Update: The Washington Post provides further background information on Tom MacMaster, the man who has admitted to writing the blog. He is a 40 year-old American from Georgia, and he is currently working on his master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He is on vacation in Turkey at the moment with his wife.
After a week of speculation, a man named "Tom MacMaster" has revealed himself to be the real person behind the popular Syrian-American blogger "Gay Girl in Damascus," in a post on the blog. He wrote that he "never expected this level of attention," and that "while the narrative voıce may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading as to the situation on the ground." He added, "I do not believe that I have harmed anyone."
The blog 'Gay Girl in Damascus' advertised itself as being written by a Syrian-American woman named Amina Abdallah Araf, and attracted numerous readers and international attention for highlighting issues about being gay during the protest movement in Syria. But the attention intensified one week ago, after a blog post appeared by someone introducing herself as Araf's cousin, informing that the blogger was seized by three men while on her way to meet with protest organizers. A Facebook page sprouted up for Araf, including information about how to contact U.S. representatives from Virginia to facilitate her release.
But under the heightened scrutiny, the story began to unravel. First, no one who had actually met Araf in person stepped forward. Further, some strongly doubted whether her anecdotes, whether they involved run-ins with Syrian security forces, kissing in public, and learning Hebrew were fact or fiction, as they struck those familiar with the culture as unrealistic. But the biggest red flag was that a Croatian woman named Jelena Lecic appeared on the BBC to explain that hundreds of pictures purportedly showing Araf on her Facebook page were actually of Lecic.
Still, even those investigating her story, such as NPR's Andy Carvin, were hesitant to call her story fake. Carvin said he believed Araf is a "real person," perhaps using a pen name. If Araf's story is real, he said, he doesn't want to distract people from the possibility that she is being "brutalized in detention." He did retweet a quote that if Araf's story is fake, "this is truly one of the cruelest jokes I've ever witnessed."
It turns out it is fake. "Tom MacMaster" posted the following on the blog on Sunday, where he said the "facts on this blog are true." Here is the full text of his post.
I never expected this level of attention. While the narrative voıce may have been fictional, the facts on thıs blog are true and not mısleading 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 thıs year of revolutions. The events there are beıng 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.
July 12, 2011
A picture of MacMaster from his Facebook page is below.