In recent days, the world has followed closely the saga of Amina Arraf, the blogger who presented herself online as “A Gay Girl in Damascus” and who drew attention with her passionate writings about the Syrian government’s crackdown on Arab Spring protesters. Those writings stopped last Tuesday, and a posting to the blog, ostensibly written by a cousin, said she had been hauled away by government security agents.
News of her disappearance became an Internet and media sensation. The U.S. State Department started an investigation. But almost immediately skeptics began asking: Has anyone ever actually met Amina? Two days after her disappearance, images presented on her blog as being of Amina were revealed to have been taken from the Facebook page of a London woman.
And on Sunday, the truth spilled out: The gay girl in Damascus confessed to being a 40-year-old American man from Georgia.
A new post on the “A Gay Girl in Damascus” blog that has been reported to belong to a Syrian-American woman claimed Sunday that her dramatic story is, in fact, a hoax.
Adballah was reported on the blog to have been abducted last week and her alleged disappearance prompted online campaigns demanding her release.Her story was picked up by international news groups, including CNN, making her an unlikely icon of the Syrian uprising.
CNN has not been allowed into Syria to cover the unrest and draws from social media and interviews with witnesses on the ground there to inform its reporting.
Despite the title of Sunday’s post, MacMaster wrote: “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.”
The claims made on the blog could not be confirmed when CNN reported on Adballah’s story last week. Calls to officials in Damascus and at Syria’s Embassy in London went unanswered and attempts to contact her family were unsuccessful.
Amnesty International said recently that it believes more than 1,100 people — including 82 children — have been killed in Syria since a crackdown began in mid-March. Many bloggers and journalists have been arrested, rights groups have said.
Protesters are challenging President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for some 41 years.
‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ Is Actually a Married Guy in Edinburgh
And so the internet detective agency got to work. Extensive work by Carvin, the EFF’s Jillian York, Ali Abunimah and Benjamin Doherty of The Electronic Intifada, and author Liz Henry (not to mention dozens of others on Twitter and elsewhere), seemed to point toward a student and peace activist named Tom MacMaster, originally from Georgia but currently studying in Scotland. An address “Amina” had used in a Yahoo! discussion group was, according to property records, owned by MacMaster; a photo that appeared on Amina’s blog appears also in a Picasa album created by MacMaster’s wife Britta Froelicher, (herself a grad student studying Syrian economic development); IP addresses linked to the blog were allegedly sourced to the University of Edinburgh, where MacMaster was writing a thesis about “the 7th century siege of Constantinople.”
MacMaster, on vacation in Istanbul with his wife, rebuffed Abunimah and Doherty when they first contacted him, denying that he had ever met Amina. Meanwhile, Washington Post reporters Melissa Bell and Elizabeth Flock had also concluded that MacMaster was behind “A Gay Girl in Damascus”; they too, confronted MacMaster with the allegations for an article they were writing on the controversy.
via ‘ Gawker.
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.
July 12, 2011
The sole author of all posts on this blog
Beirut Spring: ❊ Thank you Tom MacMaster
I don’t know who you are, but I already know that you’re a prick.
You say you never expected this kind of attention? Bullshit! A gay girl in Damascus who writes in perfectly good English? A damsel in distress who’s easy on the eyes and fights tyranny in her country, only in the end to be kidnapped by regime goons? Can there be a more effective attention grabbing device? A prick and a liar you are Mr. MacMaster.
Thanks for deceiving tens of thousands of people into supporting “Amina”, joining Facebook groups and changing our avatars on Twitter. Thank you for making us all look like idiots and for diverting our attention from the real people who are being tortured in Syrian jails..
You have forever tarnished the reputation of bloggers in this region who chose to write in English. One day if I’m kidnapped by my government, many readers won’t care because I could turn out to be another Amina. A fictional entity concocted by a western fool who had good intentions.
Thanks a lot…