The whole “A Gay Girl in Damascus(/Straight [American] Man in Edinburgh)” genuinely fake blog hoax just keeps getting more … involved, or troubling, or even a bit sickening, depending on your viewpoint. On the New York Times’s Lede blog, Robert Mackay reports that, while posing as “Amina Arraf,” 40-year-old American Tom MacMaster tried to get a book deal. MacMaster wrote to writer Minal Hajratwala whose memoir, Leaving India, won a Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction.
After the revelation last week of MacMaster’s hoax, Hajaratwala revealed on her own site that MacMaster had sent her several chapters of a manuscript entitled “A Thousand Sighs, and a Sigh: An Arab American Education” and asked for advice about getting his work published and finding an agent. Hajaratwala found the manuscript”rambling and in need of a lot of work.” After learning about the reality of there being no Amina — and Amina being MacMaster — Hajaratwala reread the manuscript she’d been sent and says, very honestly:
Today I have read the autobiography much more carefully than I did the first time. The faked lesbian sex scenes turn my stomach. The narcissistic writing, the sprinkling of quotations from the Qu’ran and tidbits from Syrian history, the stock stories compiled from a thousand news clippings — it all seems painfully obvious.
So I find myself among the countless people — among them journalists for many (though not all) of the world’s most respected news organizations — who today are kicking themselves for believing, and trying to help.
MacMaster’s ‘AGGiD’ blog is no longer online, but, should you so wish, you can download a zip archive of the blog containing everything but the last two entries in which MacMaster owned up to not being “Amina Arraf” and apologizing for the hoax; the manuscript can be found here via Minal Hajratwala‘s site.
On Tuesday, Hajaratwala’s publicist received an email from “someone purporting to be Mr. MacMaster” demanding that she remove the file with his manuscript from her site and threatening legal action — suing her for copyright infringement — if she did not. Hajaratwala herself wrote back to the “Tom MacMaster” in the email explaining why she was keeping the file available on her site, noting that:
I’m not on a vendetta here, and in fact I’ve been far less involved in this issue than many other people. At this point I simply think it’s important to keep the public record public, and to live with your own mistakes — rather than trying to cover them up or to blame other people for pointing them out.
She received an immediate response from “Tom MacMaster” ((you never know who’s behind an online identity these days, right?) mentioning legal action again. MacMaster also emailed the New York Times Lede blog and again mentioned “potential copyright violation cases” and said that he is “considering potential libel cases here in the U.K. involving publications and Web sites that published false information regarding me (including fake quotes and a fake interview done by an individual claiming to be me).”
Reading all this, I feel a bit amazed that MacMaster continues to miss the point about the real ramifications of his posing as a Syrian lesbian blogger. You can read about those here in a post by Sami Hamwi of Gay Middle East Syria and Daniel Nassar of Gay Middle East. MacMaster seems doggedly, deliberately? unaware that his fictional attempts have potentially caused real people to be in danger. Truly, Hamwi and Nassar seem to me to be in the right to pursue legal action against MacMaster except that, I would think, they’ve far more pressing things to do.
MacMaster really does have better things to do himself. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the University of Edinburgh, where MacMaster is studying for a Masters degree in medieval studies, is investigating whether he has “breached university computing regulations.” The University also says that it is suspending MacMaster’s computing privileges.
I am curious as to what the authorities at the University of Edinburgh decide. Certainly I would think that MacMaster should be worrying more than a little about his future in academia. Now known as the blogger who pretended to be a Syrian lesbian — and at a time when pro-democracy protesters in Syria were and are being shot at by their government — MacMaster has more than undermined his credibility as an academic and a scholar. I am not sure what area of medieval studies he might be concentrating in, but I would be concerned if history were his field, that being an area in which making things up is not exactly acceptable. But, as it seems, perhaps MacMaster might be more interested in pursuing studies in creative writing?
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