This day last week, I wrote about the blogger, ‘Amina’, and her apparent abduction by members of the Syrian security forces. In the ensuing week, it has been revealed that this was a hoax: the persona, the blog, the online identity built up since at least 2007, the images of “her”. All a lie.
One of the repercussions is that real LGBT activists living under the Syria regime – and activists in general, and in other oppressive states – have effectively been discredited and placed at additional risk from the authorities.
- Sami Hamwi, of Gay Middle East Syria:
Blogging in Syria has been forbidden by law for more than eight years. As internet started to flourish, many Syrians started to use internet spaces and blogs to write personal thoughts, poetry, short stories, etc., unaware of that fact, but they remained safe as the authorities only monitored political and human rights blogs. LGBT bloggers can manage to keep safe only if their blogs were meant for gossip and entertainment, but they might have to face different kind of difficulties if they reported news or engaged into LGBT rights activism. As soon as any blog starts to attract attention, the agony with authorities’ interference starts.
Syrian police deals with opposition, activists, journalists, bloggers, etc., in 2 main methods; a third one might be added to intimidate the ones who pose “less harm”. For many purposes I will use the word “subject” to refer to people targeted by the Syrian secret police.
The first method is to call the subject and say: “We would like to come over for a chat!”. Later, when they find it necessary to interview the subject more than once they might say: “Come over for a cup of coffee and a little chat!”. Needless to say that this is an “offer” no one can refuse. Those chats are normally friendly and full of “heartfelt advices” by the officer about what to do or not to do; the subject has to comply. Frequent visits are normal for journalists and usually take place every 2-3 months. I have “chatted” with friendly officers for more than 37 times so far and was given valuable advices not to engage into any kind of political activism.
The second method is actual arrests. It is used when the subject is deemed to be “effective and harmless” and/or with connection to the west or western media. Normally no one can find out where the subject had been taken to, what branch of secret police made the arrest, and when the subject will be released if they were ever released. Fortunately, the second method has been never used with me, and I hope this will remain to be the case, but it was used with many of my friends as I mentioned in a previous blog. For days, weeks, months, and sometimes years, I didn’t hear or know any news about those friends. I know two friends who had disappeared a few years back, and I know nothing about them until now.
The third method is what is called in an exact translation “a security study”. Secret police agents go to the subject’s place of residence, work, or home town, they interrogate their relatives, coworkers and/or employers, and they hint at points the subject themselves knows about. This is widely used with LGBT people as a threat to expose to families or employers. People might get killed or at least fired if their homosexuality was exposed as the society is far from being lenient with sexuality issues. I have been a subject of such studies more than 6 times, last one was two days after the uprising in Syria started.
I started to write all this after Amina Araf story was one of the lead stories in the media after her alleged arrest. As I was about to publish my views about her and her stories, I was stunned by the latest post that was published on that blog. Instead of not publishing what I have wrote, I thought people in the west should know about the secret police in Syria, and how they deal with Syrians.
To Mr. MacMaster, I say shame on you! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us. Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina’s arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really… Shame on you!
To the readers and the western media I say, there are authentic people in the Middle East who are blogging and reporting stories about the situation in their countries. You should pay attention to these people.
- Daniel Nassar:
I’m so outraged I can’t even type well.
Mr. Tom MacMaster, with due respect, has the audacity to say on the blog he created over the last two years that he did not harm anyone with his fictional writing; I beg to differ.
Because of you, Mr. MacMaster, a lot of the real activists in the LGBT community became under the spotlight of the authorities in Syria. These activists, among them myself, had to change so much in their attitude and their lives to protect themselves from the positional harm your little stunt created. You have, sir, put a lot of lives, mine and some friends included, in harm’s way so you can play your little game of fictional writing.
This attention you brought forced me back to the closet on all the social media websites I use; caused my family to go into a frenzy trying to force me back into the closet, and my friends to ask me for phone numbers of loved ones and family members so they can call them in case I disappeared myself. Many people who are connected to me spent nights worrying about me, and many fights I had with my family were because you wanted to play your silly game of the media.
You feed the foreign media an undeniable dish of sex, religion and politics and you are now leaving us with this holier-than-thou semi-apology with lame and shallow excuses of how you wanted to bring attention to the right people on the ground. I’m sorry, you’re not on the ground, you don’t know the ground and you don’t even belong to the culture of the people of the group.
You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know. To bring attention to yourself and blog; you managed to bring the LGBT movement in the Middle East years back. You single-handedly managed to bring unwanted attention from authorities to our cause and you will be responsible for any LGBT activist who might be yet another fallen angel during these critical time.
I’m outraged, and if I lived in a country where I can sue you, I would.
- Gay Middle East is the most extensive LGBT news site from the Middle East: www.gaymiddleeast.com