This is a post I wrote for the New Statesman’s Staggers blog
On Monday evening last week, Tom MacMasters, a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a masters at Edinburgh University wrote a post on the homepage of the fictional blog about a lesbian Syrian woman he had been maintaining since February claiming that “Amina Arraf” had been abducted by Syrian security services.
The revelation sparked a flurry of media interest across the world and exploded with the predictability of a hand grenade in the virtual arena of internet activism, where Amina had gained a significant following in the months since the uprising began in Syria.
But Amina’s popularity proved to be MacMasters’s downfall. Once it emerged that the photographs purported to be of the American-Syrian woman were actually of Jelena Lecic, a Croatian woman living in London, the hunt was on to unravel the mystery of Amina Arraf.
Then, last night, a new post appeared on the homepage of A Gay Girl in Damascus entitled “Apology to readers”.
In this post, MacMasters admitted that “while the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground.”
“I do not believe I have harmed anyone – I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about… This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.”
“However, have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers,” he added.
The natural human response to such a revelation is “Why?” Why did a middle-aged married man living in Edinburgh feel the need to create a fictional persona who captured the imagination of so many bloggers and activists around the world? Moreover, why would he be so crass as to fake her abduction by security services, so pulling on the heart stings of thousands of individuals around the world (the online campaign to free Amina gained a Facebook following of over 15,000 people at its height)?
While it may be true that the situation in Syria remains precarious and highly volatile, especially for bloggers and other activists – as highlighted by MacMasters in his writings – the extent of the lie propagated by the fictional events of A Gay Girl in Damascus will surely do nothing to help the situation of those currently living under Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime. And it seems nothing short of sickening that MacMasters had the audacity to blog about turbulent events in Syria from the comfort and security of his home in Scotland.
I believe it would not be too much to say that Sami Hamwi, the pseudonym for the Damascus editor of GayMiddleEast.com speaks for many of us who for the past few months have been gripped by Amina’s scintillating tales of sex, politics and activism in the Middle East when he writes: “To Tom MacMasters, I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country….What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger…Your apology is not accepted.”