A 40-year-old married man in Edinburgh has admitted to being the author of the Gay Girl in Damascus blog.
Tom MacMaster, an American graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, admitted pretending to be Amina Arraf but said he believed the hoax had not harmed anyone.
The diary, which had thousands of followers, chronicled a “lesbian’s thoughts on life, the universe and so on”. The author was interviewed over email by major news outlets, although refused to speak on the phone or meet in person.
‘Amina’ hit the global headlines earlier this month after a post on the blog said she had been kidnapped by Syrian security forces. Someone claiming to be her cousin said she had been bundled into a car by three men.
A ‘Free Amina’ group on Facebook attracted 15,000 followers.
Last week, doubts began to emerge about the authenticity of the blog after a London woman said the author had stolen photos of her. Local Syrian activists said they had no independent confirmation of any kidnapping and an IP address used by ‘Amina’ was traced to Edinburgh.
Last night, Mr MacMaster unmasked himself as the blogger, claiming that while the “narrative voice” was fictional, the facts were true.
He wrote: “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.”
When suspicions emerged over the blog, the author’s supporters claimed she would have to hide her identity to stay safe. Experts on the situation in Syria said the voice and subject matter appeared authentic.
Although Mr MacMaster denied causing harm, gay activists in the Middle East are furious at the deception and have accused him of taking the spotlight away from important events.
Daniel Nassar, of the Gay Middle East website, said: “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.”
Mr MacMaster’s apology
Apology to readers
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