Iraqi youth who identify with the emo subculture are being targeted by extremist death squads who are patrolling the troubled Middle Eastern country and systemically killing anyone who does not conform to what they consider the normal style of dress and behaviour.

According to The New York Times, the militias warned ’emo-looking’ youth that they would kill them about a month ago after flyers were circulated in cafes and on street corners around Baghdad and other smaller cities.

The flyers threatened threatening death unless gay men cut their hair, stopped wearing the clothing of ‘devil worshippers’ and stopped listening to metal, emo and rap music saying if they refuse “God’s punishment will be come down upon you.”

In Western culture emo refers only to appearance and musical preference but in Iraq many have linked the sub-culture to homosexuality – a major taboo in any conservative Muslim country. But it isn’t the first time Muslim hardliners have been criticized for targeting cultural minorities.

In December last year, Muslim hardliners in Indonesia embarked on a campaign to ‘re-educate’ youths involved in local punk scene. Local police rounded up youth, shaved off their mohawks, and then  brought them to a police detention center where they would spend 10 days getting rehabilitation, training in military-style discipline and religious classes, including Quran recitation.

Human rights advocates say the uniquely Iraqi collage of hipster, punk, emo and goth fashions has flourished on the streets of Iraq as an emblem of greater social freedom as society has begun to bloom after years of conflict and warfare.

“What do you see about me that is so wrong?” said one Iraqi youth who refused to be named. “I’m a normal guy. I wish I could die rather than live like this.” Images of others like him with their heads smashed in after being stoned to death have been widely circulated by the militias as they step up their fear campaign.

The militias are acting independently of the government but human rights advocates are concerned that local authorities are turning a blind eye to the killings which are now estimated to number at more than fifty in recent weeks.

They also accuse some areas of the government of encouraging the killings. “The ‘Emo phenomenon’ or devil worshiping is being probed by the Moral Police who have the approval to eliminate it as soon as possible since it’s detrimentally affecting the society and becoming a danger,” read a statement issued last month by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

“They wear strange, tight clothes that have pictures on them such as skulls and use stationery that are shaped as skulls. They also wear rings on their noses and tongues, and do other strange activities.”

Colonel Mushtaq Taleb Muhammadawi, director of the Interior Ministry’s community police, has also made some strong statements about emo youth on Iraqi television saying “research and reports on the emo phenomenon has been conducted and shared with the Ministry of Interior which officially approves the measures to eliminate them.”

“The Ministries of Education and Interior are taking this issue seriously and we have an action plan to eradicate them,” he continued. “I will be leading the project myself and we have the necessary permits to access all schools in the capital.”

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