Several years ago, Iraq’s so-called “emos” – young men who dressed differently – were attacked openly for looking strange in a conservative culture. Now that their attackers are otherwise occupied, emos are back.
Unlike in some of the more alternative neighbourhoods of Europe, it is fairly unusual to see a teenage boy wearing red lipstick, roaming the streets of an Iraqi city, particularly an Iraqi city like Nasiriyah. Yet local teen, Nawras* does exactly that. To match his more radical look, he wears a black chain with a silver skull on it, tight pants and a transparent shirt with a few buttons open, exposing his chest.
Nawras, who’s still at high school, is what is commonly known in Iraq as an “emo”. These young people dress a little bit like the emos known in the west for their black, long and spiky hair and their dark clothing. But in Iraq, the motivations for dressing like this are a little different. It’s more about being part of another subculture than it is about musical tastes.
Nawras has become accustomed to the comments and harassment he gets when he’s walking around dressed as he is. He tells NIQASH that he feels as though he is a beautiful girl walking down the street, being harassed for her good looks. Sometimes he says he feels great about being so different but at other times, the things people say and the way they stare frighten him.
Ihsan*, 22, feels the same. His hair falls over his face and as he speaks, he plays with his long fringe. Ihsan, who works in his family’s mobile phone store, is also an Iraqi emo. Several years ago two of Ihsan’s friends were killed by extremist groups in Baghdad, he says.
One of his emo friends was killed in Dora in southern Baghdad and the other in the New Baghdad neighbourhood. Ihsan heard that extremist militias and some members of the police had started a crackdown on emos because they are different.