When Prostitution is a Positive Sign

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The New York Times reports that Baghdad is now “secure enough to sin.”

“Vice is making a comeback,” says the article, in a city “once famous for 1,001 varieties of it.” Of course, the three primary forms of “vice” are sex, drinking, and gambling. The article reports a noticeable increase in all three.

Any sociologist would say this is a sign that locals are feeling safer, that there’s more money in circulation, and that people are trusting each other more. Given the city’s recent agonies, those are all good, regardless of how you feel about “vice.”

Sex has become more acceptable in Baghdad in two ways. Abu Nawas Park has been reestablished as a lover’s lane. No longer afraid of being blown up by suicide bombers, young people are now willing to be seen making out in public.

And there’s apparently an increase in prostitution. Nightclubs have reopened, hotels are busy, the streets are less scary. And so women are back to selling sex, men are buying, and life goes on. Of course, there are abuses: some women enter the trade, or are forced to enter it, before they’re adults. The kidnapping, violence, and trafficking that are endemic to tribal cultures and post-war societies—Iraq is both—are sometimes entangled with prostitution.

Of course, not every woman who sells sex is pleased to do so. Not every man who buys is pleased, either. In a better world, both would have far more choices. At the very least, Baghdad police should prevent any violence against prostitutes, and teenagers should be given the chance to learn another skill.

That said, the return of prostitution is a good sign that Baghdad—and perhaps Iraq with it—is returning to a normal urban society. And before we get too uppity about how awful prostitution is, we should remember that anything can only be evaluated compared to other things.

The U.S.-backed Iraqi constitution states that Islam is the state religion, the foundation for the country’s laws, and that no law may contradict it. This is bad for sex, which is always bad for women.

And so a Baghdad that tolerates sex—even the imperfect and sometimes exploitative sex of prostitution—is, well, heading in the right direction.

Compare this to the situation in Afghanistan, where women are beaten for walking out of the house alone, and girls going to school get acid thrown in their faces. Tolerance of prostitution would be an extraordinarily civilized accomplishment there.

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