August 16, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10756

Arab Social Media Users Laud Iraq's Directive That Media Replace The Term 'Homosexuality' With 'Sexual Deviance,' Condemn Human Rights Groups For Opposition

August 16, 2023
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 10756

On August 8, 2023, Iraq's official media regulator ordered all media to cease using the term "homosexuality" and to replace it with "sexual deviance." A statement released by the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC), a body set up by the U.S.-led-Coalition Provisional Authority in March 2004, extended the prohibition to phone and Internet companies licensed to operate in Iraq, prohibiting them from using the term "gender." These directives, as stated in the CMC release, are grounded in the Iraqi constitution and Article 130 of the Iraqi Civil Code, and aim to "safeguard society and its intrinsic values from foreign terminologies that have adopted connotations conflicting with public order and common morality."

This decision was met with condemnation from regional and international human rights organizations due to its potential ramifications on freedom of expression and LGBTQ rights, but has also garnered significant praise from social media users across Iraq and other parts of the Arab world. Many view it as a courageous step and express the hope that other nations will adopt similar measures.

This report will address the various reactions evoked by this decision, shedding light on both the justifications articulated by its proponents and the standpoint of human rights groups concerned about its consequences.

In praise of Iraq's decision, Muhammad AL-Habahbeh, a user on the X (formerly Twitter) platform with nearly 7000 followers, wrote on August 10: "Iraq stands as the only country to have expelled the Swedish Ambassador and severed diplomatic relations following the incident involving the assault on the holy book, the Quran. Today, we witness their efforts in combating sexual deviation by correcting concepts and terminology, rejecting this disgraceful act. Hats off to the people of Mesopotamia."[1]

On August 10, 2023, Ayman Masri, a Lebanese user on platform X and a member of the Editors' Syndicate in Lebanon, praised the decision in a post, decribing it as "admirable."[2]

In a post published on August 10, Sami Al-Ali, an X user from Kuwait on platform X, conveyed his hope that Kuwait will emulate Iraq's actions and criminalize homosexuality. He wrote: "What's happening in the new Iraq: After the burning of the Quran, diplomatic relations were severed with Sweden, and commercial dealings were suspended. And now, the Iraqi government criminalizes anyone promoting abhorrent sexual deviation. Will Kuwait follow suit in criminalizing deviation?"[3]

Supporters of the decision have also criticized Jeanine Antoinette Hennis-Plasschaert, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, for her meeting with representatives of Iraqi civil organizations on August 13, 2023, to discuss the ongoing dialogue concerning the decision. During the meeting, Hennis-Plasschaert emphasized that "misleading information or attempts to ban globally accepted terms do not assist Iraq in achieving stability and prosperity; rather, they have the opposite effect. The rights and freedoms stipulated in the Iraqi Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for which Iraq voted in favor at the United Nations General Assembly 75 years ago, apply to all Iraqis."[4]

Accusing Hennis-Plasschaert of advocating for "sexual deviance" and challenging the will of the Iraqi people while crossing all diplomatic boundaries, Ali Ahmad, a user on platform X, wrote on August 14: "Hennis-Plasschaert defends sexual deviation in Iraq. Defying the popular will and the legitimate orientation of the Iraqi people, Hennis-Plasschaert crosses all red lines and announces that a group of Iraqi youth has met with an international organization to discuss 'gender,' equality, and women's empowerment! Hennis-Plasschaert: Homosexuality."[5]

Hennis-Plasschaert's meeting with Iraqi civil society organizations was also criticized by X user and social media influencer "ALMOHANDIS_313" in a post published on August 13, in which he referred to her as a "devil."

Mockingly, he wrote: "Today, a meeting took place between the devil Hennis-Plasschaert and representatives from civil society organizations (whose faces were not shown). The meeting focused on deviant homosexuality, equality, and women's empowerment (to gain more control and inflame the streets with emotional slogans). End of the meeting. Everyone agreed to reject the government's action of banning words and slogans related to homosexuality, deviancy, immorality, and vice. They considered it a serious threat that leads to intimidation and claimed that these words are used globally, and that it jeopardizes Iraq's future, prosperity, and stability."[6]

Apart from Hennis-Plasschaert, the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group, a Western-funded legal advocacy organization, also denounced the decision in a post published on August 10, stating, "We condemn the decision to prohibit media outlets from using the terms 'sexual orientation' and 'gender,' which violates the right to freedom of expression. We urge authorities to drop the proposed regulation and adhere to international human rights standards."[7]

