In what appears to be his first blog post on A Gay Girl in Damascus since June 13, Tom MacMaster, the American graduate student in Scotland who pretended to be a gay Syrian-American blogger named Amina Arraf, explains today why he had Amina "abducted" by Syrian security forces in the first place (the alleged kidnapping set off the investigation that ultimately unraveled the hoax). Essentially, MacMaster says he didn't realize how popular his creation had become, and thought the news would only elicit a few scattered "that sucks" comments. He was wrong, of course.
The explanation comes as The New York Times reports that MacMaster reached out to a lesbian author, Minal Hajratwala, under the guise of Amina in May to inquire about a book deal. Hajratwala has posted the chapters MacMaster sent her--an autobiography of a Syrian lesbian activist entitled "A Thousand Sighs, And a Sigh: An Arab American Education"--online, but MacMaster is threatening to sue her for copyright infringement if she doesn't take them down and claiming that Hajratwala contacted Amina, not the other way around. Hajratwala, meanwhile, is bashing the manuscript for its "faked lesbian sex scenes [that] turn my stomach" and "narcissistic writing."
In Thursday's post MacMaster explains that since Amina was a "fictional character," he'd made "editorial revisions" to her before without a problem. When he first "returned" a heterosexual Amina to Syria last fall on a blog that preceded A Gay Girl in Damascus, for example, he penned a story about how her non-Arab husband, Ian, was detained at the Iraqi border. After he received precisely one anonymous comment--"That kinda sucks"--MacMaster deleted the post, and "no one noticed." When he decided in June that Amina would "suffer new perils" before being released and leaving Syria for "retirement," he writes, he expected the same response, perhaps "a bit louder." What he forgot, he claims, is that Amina had grown popular, and that others didn't consider her fictitious. That's why he was surprised when he turned on his computer after avoiding the web for a few days:
I logged on to Amina's email: 6,000 unread messages waiting. I hadn't read a newspaper or seen the internet so I was shocked when I saw a picture that I'd used on Amina's facebook paged (and put behind privacy settings) on al Jazeera with an article about the abducted blogger. My emails terrified me ...
I had expected to have "that sucks" and "you'd better get out of Syria now" type messages. maybe, just maybe from twenty people.
That's when he panicked:
15,000 people had signed on to one Amina support group ... the story of the stolen photos had already broken ... I had absolutely no idea what to do ...
Then, it occurred to me. When I'd finally have a bit of time to sit down in front of a computer, I'd go ahead and write that farewell message ... but before I could do that, the first reporters found me.
MacMaster did not sign the post with his name, so we can only assume he wrote it. The blog also seems to have gone through a redesign of sorts. The heading reads: "'A Gay Girl in Damascus': An Illusion" and the sub-headline: "The Image is not the Real; When you realize that you were reading a story, rather than the news, who should you be angry at? The teller of tales that moved you?"