Straight Guy Nowhere Near Damascus

Now comes the revelation that Amina Abdallah Arraf, the widely cited blogger “Gay Girl in Damascus,” recently said to have been detained by the regime, is (or, I suppose, was) in actuality a 40-year-old American male graduate student (in history!) named Tom MacMaster, currently residing in Scotland. Evidently it comes as a belated surprise to a graduate student in history that falsification of authorship confounds the search for that elusive quiddity that historians are pleased to call truth, even if with a lower-case and not a capital T.  Someday, however, a cultural historian will be interested in MacMaster’s rationale as a tidbit toward understanding the mentality of his time.

MacMaster told the NYT’s Robert Mackey that when he started contributing blog comments under Amina’s name, he aimed to put forth

a perspective that doesn’t often get heard on the Middle East and that was also a challenge for me, as somebody who has aspirations as a novelist, to write in a voice of a character who is absolutely not me.

Now, he admits regrets:

The biggest thing that I regret is that there’s been a lot of media attention and there’s a a lot of media attention I believe like right now and you’re talking to me, rather than talking about the actual things going on on the ground in Syria.

Which is pretty funny, or not so funny, since when he was blogging fictionally as Amina he could not possibly be reporting “the actual things going on on the ground in Syria.” And when thousands of people (like credulous me) signed onto a Facebook protest against “her” detention, it helped the cause precisely how?

This is a man who suffers serious oral vertigo when he shifts levels.  As also when he’s online denying that he’s shifted levels.  Mackey:

Sandra Bagaria, the Canadian woman who told The Times last week that she and the blogger posing as Amina Arraf had exchanged about 500 e-mails after meeting online earlier this year, responded to Mr. MacMaster’s admission on Twitter on Sunday night: “I’m deeply hurt. But now it’s time to take care of the ones that actually fight for freedom and deserve it.”

There’s a lot of talk about how the Internet compensates for the unreliability of bourgeois (or, if you like, liberal) media, leaves those geezer communications just where they belong in the dead-tree dustbin of history, because after all it imposes no filter, no gatekeeper, no flattening editor. It shoots straight. Well, here we have Exhibit AAA in the way in which a putative revolutionary claims an exalted standard—aka a license to lie—and in the process not only discredits his own lying enterprise but makes it harder to trust the many other bloggers who (honestly, so far as I know) are trying to contribute to the history of their times.

In a Facebook photo reproduced in the NYT, MacMaster is seen wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt. Now, there’s a great deal to be said about the mixed legacy of Che Guevara. Indeed, a great deal has been said by the biographers Jon Lee Anderson and Jorge Castaneda. (Here’s my review of the latter’s fine book.)  Che was selfless and courageous. He was also impulsive, an organizer of labor camps and firing squads, and a bad theorist. But one thing I don’t think it could be said of Che was that he misrepresented himself as Cherie.

Return to Top