02/07/11-by L.S. Carbonell
If you don’t follow the comments on our stories, I’d like to pass along the corrections sent to us by Amina A, a Syrian lesbian who wrote to correct my misinformation about Syria and its President Bashar al-Assad. As I explained to Amina, I was working off the report filed by Tom Aspell of NBC and, regretfully, don’t know as much about Syria as I should.
“From Amina A
I just stumbled on your blog and, as a Syrian lesbian now living in Damascus, I had to read it … and comment. A fair number of the facts are actually wrong; the economy here’s actually doing pretty good (compared to most of the world and certainly compared to Egypt) which, probably more than anything, has undermined any protest movement here. On top of that, Assad’s relative liberalization of economics and dissent in the last decade has helped raise acceptance of the regime while one lesson _everyone_ in Syria drew from Iraq was that, all in all, Assad wasn’t as bad as opening up the gates of hell might be.
Also, with the Israel issue, an important fact to bear in mind is that Israel actually occupies a big piece of Syria (the Golan heights) from which they expelled 90% of the population. That more than anyhing determines Syrian stances towards Israel. Our government has been fairly consistent in saying that they would agree to full peace, full relations, etc with Israel _tomorrow_ if the Israelis would withdraw from Golan. The Israelis have consistently rejected every peace offer.
Anyhow, as to the question everyone is dying to know … LGBT issues here are, in my opinion, improving but with a long way to go. Maybe where the US was in the late 1960′s? Men who are trysting in parks do get arrested but, with even minimal discretion, sexual minorities are fairly free (at least in the cities; but isn’t that true everywhere?). There are coffeeshops and hair salons, for instance, that those in ‘the community’ know of as being places for bi- and lesbian women to congregate — and they are hardly secretive. Punishment for lesbianism is virtually unknown and more and more younger women are beginning to be openly assertive about their sexuality.
My own guess is that we’re still a ways off from a Damascus Pride march happening, but probably sooner than most would guess.”
I explained to Amina that I have grown up in a country where support for Israel is almost a religion, and it took a particular incident – the Israeli army bulldozing an olive grove that children were using for cover to throw rocks at Israeli settlers’ cars – to make me start to question the Israeli side of the story. I also told her I hoped I was succeeding in my small efforts to provide balance for Islam. Following my reply to her, Amina corrected my understanding of “negotiations” between Syria and Israel, since I believed that Israel had made demands for peace talks.
Actually, the Israelis never got as far as actually making a counter-offer; the call to dismantle Syrian support to Hamas and Hezbollah (both of which, incidentally, are elected parties with large support among their constituencies) was mooted as something the Israelis would offer, but they never did as they had already withdrawn from the pre-pre-talks (over the fact that they wouldn’t countenance a full withdraw to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines).
With the refugee issues, remember the situation varies state to state; in Lebanon, for instance, Palestinians were treated absolutely awfully (and still are), prohibited from many occupations, kept virtually in prison — yet Lebanon is supposed to have been the most ‘liberal’ of tehse states. In Jordan, they had citizenship and, theoretically, full equality. Here, there was no special discrimination against Palestinian refugees; the misery in Yarmouk (the biggest ‘camp’ here) is about the same as in any poor part of Damascus. And, too, one needs to place the refugee situation in context: here, for instance, with very little assistance, we’ve had multiple waves of refugees; since 2003, for instance, at least two million Iraqis have fled here (in scale, as though the US took 35 million refugees) yet there’s virtually no friction over that; I wonder how many states could do as well?
I don’t mean to sound as an apologist for the government here, but it is more complicated than most people in the west realize. I’m glad you’re trying to help explain things
I would like to apologize to the people of Syria and their President for my errors of information. I do not, however, apologize for my disappointment in President Assad. A decade ago, I had hoped that, along with Jordan’s King Abdullah, he would usher in a new era in the Middle East, one derived from their youth and Western educations and a more sophisticated perspective of the world. Neither man has been able to or been capable of becoming regional leaders who could change the direction of the dialogue.
Some of President Assad’s reforms have been impressive in an area I didn’t expect – moving women out of the middle ages and into the 21st century. The hijab reminds me of a traditional nun’s habit, clothing frozen in the 16th century. I may have missed a Surah or two, but Surah 24:31 (Ayah) advises women to cover their “adornments” from strangers outside the family. This verse of the Qur’an refers to the institution of public modesty rather than veiling the face. President Assad has banned the wearing of the hijab in Syria’s universities.
Maybe I just need to be more patient. After all, it’s only been a decade.
The world really needs to hear the facts about Islam and not the anti-Muslim propaganda that is so cancerous in our country. There’s only so much this Catholic-raised pantheist can do.