Since Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada and Benjamin Doherty unmasked Tom MacMaster, a married 40-year-old graduate student, as the fraud who pretended to be Amina, the “Gay Girl in Damascus,” MacMaster has been denounced by gay Syrian dissidents for doing untold damage to their struggle. By deceiving journalists and human rights activists around the world, it is possible that MacMaster harmed the entire Syrian opposition, enabling the Assad regime to tar them as Western-influenced charlatans. He also carried on a false online romance with a woman in Canada, duping her into believing she was having a relationship with a Syrian lesbian. Considering MacMaster’s professions of sympathy for the Arab Spring and frustration with “liberal Orientalist” attitudes, it is hard to understand what motivated him. Why did he take his hoax so far when it seemed obvious that it could damage a cause he claimed to care about?
While MacMaster has said he was driven at least in part by vanity, I have gained additional insight into his mentality by accessing his private Facebook page. I was able to view the page because at some point in the past, MacMaster friended me. Since I don’t recall ever meeting MacMaster and therefore didn’t know who he was until two days ago, he must reached out because he liked my work.
At MacMaster’s Facebook page, which he administers under the pseudonym Tomas Mac Maighstir, he maintains only 152 “friends.” Most of them appear to be close friends and family members. Very few of MacMaster’s Facebook connections seem to have much interest in or understanding of the Arab Spring. Indeed, these people appear entirely detached from the complex historical episode MacMaster injected himself into, and are oblivious to whatever damage he caused. Some of them even reassured him that his hoax will eventually lead to profits and plaudits.
Since MacMaster was forced to confess to the hoax, he posted his widely disseminated apology statement on his Facebook page, then added a contrite status update: “I am quite possibly a contender for worst person in the world today.” His friends and family members responded with notes of encouragement that revealed a delusional, if not totally cynical, perspective on what he had done. “I’m glad you are finally being recognized for your writing!” wrote someone named Chelsea McKinnon. “I do hope that besides the attention (and scandal) you’ve brought to light on several different political and social issues, that you actually get to profit in some way for your efforts!” A family member named Jenn Miller Macmaster wrote: “You likely inspired compassion for an otherwise oppressed population…Be gentle and compassionate to yourself, Tom:)” Other friends joked about the situation. “This whole incident is starting to make me think that maybe I shouldn’t have given that Nigerian prince all of my bank account information. Nah, I’m sure it’s fine,” wrote a MacMaster pal named Al Freeman.
Only one person in MacMaster’s inner circle criticized his actions. It was someone named Samir Moukaddam. “Do you get the depth of the situation?” Moukaddam asked MacMaster. “I’m not sure…I am afraid you may one day… [J]ust think for example: take people who do not know you personally, then they hear you may want to write a novel — how is that helpful right now?” Besides calling MacMaster selfish and amoral, Moukaddam raises the question of whether the fraudmeister had told his friends and family that he hoped to exploit his hoax to score a lucrative book contract.
Of course, decent people feel inclined to support those they care about during times of distress, and usually do so without reservation. But if MacMaster is experiencing any pain, he brought it upon himself by hatching a deceptive scheme to gain attention and recognition for his writing (as one of his friends acknowledged) that ended up undermining a revolutionary movement already confronted with brutal state repression. MacMaster’s family and friends should have told him the hard truth, but they don’t seem to know what it is. Instead, they impulsively coddled him and praised his actions. For all they seem to know, Syria is a far away place filled with a faceless “oppressed population.” So who are the “liberal Orientalists?” And to what degree did MacMaster share their sensibilities?
Here’s MacMaster’s “worst person” post and the responses (sorry for the poor formatting; I was unable to enlarge the screenshots any further so I had to post the threads in several parts):
MacMaster posts his entire apology from his now inaccessible hoax blog: