The Iraqi government tried blocking porn sites: It didn't work.
At the end of January, 13 members of parliament in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan submitted a memorandum to the presidency asking for porn websites to be banned. Seven of the 13 came from the region’s Islamic parties, which might reasonably be expected to have a religious objection to the porn sites. But six of the MPs were from less religiously inclined political parties including the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the oppositional Change movement.
It’s actually an idea that was first mooted in 2015 but the Kurdish parliament stopped working, so it’s only just being brought back up now, says Najiba Latif, a member of one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s Islamic political parties and a signatory to the memo asking for the ban.
In practical terms that is going to be very difficult. There are over three million porn sites in the world and it would be difficult to block such a huge number.
“We want to ban porn sites to prevent any young person from opening such a site,” Latif explained. “We feel these sites pose a danger to the young people of Kurdistan.”
“These sites are foreign to our society and they cause alienation among our young people,” added Awaz Hamid, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, noting that she is opposed to porn websites for sociological reasons not religious ones.
The memo-writers did not offer any scientific evidence to support their case, but Latif says that more work is being done and that this will include an opinion poll on the subject, before a draft resolution of the ban is read in parliament.
The whole issue was the butt of many jokes on Iraqi Kurdish social media, but it has also had serious ramifications, showing up the role that religion still plays in politics here.
Only one group in parliament has declared its opposition to the draft resolution. “The draft resolution has shown the reality of the Islamists and the supposed secular parties in Kurdish politics,” says Abu Karwan, a senior member of the Kurdish Communist party, which opposes the ban on porn. “Such a ban is a violation of personal freedoms and the issues should not be handled this way. Given the current parliamentary set up the MPs won’t be able to oppose the resolution for fear of offending voters, most of whom are Muslim. And because elections are getting closer, this ban will also attract a lot more attention,” he points out.
Sarwad Salim, a Christian MP in Iraqi Kurdistan, points out that a better way to deal with this issue would be an educational campaign for local youth. Parliament shouldn’t be regulating this, he argues.
The kerfuffle about a ban on porn is just one example of the less important issues the Kurdish parliament is currently occupying itself with. “There are more important laws that affect the lives of citizens, but these have not been discussed by parliament,” says the head of the Kurdish parliamentarian’s union, Namaat Abdallah. A lot of politicians want to keep away from those more important topics and they certainly don’t want to tackle controversial subjects shortly before the elections. Rules around a porn ban would be acceptable to most local voters as the majority are religious, he suggests. It’s an easy win.
Even if the legislation is eventually approved in Iraqi Kurdistan, it may not do much good. The Iraqi federal parliament also passed a resolution in 2015 to block porn sites. But locals keep finding ways to access them.
“In practice, this decision was not successful,” says Zana Rostai, a Kurdish politician in Baghdad. “So it was never enforced by the government.”
If the government passes the resolution then it will be our duty to enforce the rules, Omed Mohammed, the spokesperson for Iraqi Kurdistan's Ministry of Transport and Communications, based in Erbil, told NIQASH. “But in practical terms that is going to be very difficult. There are over three million porn sites in the world and it would be difficult to block such a huge number. If we use the word “sex” as a term for blocking, then it would be difficult for anyone to access anything, including scientific or medical research, online,” Mohammed points out.
This line of argument is clear to many locals and is part of the reason why they suspect their parliament is engaged in such useless debates. The aim is to create a fuss in the local media, to achieve at least something – such as passing this resolution – that most of the population will get behind and then tell voters about all they have accomplished, in the hopes of winning another seat.
“Political parties in Kurdistan are not honest with their voters,” says Omed Rafiq, a political scientist who heads a local think tank, the Centre for Future Research. “They are always afraid to clash with mainstream opinions and the resulting loss of votes. The existing confusion is all about scoring political points,” he concludes.