Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Some Americans are having a gay old time in Iraq. On Friday, a gay pride theme party was held at Baghdaddy’s, a bar in the U.S. Embassy complex in Iraq frequented by State Department employees and contractors. “Come celebrate the start of Summer with color,” the invitation read, “and in costume! Dress in DRAG or as a GAY ICON.” Prizes were awarded for best-dressed gay icon and best lip-sync performance.

This certainly is not the first time the Green Zone has been tinged pink. We spoke to a former State Department official who served recently in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad who told us he was “not surprised” by the gay pride party. “Unusual things happen all the time at that embassy,” he said. He added that the State Department has a “high tolerance for gay and lesbian issues,” and fliers were posted periodically at the embassy for events of interest to the gay community. “Usually they were seminars or discussion groups dealing with gay issues,” he said. “Not typically this flamboyant.”

Flamboyance is the critical issue. Sodomy is a crime in many countries in the Middle East, per the dictates of Shariah law. It is punished by imprisonment, flogging, stoning, beheading or hanging. But in private, homosexual conduct is widespread, and our source told us that living in the closet is the “dirty little secret in the Middle East. As the saying there goes, ‘Women are for family, boys are for fun.’ ” This has made the Middle East a mecca of sorts for gay Near East affairs specialists in the State Department and CIA.

Flaunting such taboo practices will only complicate President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world. The “central outrage,” according to our source, is the costume aspect. “What would incite negative public sentiment more than anything is that it was a cross-dressing party that blurs the lines between masculine and feminine,” he said. “Arab culture is a masculine culture, and to have cross-dressing like this is beyond the pale.”

The party also played into a key insurgent theme in the war of ideas, namely that Americans are decadent imperialists seeking to corrupt the region. In the words of terrorist ideologue Sheikh Abu Abdur-Rahman Atiatullah in a recent release from the Global Islamic Media Front, Americans are “a criminal, homosexual, shameless, dissolute people, worshippers of lusts and Satan.”

In a Saturday message at the terrorist-friendly alqimmah.net Web site, poster Abu Hassan noted the party at Baghdaddy’s and left a quote from the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad: “Whoever you find committing the sin of the people of Lut [or Lot, i.e., referring to sodomy], kill them, both the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.” The gay pride party “throws gasoline on the fire,” our State Department source told us, “and gives the insurgents more talking points. It helps prove their case, certainly.”

The State Department is charged with communicating the American image in the region. It is vital for our government representatives to conduct themselves in a manner that gives the least amount of offense to the local culture, particularly in a country like Iraq, which is coming out of a brutal period of military conflict in which the United States played a central role. Perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton could instruct her employees to tone it down a little. Show a little cultural sensitivity and keep homosexuality under covers as the locals do.

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