Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why We Believe in Amina Arraf

This past weekend, Syrian regime thugs purportedly kidnapped Amina Arraf who blogs at A Gay Girl in Damascus. I had been reading her blog for a few months and was quite upset at the news. Escaping a close call before, Amina refused to be silenced. And now she was in incredible danger.

Or, as it turns out, the truth may have been the one in danger. Since her alleged disappearance, serious questions have been raised about the blog's veracity. Amina may be a hoax.

I was tweeting about the whole situation when a producer for the BBC World Service's World Have Your Say asked me to come on the show. You can hear what I said here. I speak at 8:50 and at 19:00. My comments focus on why we want to hope for, and believe in, Amina.

I, like so many other of Amina's followers, want to believe in Amina. We hope that such a powerful voice for freedom is real. But in that hope, we also are effectively wishing that Amina is in incredible peril. I have been struggling to decide whether it's better to hope that a profound voice for liberty is in danger of being extinguished or that such a voice never existed at all.

There are many reasons why I might have been fooled by Amina, assuming she is in fact a hoax.My friend The Camel's Nose points to our limited ability to evaluate and process all the sources we encounter from Syria. As such, "our human brains took cognitive shortcuts to triage the fire hose of information coming at us." In addition, I have previously blogged about why social media seem particularly prone to misinformation.

But in this case, I think the problem is primarily neither one of cognition or transmission. Rather, it's one of emotion. We believed Amina's words because we wanted to believe them. We have witnessed such brutality in Syria, such ugliness, that we were bound to latch on to anything that offered beauty and hope. That is exactly what Amina did. We want to believe in Amina because she is something worth believing in.

But now we have reached a time for reckoning. We need to know the truth. Whether Amina is real or not, her story is certainly real. Over 1200 Syrians have died for the cause of freedom. Unknown more have been imprisoned and tortured. Each and every one deserve the attention Amina has garnered.

And that is why it would be so tragic if Amina turns out to be fake. So much time, energy, effort and emotion would have been wasted upon her as others languish and suffer. People outside Syria can only do so much to help, and currently that help is being directed primarily towards Amina.

If she is in fact a work of fiction, the time has come for her creator to fess up. His or her personal discomfort and embarrassment will be far outweighed by the good it will do for every Syrian currently locked in a struggle that is anything but a work of fiction.

But until such confirmation comes or definitive proof is discovered, we must assume Amina is real. As Andy Carvin worries, "this discussion about her identity could distract people from the possibility that should [sic] might be being brutalized in detention, and in dire need of support from friends and strangers alike."

UPDATE: Amina is in fact fake. I'm glad we now know the truth.

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