The blog "A Gay Girl in Damascus", which preported to describe the life of a Syrian lesbian woman, has been conclusively revealed to be a hoax. From BBC News:
On Sunday, an "apology to readers" appeared on the blog signed by Tom MacMaster - a 40-year-old American Middle East activist studying at Edinburgh University who said he was "the sole author of all posts on this blog".
"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," he writes.
The blog, whose author claimed to be a Syrian lesbian woman named "Amina Arraf", contained a mix of anti-regime politics combined with descriptions of "Amina's" personal life and relationships. The blog gained a large international following (including myself) after a post called "My father the hero", in which "Amina" described how her dad had supposedly talked down Syrian security forces who had come to arrest her. Subsequent posts described, in a very authentic-sounding voice, "Amina's" life on the run from Syrian authorities. On June 6th, however, an update, supposedly from her cousin, claimed that "Amina" had been arrested by the Syrian authorities.
However, at this point, things began to unravel. A Croatian lady living in London, Jelena Lecic, alerted the British Guardian newspaper that the photos of "Amina" on their story about the incident, including one sent to the Guardian by "Amina", were actually photos of Lecic, apparently stolen off her Facebook page. The US Embassy in Damascus was unable to find any records of "Amina", who claimed to be a US citizen. No one, in Syria or the US, could be found who had met "Amina" in person. And finally, independent bloggers looking into the story found that on a Yahoo group she had administered, "Amina" had listed as her address a residence in Stone Mountain, Georgia, that turned out to belong to a Tom MacMaster and his wife. Finally, on Sunday, MacMaster admitted to his deception with what can only be described as one of the most self-serving non-apologies ever:
I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voıce may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone -- I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.
I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in thıs year of revolutions. The events there are beıng shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.
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, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers.
June 12, 2011..
The sole author of all posts on this blog..
Real gay bloggers from Syria had a quite different assessment of Mr. MacMaster's hoax.
To Mr. MacMaster, 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. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us. Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina’s arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really… Shame on you!!!
To the readers and the western media I say, there are authentic people in the Middle East who are blogging and reporting stories about the situation in their countries. You should pay attention to these people.
I'm so outraged I can't even type well.
Mr. Tom MacMaster, with due respect, has the audacity to say on the blog he created over the last two years that he did not harm anyone with his fictional writing; I beg to differ.
Because of you, Mr. MacMaster, a lot of the real activists in the LGBT community became under the spotlight of the authorities in Syria. These activists, among them myself, had to change so much in their attitude and their lives to protect themselves from the positional harm your little stunt created. You have, sir, put a lot of lives, mine and some friends included, in harm's way so you can play your little game of fictional writing.
You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know. To bring attention to yourself and blog; you managed to bring the LGBT movement in the Middle East years back. You single-handedly managed to bring unwanted attention from authorities to our cause and you will be responsible for any LGBT activist who might be yet another fallen angel during these critical time.
I'm outraged, and if I lived in a country where I can sue you, I would.
A lot of people, I'm sure, will use this to say that this proves that online sources are unreliable, and they will be partially right. However, online is often the only way to know of quite real atrocities committed by the Syrian government-such as the torture and death of Hamza al-Khatib. It occurs to me that the sort of checking that revealed the Straight Guy in Scotland could have been done by professional journalists in the space of a week or so. Perhaps, then, this reveals that, before running breathless stories, news organizations-and bloggers-should do a little homework first.