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For the kids in Tehran’s underground rock scene, the dream was simple: party, make music, and escape to New York, where the life they wanted was legal. By 2011 three bands—the Yellow Dogs, Hypernova, and the Free Keys—had found their way to Brooklyn.
But as their indie community thrived, one of the band members was sinking fast. Nancy Jo Sales discovers how, on November 11, four young Iranian musicians ended up dead.
SHANE The nightmare began on July 31, 2009. I was living in Damascus, covering the Middle East as a freelance journalist, with my girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, a teacher. Our friend Josh Fattal had come to see us, and to celebrate, we took a short trip to Iraqi Kurdistan. The autonomous region—isolated from the violence that wracked the rest of Iraq—was a budding Western tourist destination.
After two days of visiting castles and museums, we headed to the Zagros Mountains, where locals directed us to a campground near a waterfall. After a breakfast of bread and cheese, we hiked up a trail we’d been told offered beautiful views. We walked for a few hours, up a winding valley between brown mountains mottled with patches of yellow grass that looked like lion’s fur. We didn’t know that we were headed toward the worst 26 months of our lives.
JOSH (July 31, 2009) “You guys,” Sarah says with hesitancy. “I think we should head back.” “Really?” Shane sounds surprised. “How could we not pop up to the ridge? We’re so close.” Shane knows I want to reach the top. “Josh, what do you want to do?” he asks.
"I think we should just go to the ridge—it’s only a couple minutes away. Let’s take a quick peek, then come right back down." Just as we’re setting out, Sarah stops in her tracks. "There’s a soldier on the ridge. He’s got a gun," she says. "He’s waving us up the trail."
I pause and look at my friends. Maybe it’s an Iraqi army outpost. We stride silently uphill. I can feel my heart pounding against my ribs. The soldier is young and nonchalant, and he beckons us to him with a wave. When we finally approach him, he asks, “Farsi?”
Nigeria: Nigeria is the most homophobic country in the world, according to a 2013 poll, which found 97 percent of citizens think society should not accept homosexuality. The laws reflect that: Same-sex couples face up to 14 years in prison and even public displays of same-sex affection are illegal.
Uganda: The spotlight has been focused on Kampala recently for its anti-LGBT policies. A law passed this week makes homosexuality punishable by up to life in prison, gay rights activists have been murdered, and gay citizens are widely discriminated against.
Zimbabwe: President Robert Mugabe has made a crusade out of homophobia – with widespread public approval. Last year, Mugabe threatened to behead gay Zimbabweans and described them as “filth.”
Saudi Arabia: Basing its law, it says, on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, the current Saudi regime has made gay sex punishable by death by the lash. But according to some reports from inside the Kingdom, that doesn’t mean homosexuality isn’t common.
India: Thought of as a highly tolerant society, it came as a surprise earlier this year when the country’s highest court reinstated a colonial-era law criminalizing gay sex. But the decision has been met with protests and the court’s decision is being challenged.
Honduras: There have been a spate of anti-LGBT hate crimes here in recent years. More than 80 LGBT people have been killed in anti-LGBT hate crimes since 2009 and LGBT-rights activist say they are shunned by their families and communities.
Jamaica: Sex between men is illegal, hate crimes are alarmingly common and the government seems reluctant to protect gays from violence. Senegal One of the most anti-gay countries in the world, according to a 2013 Pew poll, which found 96 percent of Senegalese think society should not accept homosexuality, only surpassed by Nigeria at 97 percent. Gay sex is illegal and discrimination is commonplace.
Afghanistan: It may no longer be under the rule of the Taliban (at least in much of the country), but harsh views toward homosexuality still remain. It’s still news when an Afghan comes out as gay, even from Toronto. Yet its male homosexual culture is widespread but rarely commented on.
Iran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s last president, famously told Americans: “We don’t have homosexuals in our country like you do.” His successor, Hassan Rouhani, elected last June, hasn’t made gay rights – or anti-gay legislation – a priority, but it’s already on the books. Homosexuality is illegal in Iran and can even be punishable by death in certain cases.
Lithuania: The Baltic state’s parliament is considering a law similar to Russia’s notorious anti-gay anti-propaganda law. And while homosexuality isn’t illegal, it has many opponents. Last year’s second-ever gay pride parade was interrupted by homophobic protesters.
Sudan: Homosexuality is punishable by death and even attempts at arranging a homosexual act can lead to a prison sentence. The good news is that there have been stirrings in recent years of a pro-LGBT rights movement.
The United States: We have undoubtedly made great strides in LGBT rights in recent years, from same-sex marriage to equality in the military. But Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina and several other states have laws on the books that resemble Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws. And anti-LGBT hate crimes remain frighteningly common, especially against transgender people.
Photo: Gay rights activists hold placards during a protest against a verdict by the Supreme Court in New Delhi December 15, 2013. (Photo credit: Adnan Abid/Reuters)
tl; dr? The change in leadership in Iran.
In her latest project “Our House Is on Fire,” Iranian artist Shirin Neshat examines the brutal aftermath of the failed Egyptian revolution by overlaying photos of the victims with poetic text.
The project, on display in New York City starting Jan. 31, will also help some of those victimized by the revolution: The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, a humanitarian arts organization, commissioned Neshat to create the series and as part of the arrangement, proceeds from some works will be donated to charities in Egypt. (SEE Shirin Neshat’s Photos of the Egyptian Revolution)
Kurt Eichenwald on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and if they are really as big a threat as we’ve been led to believe. http://mag.newsweek.com/2013/10/04/the-phantom-menace.html
Ehud Barak, Israeli defense minister, discussing the reasoning behind discussions whether his country ought to launch a pre-emptive attack against Iran.