Can Iraq Separate Religion and State?

For his part, Iraqi Media Network journalist Salam al-Shaykh revealed new information to Al-Monitor when he said that “some members of those armed factions were paid off by clubs to leave them alone.”

Islamic factions have been conducting such anti-civil rights and anti-secularism campaigns since 2003, when Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown.

In July 2004, liquor stores, beauty salons and music stores were attacked in Baghdad by anonymous people. Clerics issued supportive statements, such as Hassan al-Tai from al-Sadr city in Baghdad who told the BBC, “Those who consume alcoholic drinks must be flogged, and those selling such drinks must be cautioned, prior to their stores [being] razed to the ground.”

So why have such social clubs, particularly nightclubs, proliferated since 2003 despite the harassment they are subjected to?

Shaykh said, “Organized crime gangs in Baghdad have become venture capitalists that invest in clubs, as some members thereof admitted on satellite TV channels.” He said gangs that control clubs are paying off armed individuals not to attack these same clubs.

But Qassim Hussein Salih, the founder and president of the Iraqi Psychological Association, indicated to Al-Monitor the presence of other factors for the clubs' continued popularity.

“The Iraqi psyche has an innate affinity to singing and merriment, even at the darkest hours,” Salih said. “Iraq’s countryside is known for its singing and dancing, as this is where gypsies are located whose lives revolve around the commercialization of song and dance. In that sense, Iraqis are trying to psychologically substitute their tragedies with joy.”

At the end of December, the country held its first beauty pageant in 43 years. The event featured dancing and singing, and the participants were judged on the usual physical attributes — and later received death threats.

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