9.6.11

Hoax/Truth: A Gay Girl in Damascus

UPDATE:
Hoax is most likely over. http://electronicintifada.net/blog/ali-abunimah/new-evidence-about-amina-gay-girl-damascus-hoax has rather compelling evidence that "Amina" is a product of husband-wife team Tom MacMaster and Britta Froelicher of Edinburgh, Scotland - formerly of the Atlanta area of Georgia, USA. IP addresses, property records etc. More fun comes in the discovery that the person in charge of one of the websites involved, http://lezgetreal.com/ - is not who she says she is.


http://www.facebook.com/FreeAminaArraf
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/06/09/137071842/gay-girl-in-damascus-a-personal-friend-sifts-through-whats-real?ft=1&f=1001&sc=tw&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/
http://www.tweetdeck.com/twitter/acarvin/~zMjfv
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amina_Abdallah_Araf_al_Omari
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/09/gay-girl-in-damascus-truth-or-hoax

For 106 days Araf, a 35-year-old with a glossy brown bob and a distinctive mole over her left eyebrow, described daily life at home in a large house in the old city of Damascus, where she lived with her father. He knew of her sexuality, she wrote, and was supportive.
As Syria's popular uprising gained momentum, however – and with it the government's violent response – the outspoken activist described an ever more precarious life; eventually, she wrote of being forced into hiding. Her blog was gaining a growing following, and she gave an interview by email to CNN and agreed to talk in person to the Guardian's correspondent in Damascus, though she did not show up to that meeting, as is not uncommon for activists in the city, saying she had seen secret police at the rendezvous cafe.
On Monday a post appeared on the blog signed by Araf's cousin Rania O Ismail, saying the activist had been snatched by security forces from a street, and prompting headlines around the world.
That's when the questions began. Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at the US broadcaster NPR, who has become a key hub of Twitter contacts throughout the Middle East, wrote that he had been contacted, separately, by Syrian sources who said they had doubts about some of the details in the blog. No one in the Syrian lesbian and gay community seemed to have heard of her, and some details – such as when she wrote that secret police who had come to arrest her left after her father stood up to them – did not ring true.
Separately, a young woman from London, Jelena Lecic, had seen the press coverage of Araf's kidnapping, and contacted media organisations to say the pictures published around the world were not of an Arab lesbian, but had been taken from her own social media sites. The Guardian's website removed the photograph, taken from a Facebook page calling for Araf's release, and replaced it with an image that had been emailed directly to the Damascus correspondent by the person claiming to be Araf.
I've spent a fair amount of time following this story as it developed. I was fooled at first and believed her name to be real and her location to be in Damascus, as she said.


1. Consistent failure to speak via skype or phone to her supposed "girlfriend" in Montreal, Sandra Bagaria. 
2. Consistently backing out of plans to meet with someone, always at the last minute.
3. Consistent failure to provide any specifics to verify anything she claims, such as life in Chicago, Atlanta or growing up in Virginia.
4. Claiming to use her real name - very likely false.
5. Prior blog claiming to mix fact and fiction without telling the reader which is which.
6. Online minor profile in her name with "Language" listed as Hebrew. Could be someone else, could be a setup, could be something pulled from somewhere else. Probably meaningless.
7. IP address leading to Edingburgh, Scotland - many activists use proxy servers, though.
8. Phone number leads to a random pharmacy instead of to her home as she claimed it would.
9. The supposed "cousin" that also has writing/moderation privileges on the blog is dead silent in aftermath of online furore post-"abduction".
10. "Girlfriend" in Montreal is text-chat online relationship only.


So where's all that leaves us? Hoaxed, scammed? Sure. Could be a man, or a foreign activist or just someone writing for the hell of it. If so it started before the recent revolution started going.


Lots of details of life in Damascus, but a lot of stuff that smells of overdramatized fiction, as well, in hindsight.


Person living in Damascus or who has lived there who is LGBT-active?


Either case, it really doesn't matter. This isn't me trying to defend my gullibility. I got taken in.


The current Syrian regime is odious and killing its own citizens in the streets, no matter their sexual orientation. If the fake blog brought attention to the situation of LGBT communities in the Middle East, then that's a damn good thing and the start of real change in a very backward, medieval, Dark Ages-type part of the world. So good on her, whomever it was that wrote the blog. May well be the same person as her cousin, that's now still deleting comments on the blog.


The point is, change and protection for vulnerable sexual and religious minorities and women needs to happen in the Middle East. And the regime of President Assad needs to fall. This whole blog conspiracy is really not terribly important in light of people getting shot protesting peacefully.


So where is the writer right now? Probably not in Damascus. Probably the same person as the "cousin". Could be with the name Amina Arraf, though:
http://www.myspace.com/135726767



Or could be that she is detained in Damascus and just didn't want to use her real pictures out of fear, or out of wanting to look like Jelena Jeclic of London, the UK. Which would explain her not wanting to Skype with her new friend in Montreal, since she'd be found out to have deceived her my misrepresenting what she looked like?

UPDATE
Nail in the coffin for her being exactly who she claims to be:
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2011/06/annotated-guide-questionable-gay-girl-damascus-passages/38678/

...Which still doesn't take away from her writing achievements and gaining attention for a cause that needs attending, or change the fact that thousands of Syrians are in jail or dead for no damn good reason.

Seems  quite possible her name is real, some of her story checks out with a MySpace page from Atlanta in that name, with believable pictures. But many parts of the blog, like kissing/hugging another girl in Damascus airport - seems fabricated and wishful dreaming. Perhaps she's in Damascus and making things up, or living someplace else and making things up.

2: MORE FUN
http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/sifting-syrian-fact-from-syrian-fiction/
One of the pictures from the MySpace page is of a celebrity Palestinian female fighter. It looked inconsistent and out of place to me, which is why I didn't use it above. The other two are as yet unknown.

Even more fun: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/09/world/middleeast/09ambassador.html

All kinds of weird crap around the Syrian ambassador to France. Looks like France 24 TV channel got taken for a ride by someone with an axe to grind and a wicked sense of humor. TV channel calls the embassy and get a phone number to call the ambassador. They call that number. Woman purporting to be the ambassador claims in both French and English that she's resigning. The next day the (real?) ambassador goes on live TV with video and officially denies it, claims to be about to sue for defamation bla blah.

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