‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ blogger detained
By Liz Sly,
Editor's Note: Amina Arraf, the Syrian blogger who is the subject ofthis article, was later determined to have been the invention of Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old American. On June 8, the Washington Post published an article questioning Arraf's existence. On June 12, MacMaster admitted that the blog had been fiction. He said he had used Arraf as an online identity for at least five years.
BEIRUT — When Amina Arraf began blogging from Syria’s capital about life, politics and being gay in the Arab world, it was February, the Arab Spring was in its first bloom, and the prospects of an uprising in authoritarian Syria still seemed remote. She appeared then to have only an inkling of how profound the coming upheaval would be.
“I live in Damascus, Syria. It’s a repressive police state. . . . But I have set up a blog with my name and my photo. Am I crazy?” she asked in one of the first posts on her English-language blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus. She went on to describe her conviction that change is inevitable in Syria and her desire to play a part in it.
“I have to begin by doing something bold and visible,” she wrote. “I can because I'm a dual national and have benefits of politically connected relatives.”
Her relatives, whose connections she didn’t explain, were hoping Tuesday that her U.S. passport would help ease her passage through the black hole of Syria’s prison system. Nothing has been heard of her since she was seen being bundled into a car by three armed men in an area of central Damascus on Monday evening.
With that, Arraf, 35, a Syrian American who was born in Staunton, Va., joined the more than 10,000 people who have been plucked from their homes or from the streets of cities since the Syrian uprising began 11 weeks ago. Her disappearance might have gone unnoticed were it not for the attention she drew after a posting in April that propelled her to world fame.
The post, titled “My father, the hero,” recounted how her father used stern words to dispatch two members of the security services who had come to her home to detain her.
Citing President Bashar al-Assad and his brother Maher, who is leading the brutal crackdown on the protest movement, her father said: “They will not live forever, they will not rule forever, and you both know that. So if you want good things in the future, you will leave and you will not take Amina with you.” The men left.
The post received more than 430,000 views and was reported in news media around the world.
It was clear, however, that Arraf was wanted. Days later, security services returned to her home, but she had been living in hiding since early May. When Arraf was seized Monday, she was on her way to meet another Syrian activist, raising the possibility that she had been betrayed.
According to a posting on her blog by a relative Tuesday, her family has been unable to find out which of the 18 branches of the security services is holding her. The witness to her abduction said Arraf hit one of her captors before she was hauled away, a detail that would fit with the feisty, passionate and defiant personality that emerges from her blog, which eloquently captures the fusion of hope and apprehension sweeping the region at this tumultuous moment in its history.
“The Arab people are asleep no more and the Arab people, not the regimes, are making their own history now,” she wrote Sunday in one of her last posts. “No conspiracy, no diabolical plot but the slow accumulation of grievances and indignities and a people who’d outgrown its rulers. We were still sleeping but barely. And a spark was all that was needed to awaken us.”
As word of her capture rippled through the online community, in which she spent so much of her life, some skeptics questioned whether someone who had grown up in the United States and returned to Syria only last summer could truly be said to speak for the Syrians battling to overthrow their regime. Others speculated that her American passport would protect her from the worst of the horrors endured by many other Syrians who have been detained.
But in the posting Sunday, barely 24 hours before she was captured, Arraf made it clear that she did not consider herself immune.
“I keep my nails trimmed shorter than they have ever been lest I be captured and they try and pry them off,” she wrote. On Fridays, when the biggest protests take place, she would ink her name and phone number onto her arm before heading out to attend, so that if she were killed, her family would be informed, according to her blog.
“I hope it’s something I will soon laugh about. . . . But I cannot be sure,” she wrote. “Today or tomorrow might be the last one for me; or tomorrow might be the beginning of a new Syria.”