In response to a poster on the X platform praising the decision and depicting Hennis-Plasschaert as a promoter of homosexuality in Iraq, which was posted by Iraqi author and researcher Abbas Chamsuddin who has over 300 thousand followers, Lebanese "queer activist" Doumit Azzi Draiby wrote on August 13: "You're speaking as if homosexuality is foreign to Iraq. Homosexuality has been documented since the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian civilizations. During the early Safavid rule in Iraq in the 16th century, homosexuality was legalized in private establishments for homosexual sex workers."[8]

The Copenhagen-based non-profit organization Iraqi Women's Rights commented on the decision by accusing those behind it of using homosexuality as an excuse to further marginalize women. The organization suggested that these efforts should have been directed towards protecting children who are victims of violence and sexual abuse. A post was published on the organization's Facebook page on August 14, stating: "Superficial demands to ride the wave of speculation and extremism in the fight against women and to restrict their lives and rights, under the pretext of protecting society from homosexuality!! Your demands should be directed towards saving children from violence and rape, or enacting laws that protect them. I can't believe that Iraq has reached this level of ignorance in the era of globalization!!"[9]

Iraqi activist and X user Emad Mostafa, who frequently comments against homosexuality and gender issues, condemned both Hennis-Plasschaert and Tamara Amer, the founder of Iraqi Women's Rights, for opposing the decision. He accused them of promoting homosexuality in Iraq.

In a video post published on August 14, he commented on Hennis-Plasschaert's statement by saying: "Regarding her discussion of the Iraqi constitution, the constitution stipulates that Islam is the official religion of the state and the primary source of legislation. It is not permissible to enact a law that contradicts the provisions of Islam. The constitution also emphasizes preserving the Islamic identity of the Iraqi people. The gender ideology/gender conspiracy that you have promoted through governments fundamentally contradicts the Iraqi constitution and the law. It will be completely rejected, and a law will be enacted to criminalize the promotion of the LGBTQ+ agenda entirely in Iraq, whether you like it or not."[10]

In another video published on August 15, he accused Amer of promoting the concept of gender through lies and deception. He referred to her organization's definition[11] of gender as "social gender; the term elucidates the distinctions between men and women in terms of social roles, cultural perspectives, and functions. These distinctions arise as a result of religious, cultural, political, and social factors; in other words, they are differences shaped by humans throughout their history, according to the concept of (gender)."

According to him, Amer "claims that gender is social diversity, which is a lie. Gender is a social type. In the definition that she provided, she partially acknowledges and says that gender is the differences resulting from religious, cultural, political, and social factors, as differences shaped by humans throughout their history. Of course, by doing so, she adopts a materialistic atheistic perspective that states that religions were created by males to suppress women."[12]

To further support his argument, Mostafa shared several posts written in English, saying they represent the viewpoints of Americans and Europeans in favor of the decision. In a video titled "Westerners Praise Iraq's Decision Regarding the Banning of Terms for Homosexuals," he said: "The majority of comments, particularly from Americans and Westerners, were supportive and even praised this decision. For instance, this user states that he is pleased that the trillion of dollars spent by Americans didn't succeed in influencing the beliefs of Iraqis. Another user mentions that Iraqis have somehow made us aware of the truth one way or another. A third user calls on Christians in the West to learn from Muslims in the East."[13]

A Libyan politician and social media influencer on the X platform named Abdelrhman Mazk mentioned that the World Bank has suspended aid to Uganda after it passed a law against homosexuality. He cited Amnesty International's condemnation[14] of the Iraqi decision to accuse the West and its international organizations of being determined to "corrupt the natural disposition of peoples."

On August 11 he wrote: "The World Bank cuts funding to Uganda for adopting the anti-homosexuality law. Amnesty International criticizes and condemns the authorities of Iraq under the pretext of freedom of expression after banning and combating homosexuality! There is a consensus and determination from the West and its international organizations to corrupt the natural disposition of peoples. This nonsense must be strongly and forcefully confronted."[15]


[1], August 10, 2023.

[2], August 10, 2023.

[3], August 10, 2023.

[4], August 13, 2023.

[5], August 14, 2023.

[6], August 13, 2023.

[7], August 10, 2023.

[8], August 13, 2023.

[9], August 14, 2023.

[10], August 14, 2023.

[11], August 14, 2023.

[12], August 15, 2023.

[13], August 13, 2023.

[14], August 9, 2023.

[15], August 11, 2023.

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