In the days since a guest post on the blog A Gay Girl in Damascus reported that the blog's Syrian-American author, Amina Abdallah Araf, had been abducted by armed men while on her way to meet protesters, several news outlets--including the Wire--have picked up the story and a Facebook page and online petitions have sprouted up to agitate for her release. But today serious questions are cropping up about Araf's true identity. Here are the main points of contention:
- Nobody who's met her in person has stepped forward. NPR's Andy Carvin, who was contacted earlier this week by an LGBT Syrian who didn't believe Amina existed, spent yesterday tapping into his vast Twitter network to find someone who's met her in person, to no avail. The New York Times adds that a Canadian woman named Sandra Bagaria, who's identified herself as a friend of Amina's in interviews with the Times, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and the Global Winnipeg, has never actually met Araf face to face, instead communicating with her primarily through e-mail. A Canadian journalist tells Carvin that Bagaria couldn't use video Skype to communicate with Arav because it isn't available in Syria, but some of Carvin's Twitter followers claim video Skype is available in Syria. No news outlets have been able to contact Araf's family. A CNN interview with Araf in late May was conducted by e-mail, according to the Times.
- Amina's blog posts: fact or fiction? Some of Carvin's sources are skeptical about Araf's popular My Father, the Hero post, which recounts how Araf's father stood up to Syrian security forces who wanted to detain Araf. "Given their collective experiences with Syrian security services," Carvin writes, "they simply did not believe it was possible her father could protect her by shaming them into leaving the house." Carvin also points to a previous blog by Araf from 2007 in which she declares, "This blog will have what may sometimes seem likely deeply personal accounts. And sometimes they will be. But there will also be fiction. And I will not tell you which is which."
- Amina's photos may be of London woman. In a press release first highlighted by The Wall Street Journal, a London publicist named Julius Just claims that that the photos circulating on the Internet of Araf (including the one above from the Facebook page calling for her release and this one) actually show a woman living in London named Jelena Lecic, who saw her photo on The Guardian's website (Just says Lecic's ex-husband also contacted him when he saw the photos). Interestingly, all photos of Araf (including the one above and this one) have been removed this morning from the Facebook page calling for her release, with only artistic renderings remaining. Just thinks the photos of Lecic may have been taken from from her Facebook account. And, indeed, if we have the right Facebook account, Lecic does look like the woman in the photo above:
What's Carvin's conclusion? He currently believes Araf is a "real person," perhaps using a pen name. If Araf's story is real, he says, he doesn't want to distract people from the possibility that she is being "brutalized in detention."
Correction: This post initially quoted NPR's Andy Carvin as stating that if Araf's story is fake, "this is truly one of the cruelest jokes I've ever witnessed." In fact, Carvin was retweeting that quote. We also cited Carvin as saying CNN conducted its interview with Araf by email when we should have cited The New York Times.