On Monday evening last week, Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old Middle East activist studying for a masters at Edinburgh University wrote a post on the homepage of his fictional blog about a lesbian Syrian woman claiming that “Amina Arraf” had been abducted by Syrian security services.
The revelation sparked a flurry of media interest across the world (including in The Staggers) and exploded with the predictability of a hand grenade in the virtual arena of internet activism, where Amina had gained a significant following in the months since the current uprising began in Syria.
But Amina’s popularity proved to be MacMaster’s downfall. Once it emerged that the photographs purported to be of the American-Syrian woman were actually of Jelena Lecic, a Croatian woman living in London, the hunt was on to unravel the mystery of Amina Arraf.
In this post, MacMaster admitted that he was “the sole author of all posts on this blog”, but maintained that “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.”
“I do not believe 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.”
“However, have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers,” he added
Sami Hamwi, the pseudonym for the Damascus editor of GayMiddleEast.com, has responded with outrage on behalf of the LGBT community in Syria: “To Tom 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….What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry…Your apology is not accepted.”
Emanuelle Degli Esposti is a freelance journalist currently living and working in London. She has written for the Sunday Express, the Daily Telegraph and the Economist online.