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Syrian Lesbian Activist Blogs, Courts Persecution

by Kilian Melloy
Saturday May 7, 2011

The lesbian daughter of a Syrian father and an American mother has fearlessly taken to the blogosphere, despite the risks involved.

Amina Abdullah writes a blog called A Gay Girl in Damascus reported British newspaper the Guardian in a May 6 article. The blog's subtitle: "An out Syrian lesbian's thoughts on life, the universe and so on ..."

Syria's protests are part of the so-called "Arab Spring," an international pro-Democracy movement that has shaken up the Arab world to such an extent that governments have cracked down on protests on the streets and even online, limiting or--temporarily--even disabling local access to the Internet and other communications services.

Syrian protests grew earnest in March, when security forces killed five protesters. But that action did not quell unrest: Demonstrators were back in the streets a day later in a funeral procession for those cut down by security forces. By the end of the month, the protests had spread to Damascus and other cities around the country, leading to further violence. Around 150 protesters died by month's end, according to activists. In Damascus, eight people died when snipers--believed to be government security--picked them off.

Government shakeups followed, with President Assad firing most of his cabinet. On Friday, April 1--called "Friday of Martyrs" by activists--more demonstrations took place, with government forces firing on crowds and killing several people.

Unrest only grew throughout April. At one point, soldiers who refused an order to open fire on demonstrating civilians were allegedly shot and killed by government security members.

Fridays seemed to be especially potent days for demonstrations. Protesters took to the streets after Friday worship on April 22--and 88 died, according to reports. More were killed as they attended funeral rites for the slain--and mourners for those victims were killed in turn at a fresh round of funeral proceedings.

By the end of April, with more than 500 demonstrators dead, "hundreds" of Ministers of Parliament stepped down in protest at the government's brutal handling of the crisis. But the crackdown continued, with the government attacking the city of Deraa and then setting out to arrest intellectuals and activists across the land.

Abdullah, like other protestors, remains unbowed. Her blogging remains courageously reformist, calling on its author's Syrian roots as well as her American Democratic sensibilities. On May 6 Abdullah wrote, "It's Friday morning; I'm in Damascus. Today may be the big day of the National Uprising that we have been working for."

Or, Abdullah was unafraid to point out, maybe not.

"This might be the last post on this blog," she added.

As it happened, it was not. A subsequent post on the same day, titled "Has the Civil War begun?" read, "There are protests everywhere ... "

"[W]e are calling for the regime to fall," the blog posting added. "A million martyrs for freedom we are pledging today, on Martyrs' Day ..." Added Abdullah, "[T]he regime has lost all legitimacy."

Abdullah's blog "is capturing the imagination of the Syrian opposition," the Guardian reported, calling the young woman's writings "brutally honest, poking at subjects long considered taboo in Arab culture."

"Blogging is, for me, a way of being fearless," Abdullah told the publication. "I believe that if I can be 'out' in so many ways, others can take my example and join the movement."

The blog shot to notoriety two weeks ago when government agents arrived to take her into custody. Abdullah's father dissuaded them. The Guardian noted that the family "is well-connected--she has close relatives in both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood," and, as a result, she found her political expression was "natural" to her.

"Unfortunately, for most of my life being aware of Syrian politics means simply observing and only commenting privately," Abdullah said.

But when she joined crowds of protestors seeking reforms in the streets, Abdullah came face to face with government oppression, and found her voice.

"Teargas was lobbed at us," she wrote of one street action. "I saw people vomiting from the gas as I covered my own mouth and nose and my eyes burned." She went on to quip, "I am sure I wasn't the only one to note that, if this becomes standard practice, a niqab is a very practical thing to wear in future."

"My views are heavily informed by being both a member of a small marginal minority as an Arab Muslim in America and as a part of a majority as a Sunni in Syria, and of course as a woman and as a sexual minority," she told the media.

"It's tough being a lesbian in Syria, but it's certainly easier to be a sexual than a political dissident," the blogger added. "There are a lot more LGBT people here than one might think, even if we are less flamboyant than elsewhere."

If Syrian GLBTs are "less flamboyant," it may well be due to the fact that it's illegal to be gay there. However, if gays keep a low profile, they are largely able to avoid trouble, the Guardian article said.

"For my family it is a preferable outcome than a promiscuous heterosexual daughter," Abdullah said.

The article said that Abdullah was born in the United States and spent part of her childhood traveling between the two nations, and the two worlds that they represent. When the government cracked down in 1982 on Islamists, she stayed in America. But at the age of 26, Abdullah returned to Syria once more and became a teacher.

Then the current unrest led to school closings--and took Abdullah into the streets.

"I consider myself a believer and a Muslim: I pray five times a day, fast at Ramadan and even covered for a decade," is how Abdullah described her faith. But that devotion does not extend blindly into the realm of the cruelly doctrinaire: "I believe God made me as I am and I refuse to believe God makes mistakes," she added.

The article said that following a second visit from government agents, both Abdullah and her father have gone into hiding. The blogger now stays on the move, though she still keeps her blog updated.

"The Syria I always hoped was there, but was sleeping, has woken up," she said. "I have to believe that, sooner or later, we will prevail."

Or, as a May 6 blog entry had it, "[T]he end of the long night is in sight!"

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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