Turns out that young, lesbian blogger in Syria was actually a middle-aged, Georgia-born, married white man, studying in Scotland. Tom MacMaster was on vacation in Turkey this weekend when he confessed to posing as Amina Arraf for five years on the Internet, and for five months on damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com.
The story began to unravel when the invented blogger’s “cousin” posted that Amina had been abducted by security forces. Several organizations snapped into action–The State Department launched an investigation, Avaaz started a letter writing campaign demanding her release, and major newspapers published word of her arrest. But all the attention also brought scrutiny and the pictures of Amina on her site were quickly found to be stolen photos from a London woman’s Facebook page. As The Washington Post points out, sources in Syria contacted NPR’s Andy Carvin, who has been one of the strongest social media forces during this Arab Spring. Carvin asked his nearly-50,000 followers if anyone had actually met Amina. Not a single person had. The Post chronicles the rest of the story–how a man looking to send Amina Christmas cards was given a Georgia address which eventually led to MacMaster. When confronted by what he’d done, MacMaster denied his involvement over and over, until the overwhelming evidence forced a confession.
His first “apology,” was upsetting:
I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voıce 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 that 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.
The hubris of this makes it almost laughable. Not only does he defend lying to people and organizations that wanted nothing more than to help a woman in trouble, but he–a white married man–had the gall to allude to the “pervasiveness” of “liberal Orientalism” while pretending to be a lesbian woman from Syria.