***UPDATE, 6/14/11*** — This post, and in fact the entire blog of “A Gay Girl in Damascus, Syria” have been revealed (and admitted) as a hoax. The entire blog was written by a Scottish grad student at the University of Edinburgh. For my musings on what it means that I so uncritically posted this and expounded upon what I believed was its “relevance,” see my follow-up post here.
We’re hampered, here in the states, as we have traditionally been, by the sheer size of our country, and the fact that only two other countries border us at all. No matter how quicksilver information becomes through the advancement of technology, when it comes from far abroad, news often feels unreal, simply because so few of us have experienced what it truly means to try to live a regular life in these far-away places we’ve only read about and occasionally seen on TV.
Too often, the temptation falls into one of two mirror-opposite forms of exaggeration: either the location is prized as a vacation or tourist destination, in which case it’s all wispy beaches and four-star restaurants and sweeping villas (which ignore and often actively try to hide the misery and poverty of real life in the area), or the location is in the news only because of some man-made calamity such as civil strife, in which case the place understandably seems like a hellhole no one in their right mind would want to visit, let alone be stuck in permanently (but which ignores the reality of life and the attractive aspects of the place, as it reduces it to merely a war zone).
Sadly, both are exaggerations, and therefore both fail to truly give an accurate picture of life in many if not most of the stories from far away. So when we (most of us, anyway) in America read/hear/watch news stories like the astonishing one unfolding across Arab states since mid-winter of this year, we don’t have enough context in which to place it. We don’t speak the language, we don’t understand the culture, we’ve no real idea of the realities of life, nor how they’ve been shaped by the past. We’ve been told by some of our own media to fear and loathe Muslims and anyone who looks or sounds Arabic, and although we think of ourselves (with some justification) as a people who support freedom and democracy wherever it exists or is trying to burst into flower through cracks in the concrete of repression and tradition, we’re not sure we’re entirely comfortable with so much revolution in the Arab world – or even if we understand it all that well.
So this is from the personal blog of (as you will see from the blog’s title itself) an out, gay young woman in Damascus, Syria. Think about what it means simply to BE that: an out gay woman in modern Syria, then read the story. It’s nearly a month old at this point, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it until now. But I don’t think it’s at all stale for its age, since I don’t think its relevance is based upon its news “freshness.” Instead, it presents perhaps the clearest first-person narrative (though this was not the intent of the author, I suspect) of the cultural and political forces at work in the current “Arab spring.” It is truly astonishing, and encouraging.
However, in addition to finding Amina’s story encouraging and astonishing, I also found it something else: ordinary. The astonishing qualities of the story spring from places we can understand: ordinary people standing against real threats, asserting their humanity and refusing to repress themselves in the face of the stultifying repression of centuries of tradition, many centuries longer than our own country has even existed. The young woman in this story – and her father – are both obviously heroes, without question. But reading their story, even though most of us don’t speak their language, don’t understand their culture or their religion very well, and are separated by half a world’s worth of distance and difference from their reality, reading their story makes us recognize the similarity of their struggle, of people everywhere in all ages yearning to move their communities forward and closer together. Reading their story, I was reminded – and perhaps you will be, too – of the words of Unitarian minister Theodore Parker from 1853 (made so famous over a century later by Dr. Martin Luther King):
I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
Yeah. It does. And if you read this post by this young Syrian lesbian, and you will feel the truth of those words, just as you will if you read accounts of Stonewall, or the events on the Edmund Pettis Bridge.