Notes on Syrian Bloggers Campaign Against Homosexuality

I am going to cut the chase and get straight to the points I want to make here, there are many things I want to say in Arabic later on but I am going to say here what I am incapable linguistically to say in Arabic, unfortunately, I am westernized.

The campaign that some Syrian bloggers launched against homosexuality which has technically begun yesterday is the first campaign that has to do with Syrian social matters. To be more specific, this campaign is identity-based. Bloggers feel that because they’re Arabs and Syrian and of course, Muslims, they’re threatened by the existence of homosexuals. Not just because god said so in Quraan, but also because they feel that the reason why homosexuals are getting more vocal about their rights is because of the internet, western interference through tv and movies, and what have you.

I have to say here, that part of what they’re saying is true, but not quite so. But we’ll get into that later on in other post.

What I find so interesting about this campaign is that and as I have said above it is an identity-based campaign. Syrian bloggers campaigned to free a fellow Syrian blogger. Tariq Biasi, they campaigned for occupied Palestine and occupied Gaza, they campaigned for occupied Golan Heights also. Campaigns about freedom of speech and Palestinian and Golan liberty does not reflect the “who I am” formula the campaign against homosexuality heavily carries within it. By saying “I am against homosexuals”, Syrian bloggers are saying this is who we are, we are Muslims, we are Syrians, and we are normal human beings. We want to save our society, we are locals and we wont let strangers to take the only thing we got; our identity.

As much as I “oppose” the simplistic, clichéd, typical argument this campaign offers, this very simplicity is exactly what the Syrian society is constructed of: ready-made thoughts, traditions and habits, so called “religious values” (which are not really religious but I am going to talk about that later in other post), these typical thoughts that some of us disagree with and in fact want to change are nothing but what Syrian society is made of. Hence opposing this campaign mean that I am opposing a whole society, and by doing so, my opposition per se, is meaningless. What I should do along with my opposition is talking as well, really talking and explaining and let the other understand where I come from, which I haven’t done in a long time and I was wrong not doing so.

Let me continue explaining why this campaign is the only authentic campaign Syrian bloggers that has ever launched: it’s because it is a non-virtual campaign. The virtual becomes a non-virtual for the first time in the Syrian blogsphere concerning an unspeakable taboo. As the matter of fact, it is the only non-virtual campaign the Syrian bloggers have ever launched.

Syrian bloggers calling for freedom of speech in Syria is like fucking for virginity. And Syrian bloggers calling for the liberation of Palestine and Golan heights is exclusively virtually authenticated; it means that it is only real in the virtual world, so I am not sure how real it is.

Syrian citizens cannot non-virtually be calling for any of these matters on the ground. Even for Palestine and Golan heights, Syrians are being censored and closely watched by Syrian intelligence. I know Syrians and Palestinians in Syria who are not allowed to leave the country because they were pro-Palestinian activists within Palestinian camps. And certainly, Golan Heights is a Syrian state matter and not the people’s. With regards to Golan Heights campaign, Syrian bloggers are self-conscious about their incapability to be activists on the ground for Golan and that’s one major reason why they had to campaign about it virtually.

In other words, in Syria things go this way: we blog what we cannot say in public in Syria.

But the campaign against homosexuality is not the same as the rest of the campaigns. Syrian society is homophobic, sectarian, racist and discriminate against women. And all these matters are considered taboo to be discussed in the Syrian blogsphere, different kind of taboo: we all pretend to be the “good blogger” who is against honor crimes, sectarianism, racism and we never talk about women issues in Syria, there are some exception of course but generally speaking, it seems that we want to look good so bad-or that we are in denial- that we cannot say what we are daily living to preserve being a “good blogger” or a “good Syrian”. In other words, silence about problems in Syria is how we deal with these problems in order to change, as Syrians.

So why this campaign is authentic and real and very important to change? for example, if Syrian bloggers campaigned IN SOLIDARITY with homosexuals it would be the same as the rest of the campaigns, too good to be true. I wouldn’t feel good about it precisely because it would be exclusively virtual and thus inauthentic.

The authenticity and the historical spatial reality of any idea or an opinion no matter how horrible it might be is our only key for change in Syria.

I consider this campaign a success for myself because I personally feel that I provoked the unspeakable and now it’s out so loud and it’s time that we have our long awaited little talk.

It also made me realized how wrong I was, I acted stupidly to bloggers who uttered some bad words against homosexuals, sexual liberty for women and erotica, topics that I blog heavily on this blog.


But things are going to change from now on, it took me Daddy Long Legs, Adnan and Lina and Treasure Island :) to understand that I need to smile and take a deep breath before I start talking.

It is very outrageous for some and for me to hear arguments that are against non-virgin women and homosexuals, but these very thoughts are real, and we need to feel good about having Syrian bloggers who depict the majority of the Syrian society, cause without them, we ourselves, won’t be real anymore, we will think that Syria is fine, everything is fine, and we won’t be able to touch a bit of what is not so fine about us.

the failure of 'freedom of speech' in syria

This was my contribution in Global Voices Summit, I wrote this to present it in the Summit but i had problems with Lebanese security in the air port, so Yazan Badran was kind enough to present it on my behalf:

I thought about what to say in ten minutes about internet censorship in Syria. I thought that listing information and reporting cases will do no good to anyone as we thankfully have Google. So I thought about sharing with you my current thoughts about “freedom of speech” and its reductive meanings as a person who experienced and blogged about censorship in Syria.

First of all, I will assume that many of you did not hear about Free Tariq campaign but perhaps you did hear about Free Karim or Free Foaud al Farhan.

