The Cost Of Orientalism: Non-existent Syrian Blogger.
Why someone would want to impersonate a gay blogger in Damascus I can’t fully understand, but my bet is that Western Orientalism is to blame. The condescending notion that people in the Middle East are not the same as everyone else and not as deserving of the same respect, can often be found at the heart of how many Westerners treat the region, even if it is just at an subconscious level.
The Guardian reveals that the gay girl in Damascus was apparently a married bloke in Scotland:
“The mysterious identity of a young Arab lesbian blogger who was apparently kidnapped last week in Syria has been revealed conclusively to be a hoax. The blogs were written by not by a gay girl in Damascus, but a middle-aged American man based in Scotland.
Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, posted an update declaring that, rather than a 35-year-old feminist and lesbian called Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, he was “the sole author of all posts on this blog”.
“I never expected this level of attention,” he wrote in a posting allegedly emanating from “Istanbul, Turkey”.
“The events [in the Middle East] are being shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.”
The admission – confirmed in an email to the Guardian from MacMaster’s wife – apparently ends a mystery that has convulsed parts of the internet for almost a week. But it provoked a furious response from those who had supported the blogger’s campaign, with some in the Syrian gay community saying he had risked their safety and seriously harmed their cause.
The blog “A Gay Girl in Damascus”, was launched in February, purportedly to explain “what it’s like to be a lesbian here”, and gathered a growing following as Syria’s popular uprising gained momentum in recent months. Amina described participating in street protests, carrying out furtive lesbian romances and eventually being forced into hiding after security forces came to her home to arrest her.
Then, on 6 June, a post appeared in the name of Amina’s cousin “Rania O Ismail”, who said the blogger had been snatched by armed men on a Damascus street. The news sparked internet campaigns to release her, until activists in Syria and beyond began voicing doubts.
It emerged that no one, even a woman in Canada who believed she was having a relationship with Amina, had ever spoken to her, and other key details could not be corroborated.
In recent days an army of bloggers, journalists and others uncovered snippets of evidence that pointed increasingly to MacMaster and his wife, Britta Froelicher, who is studying at the University of St Andrews for a PhD in Syrian economic development.
IP addresses of emails sent by Amina to the lesbian blog LezGetReal.com and others were traced to servers at Edinburgh University. A now-defunct Yahoo discussion group supposedly jointly run by “Amina Arraf” was listed under an address in Stone Mountain, Georgia, that public records show is a home owned by MacMaster and Froelicher.
Many private emails sent by the blog’s author contained photographs identical to pictures taken by Froelicher and posted on her page on the Picasa photo-sharing website. Included on the site are many images from a trip to Syria in 2008. The pictures had been removed from public view last night. “
I agree with this:
“Sami Hamwi, the pseudonym for the Damascus editor of GayMiddleEast.com, wrote: “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!!!”
“What a waste of time when we are trying so hard to get news out of Syria,” another Damascus activist told the Guardian.”