On 28 April the writer Rachel Shabi (she’s awesome by the way so check out her work) tweeted the following:
Incredible story from A Gay Girl in Damascus http://bit.ly/flICZ7
Read it – it made me cry, for a number of reasons. If you don’t have time right now then basically, in a nutshell, it’s this: the account of a Damascus-based lesbian (her name is Amina) who lives with her family. They are woken by the security services in the middle of the night. They come for Amina citing some of the things she has written in Arabic and in English “conspiring against the state,” and quickly get around to the subject of her sexuality, eventually threatening to rape her in front of her “pansy father” while they show her “how real men are”.
The blog post is entitled “My Father the Hero,” and is an account of how her “pansy father,” is actually a thoughtful, compassionate and brave man. He sends these men from his door armed with nothing more than words and the fact that he is in the right. By the time I got to the end I was in tears – not only at the power of his arguments, but with relief, that he walked back into his house with his arm around his daughter and they were both unharmed.
Unfortunately Amina’s blog has been updated in the past few days with news that has brought tears to my eyes for a whole other reason. Amina has been taken and her family think that the three men who hustled her into a van were members of the security services or the Baath Party militia. Her whereabouts are, as yet, unknown and it is thought that she will be forcibly deported from the country.
Given the way that she was previously threatened, I have other fears too.
There have been some people commenting on her blog that she somehow brought this on herself by being so open with her sexual orientation or her political views. I couldn’t disagree more and think those making these observations couldn’t be missing the point harder if they tried. But I’m not getting into that here – it hardly matters right now. What matters is that she’s found and is returned safely to her family and friends.
I’ll be writing to everyone I can think of to urge them to stop this – please do the same if you can. If you live somewhere with a Syrian Embassy, please get in touch and ask for Amina’s safe release and her return to her family.
I’ll also be writing to British.EmbassyDamascus-ConsularEnquiries@fco.gov.uk asking them to use whatever influence they have. And please tell as many people what you can that this is happening so that they can do the same.
There are lots of people’s lifestyles or political views that I don’t particularly like. But human rights are human rights – it isn’t ok to cherry-pick who gets them. I know that Syria has many more (some might feel bigger) problems than this. I’m not trying to tell you which battle you should choose to fight, but if you do choose this one I’d be really grateful. Those who exhibit the courage of their convictions, without hurting or harming others, don’t deserve to be punished for doing so.
Jacq Kelly can be found here on Twitter - @jacqkelly. She blogs at In at the Shallow End and Dance, Ricky, Dance
Update, 13th June, by Caron
So, now we know. We've been had. "Amina" is, in fact, a 40 year old American man living in Scotland - and currently on holiday in Istanbul. Let's hope that this irresponsible hoax doesn't stop people who need it getting help in the future.
The thing is, the reason that so many people were taken in by this hoax was that we know that the Syrian regime is repressive and brutal. Just this weekend, they've been firing on their own people. A brief search on the Amnesty International website for "Syria" reveals some chilling stories of torture and detention of children and adults. These should concern us all, and I think it's important to take on any regime which treats its people in that way, and I include our supposed friends like Bahrain in that.
I can't promise never to be taken in by a hoax again, but I will say that I won't hold back if I feel that a particular report of a repressive act needs action.