Academia’s Twitter War with State Department over women’s status in Iraq’s tribal society!

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At the State Department a recent award program was held to single out women of courage from ten different countries. One of them was Aliyah Khalaf Saleh of Iraq who in June 2014, hid cadets of the Military Academy at Camp Speicher, and rescued them from being systematically slaughtered by ISIS killers. She did this at great peril to herself and family. She was honored at the State  Department and was insistent upon being photographed next to Melania Trump.  The State Department subsequently put out a tweet below.

In a tribal society where women are often marginalized or forgotten, and sectarianism is generally placed before nationality, #WomenofCourage awardee Aliyah Khalaf Saleh of #Iraq is a vivid embodiment of the message of a common humanity,

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This tweet is one of few versions that had the text from the deleted tweet of the State Department

It was deleted by the State Department after some angry comments that suggested it was insulting to the Iraqi society. The State Department replaced it with the following tweet.

In the darkest hours, she stood in the face of ISIS to save the lives of others and showed the world that bravery and compassion will overcome terrorism. Now a symbol of hope for all Iraqis as they work to rebuild their country.

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The edited tweet that the DOS put to replace the first one above

Now one can easily admit that the latter tweet is more diplomatic and less provocative,  but in fact it sends a misleading message. Most importantly  it diminishes the scale of Aliyah’s bravery.  It was far more courageous and remarkable for Aliyah to  rise above the  Iraqi societal repression of women and sectarian animosity to assert herself where many Iraqi men did not.

Deleting the tweet is a rather cowardly way of submitting to the fiction that women enjoy equality in the Iraqi society.  This is not even vaguely comparable to “equal pay for equal work” or marching in Washington DC carrying provocative signs. This is a society in which the great Iraqi sociologist Ali al – Wardi lamented that women were consigned to the kitchen,  limiting their ability to even watch what their kids were doing in the streets.

Even the limited progress of women in the 1940s and 1950s has been reversed by the  coming of the “Islamic Revival.” A very brief moment of relative freedom granted under Saddam was nullified when he decided he needed Islamic and tribal support to maintain himself in power.

In an earlier era the tribal society did allow more freedom to women but the tribal system under Saddam was corrupted and further corrupted with the ISIS occupation of the tribal region of Iraq.  The  tribal sectarian corruption  is evident in the fact that  the “Caliph” of the Islamic State and perhaps thousands of the ISIS terrorists are hiding among the tribes sympathetic to the sectarian hatreds of the Islamists.

The whole point of the award program was to honor the woman, not her culture or country, and turning it into a political statement on Iraqi culture missed the whole point of the presentation.  The culture did not produce this woman. It was an act of individual bravery and initiative,  but that has been swallowed by political correctness.

A bill in 2017 approved by 40 Iraqi members of parliament proposed to legalize marriage of girls as young as 9 years !!! Earlier proposals  would not allow women to leave the home without their husbands approval and forbid marriage to non Muslims. The latter has not ben approved but it graphically illustrates the direction of Iraqi society.

So why did these mostly academics and Middle East “experts” find the original State Department tweet offensive? Well there are several reasons:  Some are in the pay of  the Iraqi government, some, despite their impressive credentials know little about Iraq  except what “westernized Iraqis” tell them, and a more common issue, one that I have seen over years, is that analysts tend to become advocates.

So it is with so many  Middle East “experts” If war cannot be left to generals it can also be said that our Middle East policies cannot be left to Middle East “experts.”

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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