I'd barely followed "A Gay Girl In Damascus" until last week, when Daily Beast columnist Peter Beinart posted something to Twitter: "This is really important -- this woman is a hero," with a link to a story about Amina Abdallah Arraf, a Syrian-American woman and the author of the blog "A Gay Girl In Damascus." According to the story, Amina had been seized by Syrian security forces for her dissident writing.
Quickly, Amina's arrest became a new Internet cause. Even the U.S. State Department joined the effort.
And soon thereafter, the whole thing fell apart. Amina never existed. The author of "A Gay Girl In Damascus" was in fact a 40-year-old straight dude from Georgia living in Scotland. Rather than the sexy young lesbian in the photos (stolen from the Facebook page of a Croatian expat living in London), the photo of him in the Washington Post shows a man who looks like the bearded comic-actor Zach Galifianakis -- in a Che Guevara T-shirt, naturally.
Tom MacMaster was raised to be a peace activist. When he was a kid, the family trekked to the Pentagon to hand out origami doves to commemorate the bombing of Nagasaki. He's the co-director of Atlanta Palestine Solidarity and claims to have visited Baghdad on a "student peace mission" to deter the Iraq war.
In an "Apology to Readers" posted on June 12 from his vacation in Istanbul, MacMaster writes, "While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground." And that's true, except for all the ways in which it's a lie.
He explains that as a white guy with an Anglo name, people wouldn't take him seriously in online discussion groups. So he made up Amina and her countless fictional experiences in Syria and America.
At first it sounds a bit like the old jokes swirling around the publishing industry: Lincoln sells. Medicine sells. Dogs sell. So let's put out a book about Lincoln's doctor's dog! It'll be a best-seller!