Now that the administration has been exposed for what was already suspected on some level, that it enlisted no less than 75 malleable ex-military officers (who happened to be intercessors for the defense industry) to serve as agents, or as they were called by the Pentagon, “message force multipliers” to spin the war in Iraq, maybe the duped mainstream news media will be properly chastened and start covering Iraq properly.

Yeah right. Considering that the media, once caught red-handed, never gets red-faced, it proceeds pretty much like nothing happened, the truth be damned.

Thankfully, the Internet has offered an alternative throughout these heady days of “progress.” And now I don’t feel so naughty indulging in a lefty-pinko liberal media radio program like the “War and Peace Report” with Amy Goodman on Pacifica News from time to time. She has some great guests.

Jusiraqi woment the other day, for example, I listened with growing agitation about how prostitution is on the rise by 20 percent in Iraq – within the country’s borders and in the refugee areas of Syria and Jordan — because women don’t have enough money feed their children. Their desperate acts make them instant targets for so-called honor killings by their own families and by armed militias that have become de facto security throughout the country. It’s not a matter of if, but of when, and how. If not prostitution, these fundamentalist militias are finding other reasons for maiming, torturing and killing women – for not covering up, for making love to a man, for ignoring the rules.

From an interview with Yanar Mohammed, founder of Women’s Freedom in Iraq:

In Syria, we hear that some women reach to the point where they are begging strangers passing by to exploit them sexually so they can feed their children. You know, women of Iraq were not in this situation, I would say, six years ago. We did not have to do this. We did not have to go through humiliation, through prostitution. We did not have to beg in the embassies to be accepted in the Western world, when the attack on our lives came from the West.

Not wanting to take her word for it, I did my own Googling around. Like other stories of the war, there is a wealth of credible information completely absent from the mainstream scene — if you look for it. To say I’ve been sickened with what I’ve read and seen is an understatement. After a decent amount of digging I even came across two State Department reports on the issue, though I don’t recall much news made of them when they were released. Nevertheless, one such report in 2007 found a disconcerting level of human sex trafficking in Iraq, for which the Maliki government neither prosecuted nor protected women and children from. Another, released in March, which quotes the aforementioned Yanar Mohammed, described, among a rather long litany of horrors, an increase of violence against women (though I’m sure, when pressed, the department would say this was mostly “pre-surge”):

“Honor killings” were widespread in the Kurdish region; official statistics recorded 255 honor killings in the first six months of the year, including 195 cases of deaths by burning…
During the year, reports of prostitution increased…
Islamic extremists reportedly continued to target women in a number of cities, demanding they stop wearing Western-style clothing and cover their heads while in public. In December Basrah’s police chief, Major General Abdul Jalil Khalaf, noted that patrols of motorbikes or unlicensed cars with tinted windows were accosting women not wearing traditional dress and head scarves. He confirmed that police documented that 57 women were killed and their bodies dumped in the streets of Basrah since mid-year for behavior deemed un-Islamic. An unknown number of similar killings did not result in police investigations for various reasons, such as families claiming bodies before police could make reports. According to an end-of-year report by the Basrah Security Committee, 133 women were killed in Basrah by religious vigilantes or in honor killings.

CNN did pick up on some of this in February, though it’s not clear if/when it was broadcast on the domestic network. They have more important footage, like say the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, to loop:

One glance through the police file is enough to understand the consequences. Basra’s police chief, Gen. Abdul Jalil Khalaf, flips through the file, pointing to one unsolved case after another.

“I think so far, we have been unable to tackle this problem properly,” he says. “There are many motives for these crimes and parties involved in killing women, by strangling, beheading, chopping off their hands, legs, heads.”
“When I came to Basra a year ago,” he says, “two women were killed in front of their kids. Their blood was flowing in front of their kids, they were crying. Another woman was killed in front of her 6-year-old son, another in front of her 11-year-old child, and yet another who was pregnant.”

In Afghanistan, the news is just as grim. Despite a record number of Afghans in school, half of the school aged children there, 1.2 million of them girls, aren’t going. There is a lack of female teachers, girls are expected to work or are being married off early. Or the Taliban gets in the way. Reports like this one, indicate that 100 schools were burned down and 150 teachers and students killed by the Taliban in the last year.

Meanwhile, women in Herat are burning themselves out of despair:

But unlike the Hindu practice of suttee, for example, whereby widows throw themselves or are thrown on to their husbands’ funeral pyres, self-immolation in Afghanistan is not born out of cultural imperative, but despair. Unlike suttee in India, self-immolation in Afghanistan seems to be increasing.

“In our culture, women have always burned themselves, because they have always been so badly treated,” said Amina Safi Afzali of the Afghan Human Rights Commission. “But this phenomenon was never as prevalent as it is today.”

Behind the increase, says Ms Afzali, is a disillusionment felt by many educated Afghan women because the two years since the fall of the Taliban have brought precious little freedom. This is felt most among former refugees who returned from Iran and who had grown accustomed to a freer life there.

Last week, The Washington Post published a front page story about Iraqi mothers, homeless, many of them widows, squatting with their children in the empty husks of Baath-era government buildings. They carry assault weapons for protection. They are hustled out of their shelters like criminals and put on the streets of Baghdad by the Iraqi Army, pushing them further into the protection of the militias.

