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Theology Thursdays: To Muslims, Sex Abuse Is Worst That Could Happen by Binnie Fisher

Houston immigration attorney John Nechman assumed he would be talking about the logistics of gay Muslims seeking asylum in the United States when he addressed a group of Arab Americans in Detroit last week, but another matter took priority on the agenda: the abuse of prisoners in Iraq.

In a culture that condemns nudity and homosexuality, Nechman said, the photos of American soldiers — in particular women — in the aggressor role is especially degrading to Muslim men who grew up in a culture where public nudity is strictly forbidden.

To a Muslim male, he said, being in the submissive role in photographs is the worst that could happen.

“In a society based on machismo, the worst thing they could be in their culture is the passive person in sex,” Nechman said.

Muslim leaders worldwide have blasted U.S. and British policies in Iraq after photos emerged showing coalition forces torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners of war by ordering them to strip naked and simulate gay sex.

The photos, which were first displayed around the world during CBS’s “60 Minutes 2” broadcast on May 5, show American troops smiling, laughing and giving thumbs up as they stood next to naked prisoners stacked into a human pyramid and other positions.

One photo showed two hooded, naked prisoners, one standing and the other kneeling in front of him, simulating oral sex. Another photo showed an American solider pointing to a hooded Iraqi man masturbating.

The prisoners were all tortured at the Abu Ghraib prison, 20 miles west of Baghdad, the same prison that for decades was one of the primary dungeons the Saddam Hussein regime used to torture thousands of citizens.

One war prisoner, Dhia al-Shweiri, said he was ordered by American soldiers to strip naked, bend over and place his hands on a wall. While al-Shweiri said he was not sodomized, he was humiliated by the act and said Americans were trying to break his pride.

“We are men. It’s OK if they beat me,” al Shweiri said. “Beatings don’t hurt us, it’s just a blow. But no one would want their manhood to be shattered. They wanted us to feel as though we were women, the way women feel and this is the worst insult, to feel like a woman.”

Nechman, who has worked with many gay Muslims seeking asylum in the United States, said the men pictured in the photographs will find it difficult to return home after being sexually abused.

“I think they are absolutely damaged for life,” he said. “There is no way they can go back and face their families.”

With rumors that some female prisoners may have been raped, Nechman pointed out that Muslim women who have been raped are likely to find themselves being disowned and even murdered by their families.

“A Muslim woman who has been raped is no longer viewed as a pure woman,” he said.

For the men pictured in scenes that depict homosexual acts, Nechman said, that may present a problem for those prisoners later. He said he has represented gay Muslims on immigration matters who fear that because they are gay, their families will hunt them down in Houston one day.

“They’re afraid they’ll walk out the back door one day and find a family member with a machete, ready to take off their head,” he said.

Beyond the harm that has been done to the prisoners, Nechman said, the photos may have done damage to America’s image that can never be repaired.

Just as Iraqis find the images disturbing, Nechman said, as a gay man he finds them equally disgusting.

“The American military is one of the most homophobic organizations in the world,” he said. “I find it incredibly offensive that who we are has been used as a form of torture.”

Binnie Fisher writes for The Houston Voice where this article first appeared on Friday, May 21, 2004 and can be reached at:

Thursday, June 10, 2004

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