According to eyewitnesses, Syrian-American blogger Amina Arraf was abducted and physically assaulted by three armed men in Damascus, Syria, Monday.
The blogger holds dual American and Syrian citizenship and is an out lesbian currently living in Syria. Amina and her political perspectives gained additional visibility about a month ago when her blog "A Gay Girl In Damascus" was featured in an article by Time Magazine.
Although her cousin and father have made numerous inquiries, they have told me they continue to be uncertain about who exactly has taken Amina and where she is being held. However, her abduction follows an arrest attempt by Syrian government security forces in April, an experience about which she blogged. After that experience and as her online visibility increased, Amina removed her photo from her blog and went into hiding in an attempt to protect her safety.
Prior to her abduction, I corresponded by email with Amina. She wrote a "cleaned up" version of the blog post about the arrest attempt and gave me her permission to publish it on Huffington Post under the title "Another Day in Damascus." You can read her original version here on her blog. Both pieces capture well the terror experienced and the courage manifested by many in Syria today, a country in which thousands of people have been arrested and many held incommunicado and tortured.
Another Day in Damascus
By Amina Abdallah Arrah
Damascus --- We had a visit from the security services the other night: they came late, in the wee small hours of the morning. Everyone was fast asleep. I woke when I heard the clamor and immediately guessed what had happened.
Abu Ali, our doorman, had been awakened by someone ringing the gate, and stumbled there to look out; he thought everyone was inside, but it wouldn't be the first time that some family member or other had stayed out far too late at a cafe ... instead, he saw two young guys in their mid twenties, clad in black leather jackets, muscular and both smoking. He knew immediately who they were and rang the alarm to wake everyone up. He was surprised when they stated who they were here for ... me ...
Meanwhile, I had a pretty strong notion when I woke up exactly what had happened; I haven't been shy in making my opinions about the situation here clear and I had suspected that, sooner or later, I'd get a visit. Already, friends and comrades had been taken. So why not me?
Anyhow, I pulled on my clothes as fast as I could -- the ones I have had laid out for such a moment; simple cotton underwear and t-shirt (no underwire or anything like that), jeans, loose fitting pullover, slipped my US passport (I'm a dual national) into my pocket, with my hand on it like a talisman and put on my glasses and stumbled downstairs to the courtyard.
My father was already out there; he hadn't bothered to get dressed at all and was wearing just a nightshirt. He was already in animated discussion with them.
When I appeared, one of them nodded, "That's her"
"Yes ... we need to discuss a few things with you," he says with an oily smile that doesn't extend to the eyes.
He rattles off a long list of things I have posted in English and in Arabic.
"You might have missed a few," I say, my nerves almost getting the worst of me, but, less than fully awake, I clamp down hard on the urge to flee. If I run, I know that they will shoot. I can see weapons, the bulge of pistols and likely knives under their jackets.
"We have enough," the same one says. "Conspiring against the state, urging armed uprising, working with foreign elements."
"Uh huh, which ones?"
"The Salafi plot," the other one says, his accent marks him as straight from a village in the Jebel Ansariya. "Making sectarian plots ..."
"Really?" my father interrupts him. "My daughter is a salafi?" My father starts laughing. "Look at her: can't you see that that is ridiculous? She doesn't even cover any more ... and if you have really read even half of what she has written, you know how ridiculous that is. When was the last time you heard a wahhabi, or even someone from the Brotherhood say that wearing hijab is the woman's choice only?"
My father pauses; they don't say anything.
"I did not think so," he goes on. "When was the last time you saw one of those write that there should be no religion as religion of the state?" Again nothing.
"When was the last time you saw them saying that the gays should be allowed the right to marry, a man to a man or a woman to a woman?" Nothing.
"And when you say nothing, you show," he says, "that you have no reason to take my daughter."
They say nothing. Then one whispers something to the other, he smiles. "Uh huh," the man says, "so your daughter tells you everything, huh?"
"Of course," my father says.
"Did she tell you that she likes to sleep with women?" he grins, pure poison, feeling like he has made a hit. "That she is one of those faggots who fucks little girls?" (The Arabic he used is far cruder ... you get the idea)
My dad glances at me. I nod; we understand each other. "She is my daughter," he says and I can see the anger growing in his eyes, "and she is who she is and if you want her, you must take me as well."
"Stupid city-fuckers," says the same guy. "All you rich pansies are the same. No wonder she ends up fucking girls and kikes" (again, the Arabic is much rawer ...) He steps towards me and puts his hand on my breast.
I am motionless.
"Maybe if you were with a real man," he leers, "you'd stop this nonsense and lies; maybe we should show you now and let your pansy father watch so he understands how real men are."
I am almost trembling with rage. My dad moves his head slightly to tell me to be silent.
"What are you?" he says. "Did the jackal sleep with the monkey before you were born? What are your names?"
They tell him; I'm a little startled.
He nods, "Your father," he says to the one who threatened to rape me, "does he know this is how you act? He was an officer, yes? And he served in ..." (he mentions exactly and then turns to the other) "and your mother? Wasn't she the daughter of ...?" They are both wide-eyed, yes, my father is right.
"What would they think if they heard how you act? And my daughter? Let me tell you this about her; she has done many things that, if I had been her, I would not have done. But she has never once stopped being my daughter and I will never once let you do any harm to her. You will not take her from here. And, if you try, know that generations of her ancestors are looking down on you. Do you know what is our family name? You do? Then you know where we stood when Muhammad, peace be upon him, went to Medina, you know who it was who liberated al Quds, you know too, maybe, that my father fought to save this country from the foreigners and who he was, know who my uncles and my brothers were ... and if that doesn't shame you enough, you know my cousins and you will leave here.
