Amidst the massive bloodshed witnessed in Iraq over the past few years, one wave of killing stands out for its unusual targets.
According to reports from human rights activists, dozens of Iraqi teenagers have been murdered in recent months by conservative militiamen due to their style of dress, behavior, western attitudes, and for listening to rock music.
The youths are called “Emo” and many religious Iraqis and even the country’s interior ministry equate their behavior with devil worshipping and homosexuality, which is taboo and illegal.
The word “Emo” apparently is derived from the English word “emotional.”
Not unlike the punks and Goths of western nations, Emos tend to wear tight clothes, long hair and favor black as a fashion statement.
Emo’s western or “alternative” style of appearance is anathema to most Iraqis.
CNN reported that most of the murders took place in the Shia neighborhoods of Sadr City, Shulaa, Ameen and Tariq,
It is unclear exactly how many Emos have been killed.
BBC noted that some reports claim that 58 such ”Emos” have been shot to death or beaten in just the past month alone.
The New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission told Agence France Presse that almost 40 gay people (likely Emos) have been kidnapped, tortured or killed in Iraq since February.
However, Hana al-Bayaty of Brussels Tribunal, an NGO that follows Iraq, told Arab media that as many as 100 Emos have been killed in the country.
A young Emo named Mustafa told BBC: The Iraqi people look at you in a bad way. It is even worse when the Iraqi security, for example, arrest those [wearing] black or [are] in the Emo groups.
One Iraqi gay activist told CNN: Ten days ago, I received a letter from militiamen threatening me that if they found me then they will not kill me like other 'perverts,' but they will cut my body into pieces.
Conservative Shia militia is reportedly passing out leaflets in Baghdad neighborhoods with the names of suspected Emos, likely in order to target them for harm or murder.
One such leaflet read: We strongly warn every male and female debauchee, if you do not stop this dirty act within four days, then the punishment of God will fall on you at the hands of Mujahideen.”
Prominent Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr described the Emo kids as crazy and fools on his website. But he refrained from calling for their murder.
They are a plague on Muslim society, and those responsible should eliminate them through legal means, he said.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.