By BASSEM MROUE
BEIRUT – A Syrian-American lesbian blogger known for her frank posts about her sexuality and her open criticism of President Bashar Assad’s autocratic rule was detained after weeks on the run in the Syrian capital, her cousin and an activist said.
Amina Arraf wrote a blog called “A Gay Girl in Damascus,” a mixture of erotic prose and updates about Syria’s uprising, including her participation in anti-regime protests.
Her cousin, Rania Ismail, said Arraf was last seen on Monday being bundled into a car by three men in civilian clothes. The car, Ismail wrote in a post on her cousin’s blog, had a sticker depicting Assad’s late brother Basel, according to a friend who was nearby and saw what happened.
Ismail said Arraf was detained as she and the friend were on their way “to meet a person involved” with the Local Coordination Committee, an activist group which helps organize and document the protests calling for an end to the Assad regime.
An activist with the Local Coordination Committees also said Arraf was taken but gave no details.
“We are hoping she is simply in jail and nothing worse has happened to her,” Ismail wrote. She added that Arraf had previously sent her texts to post should something happen to her, but she was holding off in hopes of hearing further word from her cousin.
The day before she was detained, Arraf wrote: “I am complex, I am many things; I am an Arab, I am Syrian, I am a woman, I am queer, I am Muslim, I am binational, I am tall, I am too thin; my sect is Sunni, my clan is Omari, my tribe is Quraysh, my city is Damascus,” she wrote in www.damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com a day before being detained.
“I am also a Virginian. I was born on an afternoon in a hospital in sight of where Woodrow Wilson entered the world, where streets are named for country stars.”
Since the uprising against Assad began in mid-March, a government crackdown has left about 1,300 people dead and more than 10,000 detained, according to human rights groups. Several activists who were briefly detained during the revolt said they were tortured, humiliated, and forced to sign pledges to avoid anti-regime activities.
In one post, Arraf wrote about taking part in a Damascus protest that was broken up by security forces.
“Busloads of secret police armed with batons—thousands of them—met us around Abbasiyeen Square and began to assault the edges of the crowd,” she wrote. “Teargas was lobbed at us. I saw people vomiting from the gas as I covered my own mouth and nose and my eyes burned. … We broke and were scattered.”
But she gained prominence after writing on April 26 about two plainclothes security agents who came to her home to detain her and were argued into leaving by her father. Soon afterward, Arraf and her father went into hiding, changing location frequently in Damascus, the Syrian capital.
Homosexuality is illegal in Syria and gays are frowned upon by the country’s conservative society. It is rare for gay Arabs to speak openly about their sexuality, and even rarer for parents to defend them.
“I went into a hair salon one day and, not long after I arrived, I picked up on something between the women working there; I spoke around in circles and so did they and finally learned that the women there were all gay. We relaxed, we talked.
“I realized I’d found an underground outpost of our kind. I found a cafe where women held hands,” she wrote.
Arraf insisted that she wouldn’t flee Syria, saying that activists had to fight for a more liberal and democratic country.
In her blog, Arraf wrote that the regime no longer had the power to frighten Syrians.
“For an oppressive system to work, it doesn’t need an enormous network of spies, of prisons, of torturers and so on … it needs just one thing: for the great majority of the people to actually believe that the state is mighty and vicious and to be afraid of it.”
“And all we ever had to do was to stop being afraid. And the moment that we stopped being afraid, the earth shook. The regime cannot long survive if the people no longer are scared,” she wrote.
“They may be deadly, but we are not afraid any longer. We are becoming free.”