Samira al-Mosawi, a Shiite member of parliament who heads the women’s affairs committee … said approximately 86,000 widows are receiving about $40 a month from the government. Aid organizations and government agencies are unable to help more widows because of a lack of funds and the challenges of doing social work in volatile neighborhoods.
“Frankly speaking, there’s not much attention paid to the social issues in the country,” Mosawi said in an interview. “Attention goes to security and defense.”

According to polling cited in a recent UPI analysis, 70 percent of Iraqi women say they are being targeted and nearly 60 percent say girls’ ability to go to school has “gotten worse since the US invasion.”

The real low-down dirty shame is that it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The one noble case made to the American people for the invasion of Iraq was that we were to be agents of liberation, not escorts back to the dark ages.

I remember now how right wing proponents of regime change, who had for decades mocked lefty causes like international women’s rights, became champions of the cause after 9/11. In fact, if you didn’t support the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, you didn’t care about women at all.

orphan in the marketTurns out neither did they. Once it was clear that Sharia law would be guaranteed by the new Iraqi Constitution, once it was clear that militias were forcing women and girls to cover up at the butt of a gun, once it was clear that the war policy was failing to come through on the very things it promised, all bets were off and the “message force multipliers” and their friends went into high gear – often in shocking defiance of reality — to ensure the stories became “non-news” in the mainstream. Remember, the first priority is to sell the war. Protect the policy.

There is no better way to gauge their insincerity than to look at their selective outrage for Muslim women victimized by honor killings, torture and shame throughout the rest of the world. In fact, I argue that the pro-war wing of the Republican Party seems to engage the issue now only as a stalking horse for their own crusade against the “Islamization” of the western world and for taking out the current regime in Iran.

Case in point: as I was web surfing a while back I came across the first installment of “Islamic Like Me,” a four-part series in which Danielle Crittenden, Canadian author and wife of former Bush speechwriter David “axis-of-evil” Frum, dons a burqa for a week in an attempt to experience life “behind the veil” in her Northern Virginia surroundings for The Huffington Post. I was intrigued. Not for long. The opening said it all:

‘I wonder what it’s like to wear Arabic dress?” I said one day to my husband. His eyes sparked with interest. “You mean as in I Dream of Jeannie?”
“No. I mean those black cover-ups they wear in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.”
“Oh.” He looked disappointed.

It turns out, around 4,000 words later, that for Crittenden, the author of such tomes as The President’s Secret IM’s (the publisher says “this hilarious collection of imaginary online correspondence between the POTUS and pals sheds light and empathy on W’s tumultuous second term in office”) taking the veil was more of an exercise in flexing her own political agenda against the encroachment of Islamism in western society than a look at the conflicts and complexities of being a religious Muslim female in a culturally and morally liberated, deeply suspicious political environment. For her, politics and feminism fit nicely: see all covered women as symbols and victims of a misogynistic regime, make the case against Islam, fuel the fear against immigrants by pointing to examples outside the United States of an impending Islamic takeover of our court system and government, subtly hitch Islamic fundamentalism to the War on Terror.

In fact, what steamed her the most throughout this (tediously narcissistic) enterprise was that Americans were too tolerant of such religious oddities as covered women among us, not that we weren’t tolerant enough:

“The vast majority of Muslims abhor terrorism,” we are frequently reminded, and of course that’s true. And yet, even tolerance can be taken too far.
If I had chosen to walk about Washington in a white hood and sheets rather than black ones, I doubt I would have encountered such universal politeness. And yet, what the Klan outfit represents to someone of African-American descent is exactly what the burka should represent to every free woman.

Most telling is, while Crittenden spends a lot of space talking about the very real violence and injustice against women and girls on the international scene, she conveniently omits any reference to Afghanistan and Iraq, where arguably, some of the worst examples on the planet play out today.

One gets the sense that she and others stop short of really caring about or even liking Muslim women — how else could they so selectively ignore their plight? How else could they spend so much time obfuscating the realities “on the ground” in Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of selling a war policy? How can the policy itself be humane if inherent in that policy is a strategy to deceive the American people with “message force multipliers,” preventing a real effort to recognize and protect women and children from taking root?

I have since found a reference to a speech made by Andrea G. Bottner, Senior Coordinator for the Office of International Women’s Issues, at the Heritage Foundation in March. On message, Bottner underscored President Bush’s “steadfast” commitment to “democracy and respect for universal human rights.”

Bottner complained, true to form, that Afghan “successes” were not being reported enough (though she totally omits any reference to the troubles there), and flung off two lines about “considerable challenges” due to continued security issues and “political realities” in Iraq. She mentioned the $24.5 million in aid to boost women leaders there, and a $1 million fund by Queen Rania of Jordan for aiding abused women in the Middle East. A few moments later she was done, leaving her audience, filled no doubt with VIPs (Very Important Proxies) and maybe some “message force multipliers,” satisfied and smug in the belief that everything was well in hand.

But for whom?

— The image, “Iraqi Women” was provided by www.instablogimages.com