Tom MacMaster inhabited the persona of a Syrian-American lesbian in the now-infamous blog Gay Girl in Damascus.
When he confirmed suspicions that she didn't exist last Sunday, MacMaster explained that his dalliance with Amina Abdallah Arraf al-Omari-- his imagined Arab-American woman-- was a nerd experiment meant to confirm the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.
After that, the word Orientalism permeated popular Arab-American Twitter feeds and Web sites like KabobFest.
But this time, the Web community was using the word to describe the 40-year-old Anglo-American, creating multiple Blogspot and Facebook accounts to speak for an Arab-American, lesbian figment of his imagination, and eventually represent women like her on big American media outlets like CNN.
I think Edward Said would say Tom MacMaster is a perfect example of Orientalism itself, said Najla Said, acclaimed Arab-American performer and Palestine advocate, conjuring her late father, who originally penned the term Orientalist to describe Western media that endeavors to simplify the non-West in inaccuracies and stereotypes-- To portray the Arab, without giving her a voice, for instance.
I didn't write about Orientalism, but was born into knowing what it was, Said told The International Business Times in an exclusive interview, Orientalism is: I don't need you telling my story.
MacMaster was trying to be the only one to explain what this kind of woman is going through, Said said.
Tom MacMaster wrote of Amina's political involvement in the ongoing popular movement against Syria's Assad regime on the streets of Damascus-- all the way from his graduate school in Edinburgh, Scotland.
And in his imagination, he sexualized her and put her on his blog, in a bikini at Sharm El-Sheikh in faraway Egypt with her pretty lesbian lover Zina, an ironic name, homonymous with the word for sexual misconduct in Islamic Shariah, or holy law.
Indeed, I enjoyed 'puppeting' this woman in my head, MacMaster said in an Apology to Readers on the former Gay Girl blog site, now renamed A Hoax.
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, MacMaster wrote in another apology on the site.
I don't know MacMaster-- I don't know what other causes he lobbies for or attempts to insert himself in the discourse of, said Maytha Alhassen, an Arab-American performer in The Hijabi Monologues, a program designed to allow real American Muslim women to speak to American audiences about their own experiences.
I wonder what makes MacMaster think that he needs to speak for a queer Arab female,Alhassen asked.
Said offered a possible explanation for MacMaster's impulses, based on her own experience with what she believes is Orientalism within the Palestine advocacy movement, of which MacMaster was self-purportedly a part.
I've met young people who are British or American who are deeply interested in what's going on in the Middle East. That can become the fetishized. It's like that whole thing to wear a Che shirt and talk about ideals. Solidarity is great- but it can become glamorized, Said said.
In his Apology to Readers, MacMaster explained a race-based impetus behind his falsifications.
I noticed that when I, a person with a distinctly Anglo name, made comments on the Middle East, the facts I might present were ignored and I found myself accused of hating America, Jews, etc. I wondered idly whether the same ideas presented by someone with a distinctly Arab and female identity would have the same reaction, he wrote.
Said said that she was confused by this particular excerpt in the final chapter of the Amina saga, which had tens of thousands of followers 'Liking' the Free Amina group on Facebook, when the fictional blogger was supposedly detained by Syrian security forces.
I can follow what he's saying, Said explained, But it's such an opposite of reality that I'm confounded by it. I've spent the last years of my life thinking that if an Anglo White male says Israel is wrong, people think it's right. Whereas if I say it, I'm a bitter, Arab terrorist. He has more authority than a disenfranchised Palestinian-American.
Other Muslim American women were equally confounded by his desire to adopt a distinctly Muslim identity.
'Nobody's interested in my opinion as a middle-aged white heterosexual man. Waaah!' You know why, Tom? It's because your opinions don't matter--the people whose opinions matter on a subject are the people who live those lives every day,' said Fatemeh Fakhraie, editor-in-chief of Muslimah Media Watch, an online forum for Muslim women to critique their portrayal in the media.
And the people who live the lives of what the Web community thought was Amina Arraf are angry.
You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, wrote a blogger called Daniel Nassar, claiming to be a writer on LGBTQ affairs in Syria-- but who knows in this, the age of Amina MacMaster-minds.
Analysts say that after MacMaster's movement to claim an Arab voice, it will be harder for Americans to trust and devote attention to other such stories coming out of the Arab spring.
I'm sorry, you're not on the ground, Nassar added, referring to MacMaster's final posts, You don't know the ground and you don't even belong to the culture of the people on the ground.