Berlin is Everywhere

If you think crimes against homosexual teenagers are something that happens elsewhere, reconsider. In a case like this one, Berlin is everywhere. The story of Nasser makes horrible reading and should encourage people everywhere to keep their eyes open to abuse against children going on all around them, straight and gay. But because he is gay, Nasser was tortured and kidnapped as a child - by his own family. Nasser's story is doesn't unfold in a distant land like the Lebanon but in the middle of Europe - in Berlin.

The day family E. from the Lebanon living in Berlin lost its honor is the first day in the new life of Nasser. It is October 15, 2012. It is the date on which Nasser's Muslim parents found out about their 15-year-old son's homosexuality. His mother called him a "fagot," and family members threatened him with death - and doused him with gasoline in their apartment in Neukölln. That's how Nasser recalls the development of that fateful day. Today, he says he was born again on that day. And that he finally was feeling free.

Two and a half years later, Nasser stands outside of room 701 of Berlin Tiergarten's district court. Black shirt, black hair, black, tired eyes. Media interest in his case is great. At least for a few days; later everything will be forgotten as so often when gay rights are in contention. Restlessly, Nasser is walking up and down the corridor. The 18-year-old student has been waiting for this day for a long time. He's about to face the men who abused him as a child, who tortured and kidnapped him - two of his uncles and his own father have to stand trial in court. "My Heart Belongs to Me" can be read on Nasser's red bracelet. In principle, it expresses what this court case should be all about: Nasser's right to love whomever he will.

How could it come to the point where a child puts his own family in the docks? Nasser's version of the story begins in 1996 in Berlin. He is the eldest of four children born to parents who had fled the Lebanon shortly before his birth. The family lives in a small apartment in the Berlin district of Neukölln. Two rooms for six people. The parents don't go to work and live on welfare. They are very religious and attend a strictly conservative mosques. When Nasser is invited to children's birthday parties, he's never allowed to attend. While his school friends are allowed to play outside, he has to stay in the apartment. "I was being deprived of the outside world," he says today.

If one asks Nasser about his childhood, a sad smile flits across his face. Beautiful childhood memories? "Not more than that many," says Nasser, holding his thumb and forefinger only slightly apart with fingertips almost touching. If there was something beautiful to remember, small experiences with his mother come to mind, says Nasser. watching TV in the evenings. Walks. He doesn't mention his father once. 

Aged nine, Nasser noted for the first time that he was more interested in guys rather than girls. For him began the "hardest time" of his life. He desperately tried to hide his feelings. At school, he laughed the loudest about gay jokes; at home, he made himself fit into the patriarchy. The whole time he felt incredibly alone. "For four years I thought I was the only gay in the world." Eventually, he secretly googled on his parents' computer "gay guys". And he finally got a sense that he was not alone.

But he couldn't talk to anyone about it. Love wasn't a topic with family E. and sex even less. When Nasser someday learnt in biology class how children are begot, his father goes to school and lodges a complaint with the school board. It was not their job to sexually educate his children.

The time of his coming-out wasn't determined by Nasser. He was 15 years old when a classmate discovered on Facebook that he had been at an event for gays and lesbians. Nasser can't deny it. Maybe he also didn't want to. The classmate is from a conservative Muslim family home. "Come back to the right tack," she begged Nasser, "then you will be forgiven by Allah and be happy again." The 15-year-old didn't understand. "I'm happy the way I am," he said. Two days later, Nasser's secret was out and had reached his parents.

It is on October evening in 2012 when things start falling apart for family E.. Nasser's father, mother and an uncle take him to task and insult him for trampling the family's honor into the dust. "My father threatened to stick a knife in my neck," says Nasser. Homosexuality is a deadly sin according to the belief of the family. They want to suppress the boy's homosexuality by force. Nasser's uncle doused him with gasoline and threatened to burn him. The teenager is whipped with a belt and scalded with boiling water. This is Nasser's story. He can't prove it after so many years.

The boy fled into the night and wandered through the streets of Berlin. Finally, he was able to stay for a few days with a gay friend. He registers with the youth welfare office in Neukölln; then everything happens very fast: his parents' custody is withdrawn and a travel ban is imposed on him prohibiting him from leaving Germany. The Youth Office knows from experience: In strict religious families with a background in migration, children are trafficked out of the country in more than just isolated cases.

Nasser is moved to anonymous crisis center. But after ten days, the child's homesickness for family is stronger than fear of his abusers. He wants to see his mother. On his return, his parents, siblings, aunts and uncles are waiting for him. "You're engaged," they said. And that they have chosen a young girl from the Lebanon. He now has the chance to save the honor of the family. But for him, there is no going back to his old life. He doesn't want to pretend to be someone he is not. Never again. He escapes for a second time.

According to a survey by the Berlin Study Group Against Forced Marriage, 460 cases of forced marriages are known for 2013. 29 of the victims were male. "The violence in the name of honor rangies from emotional blackmail and psychological pressure to physical and sexual violence," says Monika Michell of the women's rights organization Terre des Femmes. She knows Nasser's case and the danger in which he finds himself: "In the worst case, families try to whitewash their honor by murder."

