Although the U.S. government seems to support gay rights domestically, it might be pursuing an opposite approach in its foreign affairs. Perhaps the earliest indication of this during the beginning of the Islamic revolution was the failure of the U.S. to wholeheartedly support the Afghan Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. The “Lion of Panjshir,” named after the valley in Northern Afghanistan where Massoud was born, seemed to be quite tolerant of homosexuality among his troops in Afghanistan who fought against the Soviets and the Taliban in the 1980s and 1990s, unlike most of the Arab world.
As a glaring example of this prejudice by the United States, it was widely believed the crucial factor in winning the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was putting American-made Stinger missiles into the hands of the Afghan mujahideen. Massoud’s forces, though considered among the best, received none of those missiles while the war against the Soviet Union’s military was still going on.
More recently, the same pattern seems to be emerging in the Syrian war, wherein the U.S.-supported Syrian rebels might be almost as intolerant of homosexuality as ISIS and the Taliban are. Major news outlets reported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, though wanting above all else to stay in power and willing to do almost anything to accomplish this, has relatively benign attitudes toward gay rights and other lifestyle choices. Whether this is true or not, or whether he is at least better than the rebel forces, why aren’t matters like this being investigated beforehand, before the United States goes off half-cocked in support of, or opposition to, some foreign power?
“The fear of a horrific death [throwing people off of high buildings] among gay men under Islamic State rule is further compounded by their isolation in a deeply conservative society that largely shuns them,” wrote Associated Press reporter Bassem Mroue. “Even among IS opponents, gays find little sympathy. Some in the public who might be shocked by other IS atrocities say killings of gays is justified. Syrian rebel factions have killed or abused gays as well.”
Mroue continues, “In mid-2013, IS had just started to spread from neighboring Iraq into Syria. It didn’t yet hold the large stretches of territory across both countries that it would capture the next year. Instead, its fighters pushed into rebel-held areas in Syria and tried to dominate other rebels, often clashing with them for control and imposing the group’s strict law wherever they could.
“In September 2013, IS fighters besieged … [an] Aleppo neighborhood … trying to wrest it from the rebel Free Syrian Army. The two sides negotiated over an end to the siege and during the talks, IS gave the rebels a list of people [including gays] they demanded be handed over to them.”
Whether the Free Syrian Army complied with ISIS’s demand, Mroue does not state.
Mroue then writes: “Life for gays in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, was always hidden, [Daniel Halaby, a gay Syrian man] said. When the secular-led peaceful protests erupted against al-Assad in 2011, he said he quickly joined, sure they would lead to a democratic government ‘that will respect everyone no matter their religion, ethnicity, sect or sexuality.’
“‘We were very naive’, he said. ‘What happened was exactly the opposite.’”
Was this hidden life of gay men in Aleppo primarily the fault of al-Assad, or was it the result of the conservatism of the Syrian people that will continue on unabated, even if Assad is ousted, the Free Syrian Army wins and a democratic regime is established in Syria?
Jonathan Miller is a graduate student studying geography. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Gays and heroes come in all colors and nationalities. Massoud is seen as abandoned by the Bush administration. Now the gay supportive Obama administration needs to be seen in supporting gay supportive people even if they are in the Syrian camp. Many times in a civil war is not the side you choose but the one that chooses you. Adam Gonzalez|