Life stories: ‘my father the hero’
Violence in Syria is intensifying. Tanks and soldiers have killed hundreds of protesters. This weekend, the EU imposed sanctions against the brutal regime. From amid the chaos, a story of courage.
It's the visit that every Syrian dreads, the knock on the door in the early morning which means that someone is about to disappear, taken by the dictator's secret police.
Amina Abdullah stumbles sleepily out of her apartment to find two young men standing in the courtyard of her block. They wear no uniform, but under their leather jackets you can see the outlines of their guns. Suddenly, with horror, she realises – they've come for her.
Amina is not an obvious revolutionary. She is female, half-American, a devout Muslim and, in a deeply conservative country, openly homosexual. She describes herself as the 'ultimate outsider.'
She also runs a blog – A Gay Girl In Damascus. At first, it was a personal account of lesbian life in the Middle East. But, as unrest swept through Syria, Amina's online postings became an inspiring record of courage, resistance and revolution.
Hundreds of young Syrians have been arrested by the secret police since protests against the regime began on March 15th. Many have simply disappeared.
But that night, Amina is lucky. Before the gunmen can take her away, a saviour intervenes. It is her father, old and ill, still dressed in his nightshirt.
'You have no reason to take my daughter,' he tells the armed thugs. She is not a terrorist.
She is not a murderer. She only wants a brighter future for the Syrian people.
She is a lesbian, they reply, a 'pervert' who 'sleeps with women.'
'She is my daughter,' says the old man. 'She has done many things that, if I had been her, I would not have done.' But 'she is who she is, and if you want her, you must take me as well.'
All through the apartment block there is stunned silence. Surely such impudence from a weak old man will be swiftly punished. Amina holds her breath as she waits for the first blow, the drawn pistols.
But slowly, astonishingly, the two armed men turn, mumble an apology, and leave the building. 'My father,' Amina wrote later, 'is a hero. I always knew that – but now I am sure.'
Amina's father had delayed the secret police, but he could not hold them back forever. Now, father and daughter are on the run, fugitives in their own city.
But Amina keeps blogging and, heavily disguised, is still protesting against the regime. Every day she risks imprisonment, torture or death. Her mother has already fled to Lebanon to escape the violence. But, says Amina, 'my father is staying, so so will I.'
- How far would you go to save a member of your family?
- As an openly homosexual woman, Amina has been called an 'unlikely hero'. Why? And is it an appropriate description?
- Imagine a midnight visit from the secret police from the perspective of a neighbour of the intended victim. Describe the event, and your feelings, in a letter to a friend.
- Choose a secret police force from history and write a short piece describing their methods and organisation. How much have things changed today? And what is the impact of secret police on society?
Some People Say...
“It's better to be a living coward than a dead hero.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What's all this that's going on in Syria?
- Since the middle of March, Syrians have been protesting against the authoritarian regime of Bashar al Assad. In recent weeks, Assad has launched a brutal crackdown.
- Meaning what exactly?
- He sent the army to crush protests in the most rebellious cities. Hundreds of civilians have been killed. Tanks have been deployed in the streets. Several towns have been virtually under siege, with no way to get food or supplies to the desperate population.
- But Amina is in Damascus right?
- Yes. Damascus is the Syrian capital, and hasn't yet seen unrest on the same scale as other towns. But secret police have carried out mass arrests, imprisoning anyone suspected of undermining the regime.
- And she's gay – so what?
- Homosexuality is illegal in Syria. As a gay woman, she risks prejudice, violence and even imprisonment.