Queer Fear: Gay Life, Gay Death In Iraq


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Queer Fear: Gay Life, Gay Death In Iraq
"The director's use of the alias 'Ali bin Smithee' may seem cute, but it's worth thinking about why he needed to be anonymous."

These days, many people living in Western countries find it hard to understand why people still campaign for the rights of minority groups when those rights now seem to be fairly well established. This documentary reminds us how easily what seems secure can slip away, and how quickly such groups can find themselves - literally - in the firing line when the rule of law breaks down.

Although most people are aware that Iraq has become a more violent place since the American-led invasion of 2003, what has been happening to its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people since that time has received very little media attention. This film sets out to address that, and to bring to public attention a sustained campaign of genocide. It frames this through the presentation of several specific cases of people killed because of their sexuality (sometimes by their own families), and it also talks more widely about the persecution lgbt Iraqis face. Importantly, it expands on this to show how the widespread acceptance of such persecution creates opportunities for criminal and political exploitation that endanger everybody. When one can be killed just because somebody starts a rumour that one is gay, everybody becomes vulnerable to extortion and petty revenge.

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Making a documentary about a subject which is so taboo that people are killed over it presents a lot of technical challenges. The director's use of the alias 'Ali bin Smithee' may seem cute, but it's worth thinking about why he needed to be anonymous - 'honour killings' motivated by homophobia happen even in the West. Consequently there are no lgbt Iraqis willing to speak openly in this documentary, though we do get a blurry picture of one asylum seeker who now lives in the UK, using an actor's voice. Other people's stories are read by actors as we see snapshots of life in Baghdad. This works better than one might expect, doing a good job of establishing mood. For those who remember Iraq as it was 20 years ago, the images of large groups of people in traditional religious garb (when they used to dress much as people do in the UK) tell a story of their own.

Alongside this there's an interview with Peter Tatchell who has been at the forefront of the UK campaign to help lgbt Iraqis. The contrast of those blurry images and cautious voiceovers with Tatchell's brightly lit, highly recognisable face is startling, and one has to remind oneself that in his early days as a campaigner he too was taking a risk by being visible in public.

Ultimately, this film can only do so much with the material available to it, but it is nevertheless an important testament to a quietly unfolding tragedy and a rallying cry for those who might offer assistance from abroad.

Reviewed on: 28 Dec 2009
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A documentary looking at the persecution of lgbt people in post-war Iraq.
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Director: Ali bin Smithee

Starring: Peter Tatchell

Year: 2007

Runtime: 9 minutes

Country: UK, Iraq


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Iraq In Fragments
My Country, My Country