Being Emo in Baghdad

by Pieter van Hoogdalem

Earlier this month worldwide media reported that dozens of kids were killed in Iraq. All of them supposedly were supporters of the emo-lifestyle. Emo originated out of the pop culture of the nineteen-eighties, but has gone a long way since and became a popular lifestyle for Western youth, even to this day. Emo as a fashion statement comes in many forms and shapes and is impossible to accurately describe, but generally it is associated with heavy make up, dark clothes, painted hair and androgynous looks. In Iraq this is considered to be synonymous with homosexuality, which apparently is the reason for these organized killings and the publication of an online death list of 33 youngsters who are condemned for their appearance.

These brutal deaths reminded me of a documentary called Heavy Metal in Baghdad (2007).

The film tells the story of the Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda since the fall of Saddam Hoessein in 2003 and the following four years. The documentary, an initiative of Vice Magazine, shows us that being part of a rock band in Iraq means risking your life every time you get together to play. None of the bandmembers wear their hair as long as their idols do; it would be a certain death where they live. Despite the initial optimism and hope that Acrassicauda feels in 2003, it becomes increasingly dangerous for the band to perform in Iraq and they end up in Damascus, Syria and then Turkey, as heavy metal-refugees in a seemingly hopeless situation. They now reside in Brooklyn, New York. Millions of fellow-Iraqis left the country for comparable reasons since the US invasion, a brain-drain that deserves worldwide attention.

It is now four months since the president of the United States declared the war in Iraq to be over. Did the presence of the coalition, consisting of mainly US troops, achieve any of its nation-building goals? Or could it be argued that it has only increased the support for radical religious groups, in turn dividing the country even more than it already was before the war? The current developments show that it is impossible to say ‘mission accomplished’ as long as emo’s, headbangers and other individuals have to fear for their life when walking the streets. Heavy Metal in Baghdad painfully shows how the dreams and hopes of a group of young individuals are slowly crushed by reality. It would be interesting to see a sequel to illustrate the continuing struggle, to show that the war isn’t over for many: Being Emo in Baghdad perhaps?

Youtubeclip featuring Acrassicauda’s first single made in 2010 in the USA

Pieter van Hoogdalem has a background in International Relations and Cultural Management and is currently active as an independent manager and producer in music.

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