During the Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, massive demonstrations erupted in the streets of Beirut. As I read about these demonstrations in newspapers and watched events unfold on television, I was struck by the obsessive media coverage of what I now can only describe as the “hot girls of Lebanon.”
Without fail, television cameras turned their attention not so much to speakers and rally organizers, but beautiful women — their faces painted red, green and white — waving Lebanon’s flag. One respected American with an expertise in Middle East issues couldn’t help himself and posted a photo gallery on his blog of only female Lebanese protesters.
Now we have a new hot face for the uprisings in Syria: Amina Abdallah Arraf, also known as, “A Gay Girl in Damascus” As AnonymousSyria recently twittered to his or her 3,300 followers, “#Amina is beautiful, hot & brave.”
A group of men, presumably Syrian security forces, allegedly abducted Arraf and is detaining her somewhere. She had gained considerable attention for her blog entries challenging the Syrian government. She reported on the violent clashes with police and the military.
Arraf’s kidnapping quickly elevated her to celebrity status. Activists mounted the “Free Amina” movement, much like the “Free Manal” campaign for Manal Al-Sharif following her arrest in Saudi Arabia for driving a car.
Now there is speculation that Arraf doesn’t exist and her abduction was a hoax. Journalists once enamored with Arraf are now considering that she may be a fraud. Not a single person has come forward to claim a face-to-face relationship with Arraf. Her parents have made public no statements. And there appears to be no documentation to support Arraf's claims that she is a Syrian-American raised in Virginia.
Still, Arraf possesses the key elements that make her the perfect image of a revolution. Arraf is a young pretty, non-hijabi woman who writes provocative blog posts. She does not have that otherworldly Middle East appearance and does not wear Muslim garb. Throw in the fact that she’s gay and has dual citizenship, and you’ve got a sexy story that appeals to the Western media.
Manal Al-Sharif never represented herself other than a hard-working single mom making a statement about the Saudi driving ban. Her life and her brief campaign are well documented. Arraf, or the people behind her blog, can make no such claim. Enough time has passed that proof of her existence should have surfaced by now.
Yet these persistent questions apparently have not dissuaded many journalists and rights activists that Arraf deserves to be the poster girl for the Syrian uprisings. One women’s rights activist went so far to say that Arraf’s identity doesn’t matter because she represents all Syrians imprisoned by the government.
Really? Amnesty International reports that Syrian authorities have jailed 10,000 people and killed as many as 750 since the uprisings began. Among those detained are children, including 13-year-old Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb, who was tortured and murdered.
It’s offensive that a fictional character, if indeed the alleged hoax turns out to be true, becomes the face of the uprising. Meanwhile, Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb, who disappeared on April 29, fades from view as the media lose interest. Apparently, Hamza’s story pales in comparison to Arraf’s situation.
I hope that Arraf is an actual person and I pray for her safe return to her family. I want her to be real because if Arraf is a fake, then it’s simply cynical manipulation of the emotions of the Syrian people. It’s the last thing Syrians need. The media is responsible for perpetrating the fabrication through lazy reporting by not establishing her identity in the first place. Pro-democracy and women’s rights activists also share the blame for their eagerness to embrace a cause that was suspect. They, too, did not check their facts.
If indeed Arraf turns out not be real, then we all have been duped by a pretty face that managed to distract the world from the grievances of the Syrian people.