To give you a brief idea about Tariq Baiasi’s case, Tariq is a Syrian blogger who wrote a comment that is critical to the Syrian regime, he left the comment on a website considered suspicious by the government, he was detained on July the 7th. 2007 and a year later on May 11, 2008 he received a verdict of three-year sentence for the following charges:

1- Dwindling the national feeling.

2-Weakening the national ethos.

So the question goes, why did Free Tariq campaign fail?

We failed for so many reasons, the trigger was that one of our members was harassed by the government and was about to be detained like Tariq, so we decided to shut down the campaign website, and I shut down my blog as well for my own safety.

But mainly, and mostly, I think the failure explains exactly why ‘activism,’ ‘volunteerism’, and ‘freedom of speech,’ are just terms without empirical meaning in Syria. The campaign failed because it did not address the people locally. and most importantly, because “freedom of speech” in itself as a term is not and becomes not the “people’s” concern as much as it is the elitists’. To give you an idea what I mean by the elitists: 10 % in Syria use the internet according the Human rights Watch. And mostly it is used by the youth for chatting due to the sexual segregation in most of the Syrian cities and villages except those on the coast like Latakia and Tartus.

To get back to our topic, let me share with you some few Syrian bloggers’ take on Free Tariq campaign and perhaps through them we can get a glance on what I am trying to say:

1- many Syrian bloggers and viewers sent us emails asking what exactly did Tariq write in his comment.

2- Another blogger asked if Tariq is a Muslim Brotherhood fellow due to his beard in his picture on the campaign website.

3- Another blogger told me that since he is “Islamists” and we’re leftists and secularists; let’s leave him to his fellow islamists.

And this was the case, people support who is one of them, and don’t support who isn’t, but most importantly and dangerously I think, people need a reason to support the detainee and oppose abuse.

Many people asked me what Tariq wrote in his comment, but no one knows because the security officers erased everything, and I honestly don’t care if he is leftist or islamists and I don’t care about what he wrote in that comment, someone wrote what he has to say and for that he was detained for a year and now he is serving three year sentence, period.

The regime succeeded in letting people believe that we need good reasons to allow people to speak, now we need to follow a certain standard before we are allowed to speak. We failed because censorship is not just on speech, but on how we think, how we read, how we watch TV and the news, how we make love, get dressed and walk in the street.

The campaign failed because freedom of speech is a borrowed concept, I repeat, it is a borrowed concept and it is performed in an un-local manner, in the sense that we oppose actions without explaining on the ground why they’re wrong in the first place. it is being dealt with as a priority just because the world thinks so while the major issues in syria are not addressed yet. That’s why people won’t move with any campaigns of the sort, because we are facing a larger censorship; censorship of the mind, before that of the speech.

Let’s remember why we campaign in the first place? What are our goals? Intentions? Who we target? Isn’t “change” what we seek? Don’t we want to make a change in our realities? Make a better life? I personally hope so, but now I abandoned this way of changing my reality. In Syria, I think an economical reform is only what paves the way into other forms of reforms.

In Syria, virtual censorship is authentically virtual, because the true censorship is religious and social before it is political, it is inside our homes, schools, jobs, Mosques and churches, it is in the streets and everyday. The challenge is to address people because they’re the change, not the governments, and activism in Syria addresses its opposers and itself only.

To experience censorship means you don’t get the chance to experience life. And that’s the case in Syria, at least to me, before we defend speech, activists need to learn how to defend life, I am not a life lover though! (hinting to a lebanese party.) ;-)

مرور عام على اعتقال المدون السوري طارق بياسي

بتاريخ 7-7-2008 ، يكون قد مرّ عام كامل على اعتقال المدون السوري طارق بياسي ، و الذي اعتقله الأمن العسكري بطرطوس لنشره نصاً على الإنترنت.
بتاريخ 11-5 2008 ، اصدرت محكمة أمن الدولة حكمها بالسجن ست سنوات خففت إلى ثلاث سنوات على المدون السوري طارق بياسي بتهمة  «وهن نفسية الأمة وإضعاف الشعور القومي».
يتزامن مرور عام على اعتقال المدون السوري طارق بياسي مع ما سمته السلطات السورية «أعمال شغب قام بها محكومون بالتطرف» ،في سجن صيدنايا الذي يقضي به طارق فترة حكمه ، و هو ما اعتبره مراقبوا حقوق الإنسان بسوريا «مجزرة بخيرة رجال سوريا العزل »، و الذي يطالبون بتحسين ظروفهم داخل السجن.
و كان طارق قد المح لعائلته أثناء زياتههم إليه قبل أقل من شهر في سجن صيدنايا أن هنالك أخبار مطمئنة و سارة يتحدث عنها المساجين و سجانيهم ، و لربما سمع طارق من سجناء أو ضباط داخل السجن عن أنباء عفو رئاسي سيطالهم ،  أو أنباء عن تحسين حالتهم و ظروف اعتقالهم داخل السجن. و هذا خلاف ما أوردته مواقع حقوق الإنسان إثر الأحداث الأخيرة في السجن.
و نحن كمدونين سوريين في الداخل و الخارج ، نطالب السلطات السورية بإطلاق سراح المدون طارق بياسي و معتقلي الرأي و الكلمة ، و نلح في الطلب على تحسين ظروف المساجين عامة ، و مساجين الرأي و الكلمة خاصة.
و نأمل ألا تتسب هذه الأحداث في إيقاف أي تحسينات كانت ستطال المساجين ، أو تأجيل أي عفو كانت السلطات تنوي أن تُسعد به الشعب السوري و تفرح به الأمهات المكلومات.
و ندعو الله أن يحمي و يحفظ الزميل طارق بياسي من حادث سجن صيدنايا و تبعاته.