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Syria: Lesbian Blogger Amina is a Married American Man

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011.

The Gay Girl in Damascus turned out to be a straight married American man, who seems to have no issue in taking the world on a wild goose chase after claiming that Amina Arraf was kidnapped by Syrian authorities in Damascus a week ago.

Thomas MacMaster chose to keep his silence for seven whole days while activists, bloggers and even officials continued to look for Amina, fearing the worst. Questions continued to evolve when a woman who claimed that ‘Amina’ impersonated her, stealing her photographs from her private Facebook account, that investigations questioned that the gay girl of Damascus might not be who she claimed to be.

On Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah and Benjamin Doherty put pieces of the jigsaw together yesterday, pointing fingers to MacMaster as being the possible author of the blog.

While we believe that the information gathered here is compelling in its own right, we have managed to corroborate additional information from several independent sources that we are not publishing and that significantly increases our confidence in the information we have. We do not know the motives of the person or persons behind this hoax.

The information presented below connects the “Amina” blogger to two people in real life: Thomas (Tom) J MacMaster and Britta Froelicher who are married to each other.

The Electronic Intifada wrote to MacMaster requesting to speak to him about “Amina,” to which he responded, “Thanks, but as I have stated before, it is neither my wife nor me.”

In a short post entitled Apology to readers, MacMaster, who identifies himself as the sole author of all posts on that blog, finally excuses his act saying:

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.

Others believe that MacMaster's deception has left a damper on the work of activists on the ground, social media and the role it is playing in this year of Arab revolutions and the credibility of the Arab blogosphere. Some also note that his prank takes attention away from campaigns being coordinated for real activists and bloggers in prison and under threat and also puts the Syrian gay community at risk.

At American-Arab group blog Kabobfest, Ali Abbas and Assia Bounaoui this post, where they write:

MacMaster, in all of his privileged splendor as a straight American white man, appropriated and “outed” his avatar Amina as a lesbian activist, and in doing so put numerous queer Syrians at risk. Writing from a cozy home in Georgia/Edinburgh/Turkey bares no risk, allowing for plenty of slack when it comes to accuracy and accountability. Yet the victims will ultimately not be the MacMasters of the world, the phony bleeding heart liberals, but the people on the ground that Amina fails to represent.

The writers continue:

Regardless of whatever lazy apology MacMaster nervously reaches for, Amina was never intended to be a fictional character for the betterment of women or LGBT people in the Middle East. She is a western fantasy intended to arouse and titillate the western sensibilities to feel, not act. This is the ultimate neo-orientalism as it not only re-imagines an existing geographic location, but invents an entire human landscape.

MacMaster posts a longer apology here, which is shot down by people disturbed by the prank, including British-Kurdish Ruwayda Mustafa, who tweets:

Tom McMasters extended apology about #Amina Hoax: http://t.co/McfWpPj Not a shred of sympathy here. Pathetic man.

Abunimah adds:

My hunch is that the person behind #Amina hoax has a long history of, and need for deception that won't stop just because he was caught.

Antoun Issa writes:

Tom MacMaster exploited the weakness of the blogosphere, a simple fundamental that anyone can produce content and claim authenticity #Amina

And Ahmed Shihab-Eldin stresses:

Sure, #Amina is a hoax, but we still must RELY on voices of bloggers since Media is not allowed in Syria.

Andy Carvin is grateful to a reader for asking questions. He notes:

Just wanted to publicly thank @DannySeesIt for contacting me one week ago to express his skepticism re: #Amina. His note got me asking Q's.

And finally, I made the following comment on Twitter:

Questions I have been fielding all day from the international media: Now that #Amina is not Amina, how does that impact the credibility of bloggers? How does that reflect on the LGTB community in Syria and across the Arab world? And what sort of weakness in the Arab blogging movement does it point out? Seriously? … So some prankster somewhere in the world decided to fool the world, and now it is an issue for Syrian activists and their credibility; Arab gays and lesbians and their reality; and the Arab blogging community at large? Am I missing something or is my brain just playing games on me, refusing to stoop to that level, as I see no relation on how giving so much airtime, energy and thought to a prank could get the real people tortured, imprisoned and in real danger now under the spotlight they deserve. This prankster's ill-deed is unforgivable. And giving so much weight to this story and creating such a distraction and detour at this juncture of our history is even more unforgiving than all that MacMaster has done.

Further Reading:
Understanding #Amina by Ethan Zuckerman
Timeline of the Amina saga by Andy Carvin on Storify

This post is part of our special coverage Syria Protests 2011.

Thumbnail image by Flickr user the.sprouts (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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