In his moving feature, The women of Mosul & liberation from IS, Fairfax journalist Michael Bachelard writes that:
"Repression of all kinds was routine. Conservative Islam might require modesty but IS demanded invisibility. Under strictly enforced clothing rules, it was virtually impossible to visit the public square - certainly not without a male relative. 'Everyone was looking at you, all the time. Everyone was watching your movements,' says mother-of-five Ayat, at the Jada'ah camp near Qayyarah. 'We were to afraid to do anything... so we stopped going out at all.' Failing to wear gloves, flat shoes, or the double veil; even allowing a glimpse of flesh by lifting the veil a crack to check money at the market or to sip a drink - any of these breaches could lead to punishment. Some women were fined 50,000 ($50) or 100,000 dinars, others were whipped or hit with a wooden baton." (Sydney Morning Herald, 5/3/17)
This is Iraq 2017, 14 years on from the US overthrow of the secular, Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003. While Saddam's Iraq may now be just a distant memory for women like Ayat, older Iraqi women would perhaps remember it with more than just nostalgia, even, relative to the present, as a kind of paradise lost.
It is worth remembering just how that relative paradise was viewed in the West before it was swept away in 2003, and replaced with the current nightmare world of Shia sectarianism in Baghdad and Wahhabi sectarian madness in Mosul.
Perhaps the most influential book on the subject of pre-2003 Iraq was the best-selling Republic of Fear (1989), written by Iraqi expat, Samir al-Khalil, the nom de plume of Kanan Makiya,
Makiya's thesis is that "Fear is the cement that holds together this strange body politic in Iraq. All forms of organization not directly controlled by the party have been wiped out. The public is atomized and broken up, which is why it can be made to believe anything. A society that used to revel in politics is not only subdued and silent, but profoundly apolitical. Fear is the agency of that transformation; the kind of fear that comes not only from what the neighbours might say, but that makes people careful of what they say in front of their children." (p 275)
Makiya, it should be pointed out, along with the likes of Ahmad Chalabi and Fouad Ajami, went on to become the 'native informant' component of the US ziocons, whose strident advocacy of regime change in Iraq was critical to the Bush/Blair invasion and occupation of Iraq, and he is on record as having described the initial US 'shock and awe' bombing of Baghdad as "music to my ears."*
Needless to say, without that invasion and occupation, first Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), and then its even more extreme offspring, Islamic State (IS), would never have appeared on the Iraqi scene, let alone gone on to take key Iraqi cities such a Mosul and transform them into the kind of Wahhabi sectarian hellholes described by women such as Ayat.
Makiya, writing on the subject of Iraqi women under Baathist rule in Republic of Fear, depicts, relative to the lives of women in Mosul under Islamic State, what must seem to us now as a near golden age of feminism:
"The entry of women into the educational system as a whole is another noteworthy Ba'thist accomplishment. In 1970-71, there were 318,524 girls in primary school, 88,595 at the secondary level, and 9,212 at the university level. For the 1979-80 school year the absolute numbers were respectively as follows: 1,165,856, 278,485, and 28,647. By 1980 women accounted for 46% of all teachers, 29% of physicians, 46% of dentists, 70% of pharmacists, 15% of accountants, 14% of factory workers, and 16% of civil servants [...] The important thing about all the legislation on women was precisely where it chose to make the break with tradition. Islamic law has always been clear regarding its view of the subordinate status of women in relation to men as a direct consequence of their sex... Moreover, there is nothing in the very sincere and far-reaching efforts of the Bath to involve women in the labour force or to mobilize them that is un-Islamic, although it certainly represents a radical break with traditional society and deeply cherished values. One need only mention the masses of veiled women mobilized by the Islamic movement in Iran, not only against the Shah, but to break up some of the early feminist demonstrations against Khomeini's edict on the veil." (pp 89-91)
All of which only accentuates the culpability of Bush, the Ziocons, and their Arab fellow travellers, for the appalling plight of the women so vividly described by Bachelard.
[*See Advocating a war in Iraq & offering an apology for what came after, Tim Arango, nytimes.com, 13/5/16]