The 40-year-old American student behind ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ has admitted to the Guardian that he created the hoax out of vanity.Tom MacMaster, based in Edinburgh, conducted the interview over Skype.
He confessed during the 20-minute interview that he constructed the fictional blog partly as a literary exercise, saying, “I was trying to set up a full personality and wanted to develop my writing and conversation skills”.
He admitted he did it “because it was a challenge, I like the challenge”.
He originally created Amina because he worked out, “if I sign myself with an Arab girl’s name first there will be some deference from obnoxious men, and second people won’t get hung up on why you hate [American ideals]”.
It has been revealed that his creation, Amina Afar, was engaged in an online relationship with a woman in Montréal and MacMaster would regularly exchange erotic emails with her. He dismissed a sexual motive behind it and when prompted apologised to the duped Canadian woman. When asked why he took it as far as to involve other people he said, “I feel really guilty about that… I got caught up in the moment and it seemed fun”.
His hoax, which went on for five years, has angered genuine gay rights activists in Syria, many of whom accuse him of endangering them and setting back their campaign by years.
‘To Mr. MacMaster, I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us. Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina’s arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really… Shame on you!!!” says Sami Hamwi, writing on the Gay Middle East website.
MacMaster did make a slight attempt at remorse when he admitted that Gay Girl in Damascus will bring the authenticity of other anti-regime forums under doubt.“It’s only a matter of time until someone in the regime says ‘see, all our opposition is fake'”
Asked if he regrets it he said, “yes and no”.