Nasser's parents' marriage was arranged, Nasser is sure of that now. They both come from very conservative Muslim families. When his mother was married, she was still a child herself, just 14 years old. Nasser was born when she was 15.

Nasser's name translated from Arabic means "The Warrior" or "The Protector". That fits, because Nasser doesn't cease to fight for the love of his parents. Two months later, he called his mother again. The Youth Office had strongly advised him against it. But again, homesickness is greater than caution. "Come home," and "I miss you," says the mother over the phone. But when Nasser enters the apartment, she's not there. His father and seven uncles wait for him. They are surprisingly friendly, offer him Cola, and want to talk.

A little later, Nasser comes to in the back of a car. It belongs to an uncle. His family had mixed a sleeping pill into the Coke. An hours-long ride begins. Inside the car there are Nasser's father, his brother and brother in law. The goal is the Lebanon. No questions are answered. He is wrapped in a blanket. Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania. Several borders are passed without anyone noticing him. On one occasion, his father shows him a picture on his smartphone. It shows a gallows. There is no more talk of marriage. "They wanted to hang me in the Lebanon," said Nasser, "that was the new plan."

After two days, the car reaches Calafat, a small town on the Romanian-Bulgarian border. When the border guards flash the vehicle with a flashlight, Nasser summons all his courage. He leans very slightly forward - and is discovered. Nasser's father tries to bribe the officials. But they don't bite, a Europe-wide missing person alert from the Youth Office had been disseminated to all border control points. Four days later, Nasser is back in Berlin. 

The kidnapping happened a little over two years ago. Today, Nasser lives in a housing project and studies for his school exams. In therapy sessions, he tries to process the past experiences. Nasser would like nothing more than to live the normal life of a 18-year-old. He goes to parties, is single and when he is lovesick, he writes poetry. He reads Harry Potter, and listens to Helene Fischer. He is happier than ever before in his life, he says. "I live my homosexuality openly." Since his 17th birthday, Nasser has a German passport. He dreams of becoming a flight attendant. Or actor. Maybe he wants to go into politics later. In any case, he dreams of having his own family. And children.

Contact with his family has completely stopped. "I have no family anymore," says Nasser. "These are people for whom religion is more important than their own son." He avoids going into the districts in which the huge clan lives, Neukölln and Kreuzberg. Nasser doesn't want to be considered an Islamophobe. He had read the Koran several times, he says. In it, he never found an indication that homosexuality is a sin.

When it comes to the abuse that was caused to him by his family, Nasser recalls the smallest detail. If, however, he asked about his feelings, the boy falls silent. Perhaps to protect himself; perhaps he suspects that no one will ever really understand what was done to him. That he is not afraid he emphasizes repeatedly on the other hand. Nasser's supervisors don't hide their fears. They are worried and see him still in great danger. Therefore,no one is allowed to write about where he currently lives or attends school. On the Internet, the young man gets death threats. "This is something you have to kill," writes one. Not an isolated case. Nasser lodged a court complaint a few days ago. 

Nasser wants to fight for his right to lead a normal life. "I will never forget. And I do not forgive," he says. But revenge is not on his mind in this trial. He wants to draw attention to forced marriage and torture in the name of honor and that they are not a problem in a distant land like the Lebanon. But that such things happen in the middle of the German capital in the center of Europe. That's why he has asked for this trial will be held in public.

On the day of the trial, his family does't attend the proceedings. "Cowards," sais Nasser before the door to the courtroom opens and the trial begins. "Abduction of minors and false imprisonment" is the accusation. If it were up to Nasser, it would also include forced marriage and personal injury. But his lawyer says that the scars on his body don't count as evidence. After five minutes, it's all over. The district court imposed fines of € 1,350 each against his father and two uncles. The punishment couldn't have been any lower. Nasser has tears in his eyes. Maybe it's disappointment. Perhaps he is just glad it's all over now. For him, the chapter is closed, he says later on the way out to the reporter from the Berliner Morgenpost. And that he wis proud to have at least tried it. 

Back home, Nasser posts a photo of his parents. They hug, smiling at the camera. "From today begins a new life for me," writes Nasser. Only the longing for his mother will probably remain. "She was my best friend," he says. Even if she has again failed him by not even appearing in court. Before the trial, Nasser had posted every now and then in Facebook. "Mom, I wish it would all never come so far as now," he wrote. "Nothing can ever replace you", is under a photo showing him as a baby in her arms. And then the question: "Tell me, was it worth it?".

The questions of the 18-year-old remains unanswered. He knows that he has lost his parents forever. However, he would have loved to seen them in court again face to face, says Nasser. Also, he would like to say something to his mother in person. That he can not help it that he is the way he is. That he has come into the world this way. "And what I am, I am because of you."

Further reading