Monday, 13 June 2011

A Straight Guy In Edinburgh

So last night there was a post on the 'Gay Girl in Damascus' blog which i have been following for the past few weeks, where a heterosexual, 40 year old American, currently studying at Edinburgh University, named Tom MacMaster told the world that there was no such person as Amina, that she was an entirely fictional construct designed to allow him to share his views of the Arab world in a manner that would actually get attention rather than the dismissal that greeted a white American man expressing the same ideas.

I feel a bizarre sense of betrayal at the revelation; i had avidly followed "Amina's" posts for the past month or two and felt genuine concern when there was a post about her having been detained by Syrian security forces. Despite the understandably mysterious circumstances of a lot of the details/posts i never really questioned too much whether the posts were genuine. Maybe that was naive but the writing seemed heart-felt and most other media sources that i trust seemed to have believed that the posts were written by the supposed Syrian revolutionary.

It's a horrible feeling when you find out that your faith in something was misplaced but i don't intend to let it change how i view the next similar story. Now that again may seem hideously naive but if the choice i face is either naivety or cynicism i'm going to stick with the former for as long as i can. In the modern world with blogs, twitter accounts and the ability to be almost completely anonymous while reaching a potentially huge audience, there are often going to be questions about the veracity of writers, especially those telling stories from nations and areas where there is no free press and no easy way of verifying identities without compromising the author's safety.

In that context readers will have to make a choice between choosing to trust that people like Tom MacMaster are rare and that most people aren't so desperate for attention that they would exploit people's emotions to such an extent, or deciding that it's easier to treat everything as lies until there is definite proof.

I can't be sure what MacMaster's motives were, he tries to justify his actions here, but i don't believe any of his arguments excuse the deception. Writing a piece of fiction set within a political context is one thing, claiming to be at the centre of one of the most important political movements in the Arab world for decades is a completely different issue. When he wrote that Amina had been abducted people all over the world started writing letters, signing petitions and trying through a range of methods to pressure the Syrian authorities to release her. That was time and effort that could have been put to much better use, attempting to help genuine revolutionaries in Syria and other nations.

He may claim he meant no harm in writing the blog and that it was just an experiment that got out of hand, but he can't defend it on those grounds; if as the blog began to take off he had explained the truth behind the blog then all would have been well, but he carried on writing more and more emotive pieces, deliberately aiming to make the readers connect with and believe in them and only owned up to the deceit once he was already close to being found out and even the most devoted readers were at least having doubts as to who Amina really was.

So i'm disappointed that the truth about Amina was so far from the reality that had been portrayed but i'm going to try my best to make sure that i don't allow the lies of MacMaster to change how i view the next blogger to write from a country like Syria.

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