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tom macmaster


       Amina Arraf

Revealed: True identity of blogger behind ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’... a 40-year-old American man

UPDATED: 08:10 GMT, 13 June 2011

The true identity of internationally renowned blogger 'A Gay Girl in Damascus' has been revealed as a 40-year-old American man. Tom MacMaster, a student at the University of Edinburgh, wrote an apology on the blog today, confessing that the entire thing was a hoax. His admission came after days of questioning and pressure by suspicious readers who did not buy the story that 'blogger' Amina Arraf, a lesbian Syrian-American living in Damascus, had been arrested.
       In his post today MacMaster, writing from Istanbul, Turkey where he is on holiday with his wife Britta Froelicher, admitted his narrative was fictional. But he insisted the blog, popular with thousands around the world, 'created an important voice for issues I feel strongly about’. He claimed he had never expected so much attention.
MacMaster, 40, originally form Georgia, is studying for a master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He is a Middle East peace activist and says he wrote the fictionalised account of a gay woman in Syria to illustrate the situation for a Western audience. The admission is likely to kick off debates about the truthfulness of blogs, after the invented woman's story touched a nerve with so many people around the world.
       On Tuesday, a blog post at the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ site written by the woman’s ‘cousin’, using the name Rania Ismail, said Arraf had been detained in Damascus after weeks on the run. It said she was last seen Monday being bundled into a car by three men in civilian clothes as she was on her way to meet other activists. Ismail said a friend accompanying her was nearby and saw what happened. The Associated Press reported her disappearance, which was confirmed by an activist in Damascus. A reporter for the news agency, who maintained a month-long email correspondence with Arraf, said he found the writer seemed very much like a woman in the midst of the violent change gripping Syria. The blogger spoke about friends in Damascus, and outlined worries about her father and hopes for the future of her country. During an interview she gave in April, Arraf wrote: ‘I’ve been trying to write a slightly fictionalised autobiography for some time (fictionalised as in other people have their names changed) and when the Arab revolutions began, I realised I wanted to get my voice out there. The force of events has meant that my blog is more about events than anything else right now.’

But the story started unravelling quickly after a woman in Britain, named Jelena Lecic, said the photos on the Facebook account of Amina Arraf were actually of her. Miss Lecic said she first learned her photo was being used when it was linked to an article about Arraf in the Guardian newspaper. In the days that followed bloggers and journalists began to question the identity of Arraf. Reports in the U.S. suggested that Arraf had been sending emails from a computer with an Edinburgh IP address. In Arraf's blog posts, she spoke of plans to study at Edinburgh University. American blogger Paula Brooks said she started communicating with Arraf via email in February but became suspicious about her identity when she saw the Edinburgh IP address. Arraf reportedly told Miss Brooks she occasionally used proxy web addresses to protect her safety in Syria.
       In finally admitting that Arraf doesn’t exist, McMaster's post on Sunday was titled ‘Apology to readers’. He wrote: ‘I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading 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 this year of revolutions. The events there are being 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.'

‘Revealed: True identity of blogger behind ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’... a 40-year-old American man’, Daily Mail Online, retrieved 11 October 2013

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