If you’ve been following the news this week you’ll soon catch which Amina I mean: yes, Amina Arraf, the ‘author’ of the now notorious blog A Gay Girl in Damascus (https://damascusgirl.blogspot.com). By now the whole world knows that hers was a fake identity, invented by a 40-year-old American heterosexual man, Tom MacMaster, an MA student living in Edinburgh (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amina_Abdallah_Arraf_al_Omari). By pretending to be a lesbian girl trapped by the horrors of the Syrian revolution, MacMaster certainly opened a window onto a harsh reality that had to be revealed. This was his justification. Yet I am personally quite scandalised by how his stupid narcissistic hoax may damage the credibility of any other testimonial blog. Just think of Yoani Sánchez in Cuba (Generación Y, https://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony/).
Yes, anyone who writes a blog uses a ‘fictional’ auto-biographical self and, yes, we might wonder why we crave so badly for other people’s personal experience. After all, whether Amina exists or not, MacMaster has transmitted to the world a clear, accurate image of the hardships suffered by too many citizens at the bloody hands of Bashar al-Assad. That should be enough. I am aware that blogs should be treated will all the caution of personal diaries and never mistaken for journalism, yet I still feel we need to draw the line somewhere between fiction and non-fiction. If MacMaster had presented his blog as a piece of fiction, at least as far as his protagonist was concerned, I wouldn’t be worried at all. What worries me is the intention to cheat on his readers. MacMaster may say he never intended his hoax to go so far, but I wonder what any ‘real’ lesbian girl in Damascus might think of his sense of humour. If ‘she’ decided to write a blog, how would her testimonial be received? (Yes, with mistrust)
I assume that anyone with the patience to read my own blog does it supposing that I exist (I do most days…) and that the professional issues I raise here do depend on my ‘real’ personal experience. If now I revealed I’m actually one of my students, or someone with no links at all with the university, I’m sure the whole blog would collapse. I do know that any blog is validated by its readers, who turn it into something beyond the pure personal diary, above all with their comments. This validation is based on either direct knowledge of the author or the supposition of a bona fide intention on her or his side. This is what MacMaster has dynamited. I do wonder how his readers will react and whether his Amina blog will survive at all.
When venting my obnoxious opinions in a debate, I was reminded of the case of Enric Marco (https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enric_Marco_Batlle). Enticed by the generous reception granted to concentration camp survivors in public forums, Marco decided to pass himself off as one of them. He lectured extensively until his deception was exposed. The colleague who reminded me of his case argued that he had done good in the end. Yes, he may have fulfilled the aim of attracting the attention of many who would not have listened otherwise but the way I see it he usurped an authority that didn’t belong to him. This irresponsible action casts a shadow on the real survivors whose testimony might even be discounted by negationists as a downright lie. This is what worried me too in the case of Amina’s blog.
There is something called ‘disclaimer,’ Tom MacMaster, and you should have used one calling your blog ‘fiction.’ Mine is not, at least to the extent that I give if not the truth, at least my own version of anecdotes, etc., I’ve witnessed. I don’t know, though, if in the end this makes me more real than Amina, for, after all, perhaps, just perhaps we’re each of us just an “agreed-upon fiction” (yes, Hayden White’s definition of history in his persuasive, mind-boggling Metahistory).