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WATCH: These Dance Moves May Get You Death Threats in Kurdistan

3 minute read

A risqué new music video is making waves in socially conservative Kurdistan, drawing both clicks on YouTube and reports of death threats in social media.

The Guardian quotes the manager of “Helly Luv,” the performance name for singer Helen Abdulla, as saying the threats had been posted online but did not specify where or by whom. “We do not wish to publish names of these Islamic groups because we do not wish to glorify [their] actions,” said Gwain Bracy.

The news report dovetails nicely with the title of the song, “Risk It All,” and the theme of the video, which embraces nearly every opportunity to be provocative. It opens with the singer lighting a Molotov cocktail in a city alleyway of baked brown bricks, then joyfully leading a line of Kurdish children somewhere – possibly astray. In other scenes Luv shimmies in a mini-dress and dances in the baggy-pants jump suit of the Kurdish militia known as peshmerga, meaning “those who face death.”

The flag of Kurdistan is featured prominently, as are a pair of lions. The video was filmed mostly in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government that governs the Kurdish sections of northern Iraq with substantial autonomy. Kurds, who may be the largest ethnic group without a national homeland, also live across the borders of Iran, Syria and Turkey, as well as across Europe.

Luv grew up in Finland and lives in Los Angeles, which both adds to the sensation and the measure of apprehension around the video. With almost 500,000 clicks on YouTube in just two weeks, “Risk It All” is clearly finding an audience – as is Dashni Morad, another Kurdish pop sensation.

But as a member of the diaspora, Luv may be far more comfortable projecting sexuality than the largely rural, traditional and Muslim audience in Kurdistan. Honor killings–in which a woman is slain for “staining the honor” of her family–are not a thing of the past in the region.

Nor is Islamist militancy. Kurds from the area made up the rank and file of Ansar al-Islam, a group associated with al-Qaeda that held territory near Halabja until just before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The group condemned the avowedly secular government then led by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, dispatching assassins and suicide bombers against its representatives—people who certainly did face death.

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