Friday, August 24, 2012

Homosexual and Anti-Assad

How It All Started
Since 1963 Syria was under the oppressive rule of the Baath party which brought Hafez Al-Assad to power in 1970. Despite the fact that the Baath party was nominated “the leading party of the state and the society” (article 8 of the constitution between 1971-2012) it was merely a tool for Mr Assad to cling to power. Mr Assad was the head of state, the head of the Syrian armed forces, and the general secretary of the Baath party. Never the less, in his mind that was not gonna be enough if he wanted to stay in power for long, in a country that witnessed 5 military coups and 13 different presidents in the previous 20 years.
It was vital for President Assad to turn the country into a police state if he wanted to maintain his grip over the country. Hence was the need for security forces. Mr. Assad wanted to establish a system in which the security forces can report to him directly, and can be loyal to his person only, a system that is build around him not around the state. As a result he created from scratch, not one but four security agencies namely, The General Security Directorate, The Political Security Directorate, The Military Intelligence Division, and The Air Force Intelligence Division, with subdivisions adding up to 15 branches.
These agencies were/are totally independent from each others, they reported directly to the president (before the formation of the national Security Council), and despite their names which indicate specialized fields, their tasks were/are basically identical and overlapping one another, for Mr. Assad would not want any one branch to attract overwhelming power, nor would he trust to put matters into the hands of a single agency.
Outside the Law
The security forces, and due to their critical role in helping Mr. Assad maintaining his strict control over the nation were granted immunity from legal prosecution. The emergency state and the corresponding emergency law meant that general laws did not apply for the security agencies or their staff, and there were no obligations for their actions whether related to their jobs or otherwise.
Security personnel were meant to appear fearful and not accountable to anyone but their internal bosses even when they abused their power. The only people who would not fear security forces were those working in other branches of the security forces as Mr. Assad always wanted to keep the balance among all agencies.
Now, for these agencies to carry on their tasks they needed informers, reporters, and agents, but to achieve that they have never used the conventional methods in recruiting. Instead, they started by assigning the Baathists (i.e., active members of the Baath party) with the task of reporting about their relatives, neighbours, and colleagues at work or university, not only as to their political views, but also all aspects of their lives in general such as their behaviours, habits, attitudes, weaknesses, social relations, and any rumors surrounding them. Then exploiting their knowledge about certain people to blackmail them into collaborating and becoming informers themselves, or in other cases use these information against who they think a potential threat or an enemy, not necessarily to the regime, but maybe on personal levels.
This method of recruitment meant that the security forces were able to get as much as the third of the population to work for them directly or indirectly according to reputable sources and reports. As a result, even on the lowest of levels, when a reporter has some personal dispute with another individual, they would resort to do them harm by simply reporting them with all sorts of accusations.
The Secular State
President Assad was from a minority sect, in an overwhelmingly conservative Sunni country, where religion plays a big role in every aspect of people’s daily lives. Mr Assad wanted to change that. He believed that a secular state would help two purposes; it will enhance national unity and promote national pride over sectarian loyalties. And it will serve a secondary purpose by eliminating the sensitivity of belonging to a minority sect from being an issue or a factor in him retaining power and eventually inherit it on.
Syria was to become a secular state, which is a great at face value, however not so great when this is to be enforced by a decision, rather than being the nation’s choice. In addition, Mr Assad secularism was unique in that it was not meant to separate religion from the state, or to treat people equally regardless of their faiths and believes. In fact it was clear that people from Mr. Assad’s sect always had an advantage in high positions in the public sector and the military. The Syrian secularism as president Assad has seen it was a mean to enhance his position in the power struggle between the his Baath party as a constitutional leader for the state and the society, and the Muslim figures the real enfluencional power on the ground. President Assad declared war on political Islam as well as social Islam.
Syrian Gays Under Police State
I have not experienced, firsthand, the government approach to gay people under the rule of Hafez Al-Assad, since at the time I did not even know a gay scene in Syria actually existed, But later I learnt that chasing homosexuals to legally prosecuting them for being gay was not particularly a priority for any of the aforementioned security agencies in Syria. The security directorates and its officers only used the information they gathered about gay people to silence them and guarantee their loyalty to the regime if they were high-profile figures, or to blackmail them into either personal favours or as recruits to report on other homosexuals who on turn would be blackmailed or used if they were ordinary people.
Having said that, this does not mean that the less powerful, but yet active, police force were not effectively chasing homosexuals for the purpose of legal prosecution. It just means that the security branches would not normally tip off the police about gay individuals, unless they wanted to expose them.
The police work independently to track down and prosecute homosexuals in accordance with the article 520 of the Syrian penal code for the act of “a sexual intercourse against the nature”. The police subdivision responsible for this in the Criminal Security Division is known as the department of protection of public moralities (commonly known as morality police or “al-akhlaqyh”). It has the power to arrest people on suspension of homosexuality and can order medical anal examination for any suspect. Moreover it has the power to raid private flats, houses, clubs, and parties on a tip off, or when they have reasons to believe that a sexual intercourse against the nature is being committed.
A Police State with an Even More Homophobic Formula
When Bashar Al-Assad came to power after his father died in the year 2000, he approached the society in a different way than his father. He did not want to resort to confrontation like his father. He initially eased the regime grip on people’s day to day life, encouraged civil society movements, and promised freedom and democracy. Activists refer to that period as “Damascus Spring”.
However, the Damascus spring did not last for long, and it was not even followed by summer. Things have changed quickly . The security agencies regained their glory and reclaimed their powers, and in an astonishing move the regime reached out for influential Islamic figures in the country, and It was not meant for reconciliation either. What Assad junior wanted to do is to promote his own version of Islam, an Islam that is less risky and more controllable than political Islam. Hence was the option of reproducing the social Islam that would satisfy the majority of the Sunni people in the country but would surely stop short of criticizing the regime. The goal was to block any Islamist influence from over the borders and to prevent any potential extremism from finding a soil to grow on.
This meant that some Islamic figures with social agendas like Dr. Muhammad Habash, and dr. Sa’eed Al-Bouti were granted the power needed to achieve their social goals, and it was thought that this could help defuse any built up anger within the conservative Syrian society. People were able to organise public and private meetings to discuss their daily affairs from an islamic point of view in what is known as “ duroos deynyah” or religious seminars. The social Islamic leaders demanded a more hard-line policy towards the spread of “immorality” and “western values” among the youth, and to crack down on a whole range of people from individuals living together outside marriage, to social groups like gays and lesbians, to cult groups like emos and heavy metal fans to name but few, and the security forces along with the police had to oblige.
Proud to Be Gay, Proud to Be on the Syrian People’s Side
Syrian gay and lesbian communities will always have problems in a society that look upon them as the product of evil. They will always be seen as a threat to Syrian, Arab, and religion “values”. They will always be prejudged and persecuted by the society. They will always be targeted, discriminated against, and denied any right of existence. These are things gay people in Syria should be aware of, and things could only get worse when Assad is overthrown out of power. However, this is not a justification to support a murderer regime, a regime killing its own people, a regime that did not discriminate in punishment, a regime that was equaly as bad for all sectors of the Syrian people.
Fearing the worst would not justify turning ourselves into partners in the crimes against our people.
Then why not take the gamble? Fearing an Islamic ruled state? Well the law criminalizing homosexuality was always there, the homophobic society was always there, the persecution was always there. In future Syria, probably you would still be arrested but there would not be 15 branches of security forces abusing and blackmailing you before eventually exposing and prosecuting you. In future Syria, you may still get arrested for being gay, but hopefully you would not be arrested for demanding freedom and dignity for your family, friends, and fellow citizens.