Although no one in Syria is willing to call the current war a civil war, most Syrians have accepted the “war term” to describe the situation in the country. It is a war in which the Saudi-backed Salafists are becoming stronger. It is a war where al-Qaeda groups are arriving into the country, waiting, and hoping that the rebels will win so they can fight them afterwards and start an Islamic Caliphate in Belad al-Sham, i.e. Syria.
It is a nightmare that is materializing in a country where secularism must win for the sake of the world. It is Syria; the cradle of civilization and the country where history started to take a form of stories of inhabited cities. It is where we, queer Syrians, want to live.
In the 1980’s, Muslim Brotherhood took over an uprising in Syria only to be crushed by Hafez al-Assad in 1982 after a massacre in Hama. Later, not only did Assad’s regime oppress all Syrian, but it also targeted gay men. In the 1990’s, raids on cruising areas and arrests were common and almost regular. In 2000, Bashar al-Assad inherited the Republic, and promised some reforms. At that point, an internet connection was the dream of all young Syrians, and they got it. However, when some dared to have a dream of a better country where a handful of human rights could somehow exist, they were crushed and arrested. It was not until 2008 when gay Syrians started to try to have some form of a community, which survived despite the ongoing raids of 2010.
Old habits die hard! Raids on gay places were the habit of Syrian police. In 2010, 35 men were arrested at a gay party in a remote area in Damascus suburbs. They were detained for months until their families and friends knew they were gay. They were released later to face social retribution. Some of them had to flee their cities, some fled the country, while others managed to stay because of the open-mindedness of their families and friends.
Homosexuality is punishable by 5-year imprisonment in Syria under article 520 of the Syrian law. There is no record of a verdict under that article, nonetheless, the raids and the threat of that punishment were always the cause of fear among gay Syrians.
In 2011, when demonstrations broke out in Syria, the homophobic regime decided that homosexuality is an easy target; they started a campaign on Addounia TV promoting that the regime is saving the virtues of the Syrian community because they are fighting protesters who are homosexuals backed up by other homosexuals who own Arabic news TV channels. When that trick did not work out, they decided that the protesters are Islamists and terrorists.
Any argument that suggests that this regime is better than the “alternative” for homosexuals is refutable. We do not know what is going to happen in Syria in the future, but the “alternative” is becoming less and less promising; Salafists are expanding and lurking.
No matter who wins the war in Syria, the future does look darker for homosexuals. The regime is repeating itself with the way they are handling the rebellion. Assad managed to have it the way he wanted it to be; an armed rebellion, three vetoes, and Islamists to fight against.
It was an uprising; an aspiring revolt against a tyrant and an autocratic regime, and it was nonviolent for six months, during which, the regime did not mind killing peaceful unarmed protesters, and you know what? We were there; homosexuals protesting and dreaming of a better future for the country and for ourselves. We were brave enough to stand up for ourselves, but now, we are terrified! Both sides are becoming an eminent danger. That requires a plan, a voice, and a united queer front. A magazine had to be published; Syria’s first Queer magazine, which needed a name.