Why Did an American Man Pretend to Be Amina Arraf?

So as it turns out, “Amina Arraf,” the lesbian writer of the blog called A Gay Girl in Damascus who a “cousin” wrote had been abducted by armed men last week, is a 40-year-old American man, Tom MacMaster, studying for a masters degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and currently on holiday in Turkey with his wife, Britta Froelicher, who is studying for a PhD in Syrian economic development at the University of St Andrews.

While you try to get your head around that, please read this post about “Amina” Fraud Breeds Danger and Pain in Syria by Sami Hamwi of Gay Middle East Syria and Daniel Nassar of Gay Middle East. As Hamwi (not his real name) says:

Blogging in Syria has been forbidden by law for more than eight years. As internet started to flourish, many Syrians started to use internet spaces and blogs to write personal thoughts, poetry, short stories… etc. unaware of that fact, but they remained safe as the authorities only monitored political and human rights blogs. LGBT bloggers can manage to keep safe only if their blogs were meant for gossip and entertainment, but they might have to face different kind of difficulties if they reported news or engaged into LGBT rights activism. As soon as any blog starts to attract attention, the agony with authorities’ interference starts….

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!!!

NPR‘s Andy Carvin explains how news organizations, bloggers and others traced “Amina Arraf” to an American in graduate school in Scotland. Not only had MacMaster been writing as “Amina Arraf” for a number of years, but some people had been in online correspondence with “Amina Arraf” for as long as five years. One French Canadian woman, Sandra Bagaria, had “exchanged around 1,000 emails with Amina and believed herself to be in a romantic relationship” with her, says the Guardian. That is, it’s not just that MacMaster had been posing as “Amina Arraf” on the blog; he (or someone) had also been assuming that persona in online interactions with other people.

The University of St. Andrews, where MacMaster’s wife, Froelicher, is studying for a doctorate in Syrian economic development, has a center for Syrian studies which received more than £100,000 in funding with the assistance of Syria’s ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami. The Guardian also notes that it has received other funding that was arranged by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. 

The whole story can be seen as a sad comment on the desire for us in the West for real stories and authentic voices from places as closed to foreigners as Syria. It also highlights the extent to which the online world of cyberspace has become “real” to us, to the extent that we read the words “A Gay Girl in Damascus” and take them at face value.

Perhaps MacMaster was trying to perform some post-modern performance art game to call our bluff. All right, but as Hamwi and Nsssar write, MacMaster’s writing “A Gay Girl in Damascus” and assuming the online identity of “Amina Arraf” has compromised the safety and activism of bloggers and activists in Syria. MacMaster’s choosing to write the blog as “Amina Arraf,” and creating a fictional account of her being kidnapped, are ethically questionable acts.

The “Apology to readers” that MacMaster posted earlier today, June 12, is severely disappointing. While admitting his identity, MacMaster defiantly writes:

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.

One wonders, how the “facts” on a blog that is written by a fictive persona can be said to be “true”? As MacMaster is, it seems, primarily residing in Edinburgh, it is a bit hard to see how he could have had access to the “situation on the ground,” if by “on the ground” he means in Syria.

What troubles me most about MacMaster’s “apology” is this paragraph, in which he seems to indict Western media coverage of the Middle East and suggests that it is a form of “Orientalism,” of the West continuing to impose its distorted image of the East on the East:

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.

If I may so, MacMaster’s “A Gay Girl in Damascus” creation –in which he, a white, Western man was writing in the voice and person of a lesbian Middle Eastern woman or “other” —  is orientalism in its its purest, most dangerous and sinister form.

Related Care2 Coverage

“Amina” Fraud Breeds Danger and Pain in Syria

More Than 5000 Syrians Flee To Turkey As Govt Forces Bombard Jisr Al-Shughour (VIDEO)

Blogger of A Gay Girl in Damascus Is Missing; Abducted By Armed Men


Image from @MrScarce via twitpic.


KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Good to know. Shame on him!

Carol Smith
Carol Smith6 years ago

Research, data query, etc. should be open, honest, humble, and polite and in no way sucker, deceive, sway, dent, bend, spindle or mutilate, harm, grieve, endanger anyone anywhere else. May this matter reach global reportial coverage, and if this input is also worthwhile, please also relay this too. These are very troubled uneasy and in many ways seemingly insane, though there seem to be data gaps or vacuums here and there, and apparently this couple, or at least the husband, definitely did something traumatic with that bogus Syrian lesbian gambit. There are proper ways, and nobody should outside writing a novel with such a character access alternate realities and in the least pretend to be they is who they flat out ain't. It was quite the unnecessary radical maverick and destructive deadly-potential way to leap. Please relay to all concerned a plea to accept a NEVER AGAIN. ONLY confined to novels or for theoretical parables inside philosophical matter, to try and promote understanding of concepts and further resolutions of problems they are based on, and etc. Based on something from your personal life or observation and comprehension.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

roleplay is not ok?

Teddie S.
Teddie S6 years ago

How disgusting.

Lin Moy
Lin M6 years ago

Seems Care seems not to check storeies befor adding them. Might want to do a check befor you print them.

Ameer T.
Ameer T6 years ago

People like Amina and Manal would have you believe that there is opression of the worst kind in these countries, women are locked up, children are beaten, LGBTs are bullied and so on. These are government sponsored propagnadists who set the stage for countries like America to be justified in attacking these countries. the excuse for attacking would be the change of an opressive regime, or freeing the people who didn't ask to be free) which is in reality the control of oil.

I can't even begin to tell most Americans that you are so wrong in your opinons about the muslim world and Islam. The U.S government took the people for a ride. and while they reap the benefits of Oil and fill selective pockets, the people are generally left with benefit cuts and hearts full of unwanted unwarranted Hate.

Ameer T.
Ameer T6 years ago

See this is the kind of information that a lot of Americans get to base their opinons on about the muslim world and the middle east. i wonder how many McMasters are running Islamic hate sites, spreading negetive propaganda and even blogging here.

And most muslims are always crying about the fact that these things are false, false, false.

It doesn't require a huge stretch of imagination to link this kind of behaviour to government sponsored propaganda. It was briefly reported on "Aljazeera" that two British officers in Iraq dressed up with turbans and fake beards went around the town market in Baghdad shooting civilians and Yelling "Allah Akbar" until subdued by the police. Britsh government demanded their release but when it was refused, British tanks went in and rescued these two soldiers from prison. Now if these buggers hadn't been caught, you would have had a statment from the foreign office that AlQaida killed civilians.

War is fought on many fronts. and America needs a reason desperatley to go into Saudia and other middle east countries. but first it has to set the stage. it must make you believe that there is oppression there, that they are going in there for the right reasons. so you dont feel any remorse, any guilt, any shame when you kill their children and women, when you bomb their houses, when you slaughter their cattle. Because your cause is noble, your intention just and your heart filled with rightousness.

Anders S.
Anders S6 years ago

The Syrian authorities must be having a field day with this! :-(

monica r.
monica r6 years ago

What a butthead

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Nuts love the Internet..