The ‘fallen’ heroines of the Arab spring

Nesrine Malik writes:

Since the start of the wave of uprisings that have swept the Arab world, “establishment” figures, especially women, have been celebrated as the “icons” of the revolution – symbols of its homegrown, indigenous nature.

Tawakkol Karman in Yemen, and Saida Saadouni in Tunisia are examples of this fierce matriarchy. They are of the tradition, and respected more so because of it. Hijab-clad, religiously conservative and socially conventional, they reserve their rebellion for the political arena, rendering them relatively immune to accusations of immorality or harsh personal attacks.

Karman is a member of an Islamic political reform party and a mother of three in a stable marriage, and Saadouni is in her late seventies and hailed as “the mother of the Tunisian revolution”.

But there is another breed of vanguard, whose members exist somewhat on the periphery, or who have been ostracised and dismissed as eccentric or louche. Those who, for some reason, in their personal or professional lives, have “fallen”.

The latest member of this contingent is the controversial “Gay Girl in Damascus” – a half-American half-Syrian blogger based in Damascus who was allegedly kidnapped two days ago. There are allegations that she is an agent, a hoax, her very existence doubted. Hardly an everywoman, but she has nevertheless captured attention and galvanised people. As a blogger she has garnered more support than the unpublished.

More importantly however, whether real or fake, or real with a dash of poetic licence, she demonstrates the benefits of opting out of mainstream values:

My views are heavily informed by being both a member of a small marginal minority as an Arab Muslim in America and as a part of a majority as a Sunni in Syria, and of course as a woman and as a sexual minority.

Being, as she describes herself, “the ultimate outsider”, is a position that is bittersweet: you are denied the cushioning comfort and acceptance of an extended circle of friends and family, a warm cocoon of predictable familiarity (she speaks of the terror she felt when she realised the life that was mapped out for her was not to be), but also given a vantage point, from which to criticise and point out the truths that others cannot.

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