Whipped, Drenched in Petrol and Kidnapped by His Family: The Story of Nasser El-Ahmad

Being a gay Muslim in Berlin isn't always as fun as it's cracked up to be.

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13 May 2015, 6:00am

All photos courtesy of Nasser El-Ahmad

This article originally appeared on VICE Alps.

Berlin has a reputation for being one of the world's most "gay-friendly" cities, but that world renowned open-mindedness isn't always felt amongst all of its citizens. Particularly not those brought up within ultra conservative Muslim families. A fact that German-Lebanese teenager Nasser El-Ahmad knows all too well.

After he was outed by some school friends, Nasser's family quickly turned on him warning him that he'd "burn in hell like the rest of the gays." His father whipped him, saying he'd slit his throat, while his uncle drenched him in petrol and pretended to set him on fire.

Unsurprisingly, all that led to Nasser running away from home, finding refuge in Berlin's gay community. Child protective services quickly got involved and revoked custody rights from his parents. They also administered a travel ban, so that he couldn't be sent to Lebanon for "treatment", forced marriage or – in the worst case scenario – an honour killing as his family had threatened to do.

The travel ban gave Nasser some degree of security but he was still only 15 years old and – like any other teen – began to miss his mum. In a moment of weakness, he picked up the phone and called her.

His mother, who he considered his "best friend" cried into the phone saying how much she missed him and pleaded with him to come home. Being young and naive, he ignored the authorities' advice and decided to do it.

Upon arriving at his parents house, Nasser was greeted by several of his relatives. They asked him to sit down for a chat and offered him a soda.

The next thing Nasser knew, he was hidden under a blanket in the back of his father's car. The Coke they'd offered him had been laced with sleeping pills. His father and two of his uncles had abducted him and were on their way to Lebanon where they'd set up a marriage that they hoped would "cure him of his homosexuality." Half-way there, they changed their mind and decided to kill him instead.

Interpol had already declared him missing throughout Europe but somehow his kidnappers were able to smuggle him through several countries. It wasn't until the Romanian-Bulgarian border that customs found him and, ultimately, saved his life. Weirdly, his family were not arrested but just sent on their way.

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Nasser returned to Berlin a few days later. It wasn't an easy decision but he knew that he had to take his family to court. His lawyer advised him to press charges for unlawful imprisonment and child abduction — unfortunately there wasn't enough evidence for him to go further with abuse charges.

The defendants never showed up to the trial so the case was concluded in less than four minutes. The three men were sentenced to a completely absurd daily fine of roughly £10 for 90 days. That's £900 a head, roughly the same as the fine for petty theft. The judge offered Nasser a retrial but knowing it wouldn't get him nowhere, he declined.

The justice system may have failed the young man but it didn't break his spirit. These days he's a civil rights activist who spends his time organising gay rights marches through Neukölln — the neighbourhood he grew up in. Sure, he gets death threats, but at this stage he's used to them.

Nasser at his demonstration against homophobia. Photo by Grey Hutton.

The demonstrations pass right by the area's most conservative mosques, as well as his parents' house. On more than one occasion Nasser has found himself chanting "we have human rights" while staring directly into his father eyes — the only contact he has had with his family since.

Nasser's story is currently being turned into both a book and a film. It's sad to say, but it's a story that's far from uncommon.

@FranzLicht