the Arab world, and according to her own resume posted on the web, she was a “contributing writer” of the Al-Thawra daily, the official newspaper of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party and his principal vehicle for written propaganda.
Al-Khedairy and al-Mufti’s way of life, while not directly associated with a regime whose massive scope of murder, rape and genocide, will only be unveiled with Saddam’s upcoming trial, was nonetheless inextricably linked to the survival of the Iraqi government and the stability of the Iraqi state.
Two wars and 13 years of economic sanctions unquestionably made the lives of many of Iraqis miserable. A video of al-Khedairy walking amidst shattered glass and graffiti-covered walls in her Al-Bayt Al-Iraqi showed the damage caused by nearby bombs and looters. Al-Mufti explained the difficulty of obtaining basic medicines for her sick children. I do not blame them for their raw anger but rather where they direct it.
Instead of condemning Saddam, his invasion of Kuwait, and his chronic flouting of U.N. mandated weapons inspections, both women fault the United States for its intervention. As al-Mufti put it, “Iraq was scheduled to be destroyed,” regardless whether Saddam had given up his supposed WMD and abdicated. What I thought was only an opinion held by the most delusional of right-wing-conspiracy theorists and radical Jihadists, is apparently also believed by the intelligent al-Mufti: “The U.S. will soon control Iran, Turkey, and much of the Muslim world.” She continued, asserting that the U.S. had actually organized and supported the looting and burning around Iraq during the first weeks of the war. Apparently, according to her, civil disorder makes occupation easier.
Al-Mufti compared the arrests of Iraqi insurgents by American forces with Saddam’s loathed and feared Secret Police — “at least they knocked on the door.” What I initially mistook as an attempt at sarcastic humor was anything but. The Secret Police arrested thousands, never to be seen again. In an interview in The New Yorker (8/11/2003), Khedairy also conveniently ignored Saddam’s blatant violations of human rights, including the massacre of thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons: “Let’s not say it was all bad …You know the Kurds are a difficult people themselves.”
If their ignorance of Saddam’s murder of political enemies and record of genocide can be forgiven, the speakers’ views on the very subject they should know well – women’s rights – cannot. In her tirade against the U.S. occupation, al-Khedairy ventured to say, “European women didn’t even have the same rights as Iraqis.” Perhaps al-Khedairy’s status and money bought her rights, but in the rest of Iraq, women had about as many rights as Afghanis under the Taliban. While the rest of the world marched forward during the 1990s, Saddam implemented restrictive Islamic law — women could no longer travel out of the country without their husband or father, the state legitimized female job discrimination, and most odious of all, males who committed “honor killing,” the murder of a woman who had allegedly committed adultery, engaged in premarital sex, or been raped, could not be prosecuted.
Neither al-Mufti nor al-Khedairy ever experienced the horror of Hussein’s rape rooms, where women were videotaped as they were systematically tortured and dishonored to make their relatives confess to political dissidence. Never did they see women hung by their feet during their menstrual cycle, infected by their own blood. Far from Rumsfeldian drivel, these are the true stories of the many men and women of Iraq whom al-Khedairy and al-Mufti have chosen to ignore.
After an hour of listening to the women speak of their undying love for Iraq and spout their unmitigated hatred for the U.S. government, their perspective was made clear. But it wasn’t their subtle support of Saddam’s regime or utter disregard for their fellow citizens that was most jarring, bur rather, the myth put forth by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the tour’s sponsoring organization, that these two women are a fair representation of “Women of Iraq.”
The Fellowship of Reconciliation cloaks itself in the mantle of an interfaith, politically unaffiliated organization for peace that brings to light the stories of the oppressed. Writes Rev. Patricia Ackerman, the moderator of the tour and an FOR official, “It is to the shame of all Americans that in the third millennium, the United States caused genocidal-like destruction and suffering to the Iraqi people.” With such a radical political agenda it is little wonder that the “Women of Iraq” were al-Khedairy and al-Mufti. The real women of Iraq aren’t wealthy philanthropists or Baathist journalists; they are the millions who suffered and endured the repression, humiliation and torture of Saddam Hussein.