'Gay Girl in Damascus' actually straight man in Scotland

Hoax blog writer says he "never meant to hurt anyone"; explains how he created Amina Arraf following repeated failed attempts to write fiction.

By
June 13, 2011 19:16
3 minute read.
Arraf photo actually of Londoner Jelena Lecic.

Arraf fake photo 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The author who duped legions of online fans into believing he was a lesbian dissident kidnapped by the Assad regime in Damascus, issued a gushing apology on Monday for what he called “a hoax that got way out of hand.”

In Monday’s blog entry on damascusgaygirl.blogspot, the site’s true author, Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old American student at the University of Edinburgh, said he “never meant to hurt anyone. I am really truly sorry and I feel awful about this. Words alone do not suffice to express how badly I feel about all this.”

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MacMaster goes on to explain how he created the fictional character of “Amina Arraf,” following repeated failed attempts to write fiction.

MacMaster admitted that he created a series of fake identities online in the past, but that Arraf began to take on a life of her own, as she gave him an outlet to speak about issues in the Middle East he said he cared about.

In time, MacMaster said, he found it harder and harder to put an end to the charade.

“Amina kept growing. And I kept trying to ‘kill’ her,” he explained. “Her story was great; I can easily write in Amina’s voice because I know her like she was a real person. I know what she likes and what she dislikes, how she feels and what makes her angry or elates her.”



Following the outbreak of anti-Assad protests in Syria in March, MacMaster’s blog became an Internet sensation – something he said he was not expecting, or prepared for.

“I wrote a perfect little story about the situation in Syria, and the mutual affection between father and daughter … and to my shock, it went viral …. And everything spiraled out of control. I couldn’t think of how to shut Amina down … It just kept on growing.”

The audience for “A Gay Girl in Damascus” – which dealt with the fictional Arraf’s travails as a 35-year-old Syrian- American lesbian living in revolutionary Syria – continued to grow until last week, when an entry on the site written by a woman purporting to be a cousin of Arraf’s, Rania O. Islam, said the blogger was seized by state security officers in Damascus and had disappeared.

At this point, the story truly spun out of control, and Mac- Master’s blog became the subject of widespread media scrutiny.

Readers and reporters started asking questions about Arraf, and it quickly emerged that no one could confirm having ever met her in person. Additionally, it was determined that the picture of her posted on the blog and her Facebook page was actually stolen from the Facebook account of a London woman, named Jelena Lecic.

On Monday, MacMaster directed a personal apology to Lecic, and others who he said were “hurt deeply by me,” adding that each of them “is more than entitled to hit me.”

MacMaster’s story unraveled largely due to investigative efforts by the website “Electronic Intifada” (electronicintifada.net), which found numerous holes in the story, and was the first media outlet to state that the story is a hoax.

The evidence included the fact that MacMaster’s address is the same as one used by Arraf on an online message board, and that a picture from Damascus posted on Arraf’s blog is the same as one posted on MacMaster’s wife Britta Froelicher’s Picasa account.

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