"You will leave her alone and you will tell the rest of your gang to leave her alone. And I will tell you something now because I think maybe you are too stupid to figure this out on your own. You are Alawis; do not deny that, I know you both are. We are Sunni. You know that. And in your offices and in your villages they are telling you that all of you must stand shoulder to shoulder now because we are coming for you as soon as we can and we will serve you as they have served ours in the Land of the Two Rivers. So you are scared. I would be, too.
"So you come here to take Amina. Let me tell you something though. She is not the one you should fear; you should be heaping praises on her and on people like her. They are the ones saying Alawi, Sunni, Arab, Kurd, Druze, Christian, everyone is the same and will be equal in the new Syria; they are the ones who, if the revolution comes, will be saving your mothers and your sisters. They are the ones fighting the Wahhabi most seriously. You idiots are, though, serving them by saying 'every Sunni is Salafi, every protester is Salafi, every one of them is an enemy' because when you do that you make it so.
"Your Bashar and your Maher, they will not live forever, they will not rule forever, and you both know that. So, if you want good things for yourselves in the future, you will leave and you will not take Amina with you. You will go back and you will tell the rest of yours that the people like her are the best friends the Alawi could ever have and you will not come for her again.
"And right now, you two will both apologize for waking her and putting her through all this. Do you understand me?"
And time froze when he stopped speaking. Now, they would either smack him down and beat him, rape me, and take us both away ... or ...
The first one nodded, then the second one.
"Go back to sleep," he said, "we are sorry for troubling you."
And they left!
As soon as the gate shut ... I heard clapping; everyone in the house was awake now and had been watching from balconies and doorways and windows all around the courtyard ... and everyone was cheering ...MY DAD had just defeated them! Not with weapons but with words ... and they had left ...
I hugged him and kissed him; I literally owe him my life now.
And everyone came down and hugged and kissed, every member of the family, and the servants and everyone ... we had won ... this time ...
My father is a hero; I always knew that, when I was a little girl, I knew that, knew that when we moved to America and he'd sing me country songs with an Arabic twist ("take me home, coooontry road, to the blace where I am from, Damascus, Bilad ash Sham, take me home, coontry road"), knew that when I was a troubled, confused teen or when I left my husband and came crying home, when I admitted I loved a woman, when I made stupid mistakes ... but now I am sure; he is a hero, my hero ...
And in the night we celebrated this little victory; they may come back but maybe not. So, he made a few calls in the middle of the night; woke up some people (and found some not sleeping) who are in the regime and told them about the goons' visit. They may have consequences fall on them (which is why I do not give their names) and probably won't be sent out again ... if they haven't quit.
Maybe they will tell others; leave the 'liberals' alone ... maybe not. Only time will tell.
So, when my father says he will not leave until either democracy comes or he is dead, I have no choice but to stay. Not because he is making me, but because he is not making me; I owe him everything.
We sent the rest of the family away; any who can, any who will left for Beirut. They are safe there and, they tell me, enjoying the sea. But I cannot go. He's staying so so will I.
And the goons of this regime? They are using an old scheme of repression that would have worked for them in past challenges: their notion is that an attempt to overthrow the regime would come from a small group of conspirators. Round up a few dozen at most and the coup attempt is squashed; it happened often enough in the old days (when there was either a coup or coup attempt of the week, 1949-1958 or so) and that pattern was common. For stopping that, they are effective.
Even the 1976-82 crisis that brought us to the edge of the abyss and ended in Hama was harder but was still one where repression in one city and round ups elsewhere could 'break the back' of the Ikhwaan, though instead of dozens, that was a matter of a couple thousand.
But with both those models, it's relatively straightforward: locate the leadership cadres and armed cells, round them up or kill them. And 'the problem is solved.'
This time, though, it's different. There is no single group of leaders to round up or cells to break; instead, the very lack of organized leadership _is_ the biggest problem for them and even then, in my opinion, they are moving too late. Six months ago, they could have arrested 100 people; sentenced ten of them to death or long sentences and that would be that. In February, a couple hundred would be enough.
Now, though, I would say that they need to shoot a few thousand and detain a few tens of thousands to suppress things. (And the nature of Syria makes this worse for them though also makes victory harder for us: Syria is like the USA or modern Germany in not having a single center where everything happens: in Tunisia or Ireland - and even France or Egypt - what happens in the capital is the beginning and end of things. here, though, there are at least half a dozen places to either take or hold ... Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Ataxia, Hama, Raqqa ... you need to get them all...
So they are coming out and looking for trouble-makers; I guess I got on the list of those! But who are we in the opposition, anyway?
The regime is presenting us as being hardline Sunni fanatics; 'salafi' is the term they use. They want to suggest that the choice is between a Syrian version of the Taliban and them. And in a country where there are lots of Christians, Druze, Alawi - and not to mention modern and secular (not necessarily the same thing!) people, that means most people would side with them... if it were true! Sure, there are hardline salafis here but, I would guess, they are less than a single percent. Instead, the opposition includes liberals (like myself), leftists, moderates, conservatives ... basically the whole country ... there are Druze and Christian and Alawi protesters; Arabs and Kurds; all of us who are sick and tired of dictatorship, sick and tired of detentions and torture, sick and tired of democracy forever deferred ... we just want freedom!
On Twitter, you can follow #FreeAmina for updates.
Follow Leah McElrath Renna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/alphaleah