Quickhit: Gay Girl in Damascus Amina Arraf is a pseudonym for American Tom MacMaster

The author of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog who was reportedly kidnapped by armed men last week, Amina Arraf has been revealed as the pseudonym of an American man living holidaying in Istanbul, resident in Edinburgh.

I too am more relieved that a real Arraf is not actually caught up in the custody of a brutal regime than angry, but that’s easier for me than it might be for Syrian activists, I suspect. Now the regime is going to be able to cast everything MacMaster wrote about what was happening in Syria as pure fiction, when he insists that he wrote about real events, just in Amina’s voice. I find it utterly plausible that he merely meant to highlight those events  in what he thought would be a more appealing persona that he never suspected would get so much international attention (even though attention for the oppression was the primary but perhaps ill-thought-through goal), but now MacMaster’s whole body of work is going to be suspect.

Also? Problematic cultural appropriation issues up the wazoo.

Addendum: I’ve now read some more about how deeply he has embedded profiles of Amina on the web and in doing so has directly deceived many people who thought they were dealing with a real person at considerable risk, not just readers of a pseudonymous blog being disappointed, but people being actively endangered. I no longer find his explanations at all convincing, they are merely superficially plausible if people don’t dig deeper.

Categories: ethics & philosophy, media, social justice, violence

Tags: , , , ,

14 replies

  1. A couple of angry responses from Syrian (gar, Middle Eastern, apologies for the hurried posting and misidentifying Mustapha) bloggers:
    Sami Hamwi and Daniel Nassar on Gay Middle East:

    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.

    Mustapha on Beirut Spring:

    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…

    (Links via comments on Liz Henry’s Chasing Amina.)

    • This comment from one Oscar on Liz’s blog also gave me some more details about just how deep his deceptions have gone – it’s far more than just a pseudonym, it’s a full alter ego and people have been hurt by finding out how their trust has been misplaced. I don’t find MacMaster’s explanations quite so plausible any more:

      Up until very, very recently, he was trying to convince, via ‘proof-wielding’ sockpuppets, journalists and others who were closing in on him that his ‘Amina’ creation was real. He fought tooth and nail to try to keep his hoax running. He did not want exposure, and now, having deleted all the comments that held scores of proofs of his fakery and gameplaying, his blog still hangs out there for the world to admire ‘his/her writing’. The apology was an insult, a denial of the harm that he done, to individuals and to people in general, in Syria and around the world. He has been ‘role playing’ as a woman for at least five years. He has made fake profiles of his ‘Amina’ character in Hebrew, English, and who knows what other languages, always with stolen photographs. He, masquerading as a woman, pursued and developed a relationship with a woman in Canada, for which literary/revolutionary/political purpose he has yet to explain. How many other deceived women are out there? And all this game-playing done with the knowledge of his wife. Years of cultivating his ‘female’ creation, then he leeches off the suffering of the Syrian people to push his Orientalist fantasy further.
      This is not a creative writing excercise, this is not a political ploy, this is not a ‘well-intentioned thing’. There is something profoundly sick and disturbed about MacMaster’s cynical and manipulative behavior and if their employers have any sense he and his accomplice wife should be kicked from their posts.

  2. I’m disappointed and angry and disgusted.

    • I didn’t know enough about the background of the blog to get angry enough at first, Chally. The more I learn the more disappointed and disgusted I become.

  3. I’d been popping in to read on occasion and had been increasingly moved by MacMaster’s writing, so this feels like a great betrayal to me. 😦 Of course, there are loads of people who whom the blog meant a lot more and, as you point out, lots of people were put at risk.

  4. It’s natural to be sympathetic at first I think, if learning about it from a distance. In addition to the “raising awareness” defence (also used by Debbie Swenson who perpetrated the Kaycee Nicole deception) many people are familiar with identity play (this seems to be the term that’s being used) on the ‘net to some degree, and with some of the benefits people get from it, particularly people who are unable to express some aspect of their identity in their usual persona, or who haven’t yet even consciously integrated some aspect of their identity.
    But there are multiple ethical violations when people are either led to believe they’re having a close relationship with a real person, or, as happened with both Kaycee Nicole and Amina Arraf among many others, are led to believe that a tragedy has occurred. The massive cultural appropriation, damage to activist plausibility and physical risks involved to people who cared about MacMasters’s Amina Arraf are exceptional.

  5. Well, crap.
    Worse, if any Syrian LGBT bloggers were put in danger from investigating “Amina’s disappearance,” the real danger will be coming from their heightened visibility, not from a specific group we now know not to exist. Which means that any greater danger they were put in, they’re still in it.
    No wonder they don’t feel like accepting this twerp’s apology.

  6. What an incredibly low thing to do. I am just disgusted.

  7. Makes you wonder how many other high profile bloggers out there aren’t actually who they say they are. There must also be a lot of pissed off lesbian bloggers who now will have to demonstrate that they are in fact women and lesbian. Way to go priviledged cis white dude.

  8. And yet he still thinks it was harmless.

  9. MacMaster, according to a Mondoweiss commenter/admin who can see IP addresses, is still posting in his own defence using Arab women’s names for his sockpuppets: Arab LGBT Movement: “We are not victims in need of a white male savior working in London…”. See comments. (Post is primarily a criticism of GayMiddleEast.com, originally posted at Mideast Youth.)

  10. Looks like he doesn’t know when to stop digging.

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