Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Baghdad clubbing ban

From the Observer, 6 December 2009, by Martin Chulov:

Baghdad's night life falls foul of religious right - Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki accused of colluding with fundamentalists to shut down night clubs

'The raids came just before midnight a week ago. At the start of Eid al-Adha, the four holiest days on the Islamic calendar, hundreds of Iraqi police and soldiers stormed each of Baghdad's 300 or so nightclubs. Officers from the most elite units stood outside as soldiers slapped owners' faces, scattered their patrons and dancing girls, ripped down posters advertising upcoming acts, and ordered alcohol removed from the shelves. They left many of the clubs with a warning – any owner who tried to reopen would be thrown into prison, along with his staff.

The official reason for the mass raids is that none of the premises had licences. The reality is that a year-long renaissance in Baghdad's nightlife may be over, as this increasingly conservative city takes on a hardline religious identity. Bohemian Baghdad did not last long. "They treated us like terrorists," said Sinan Kamal, a chef at the Jetar nightclub in east Baghdad, displaying both a licence and weekly receipts for fees collected by the Tourism Ministry. "They sat us on the ground and made us put our heads between our legs. They slapped us and were impolite with the girls. They were behaving like religious police."

...the nightclub owners, and other representatives of bohemian Baghdad, can expect more of the same. "Saddam wasn't troubled by nightclubs at all until he suddenly found religion again in 1994," said Kamal. "Then he came along and closed everything. We have so far not seen anything which has led to an improvement in our society. In fact, it is increasingly like Saddam's regime. I'll give you an example: three days ago when I drove home, there were guys in their cars listening to loud music, just near the Jaderiya bridge. The police at the checkpoint went over to them and beat them heavily. For about a year guys have enjoyed driving the streets like this. This is something they couldn't do ever. Then they could. And now they can't again."

One of Baghdad's leading Islamic figures, Saleh al-Haidri, happily claims credit for leading the crackdown on wayward youth – and for curtailing the city's nightlife. "They were forbidden under Saddam and they are forbidden again now," said Haidri, the head of the Religious Endowment Office. "There is social and religious backing for this. Two months ago I personally talked to the Baghdad governor. I saw many youths drinking alcohol in the streets and in cars and I received many complaints from families, especially about nightclubs, which are dens of pornography and corruption. Believe me, they are a breeding ground for crimes and they anaesthetise our youth. They violate Muslim rules, but Iraq will not turn into a religious state by closing these dens down. We need to teach people culture and morals in order to rebuild this country, not allowing them nightclubs."

Much more in the full article here

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