This was written by B.
Full disclosure: Last month I wrote a piece for MMW about the new ‘blog heroine’, Amina Abdullah. The thrust of my piece was my discomfort at her being promoted by the Western media as such a central figure in the Syrian uprising. However, the planned posting date coinciding with Amina’s kidnapping and the story was spiked on grounds of taste.
Of course, we now know that Amina was now an entirely fictional figure. Opprobrium has been heaped on the perpetrator of the lie, yet I find the media equally culpable.
Firstly, here’s why the media’s positing “Amina” as such a great revolutionary hero was so problematic. While she was a lesbian, she also stated that she was a dual U.S./Syrian national from a moneyed background, making her someone of great class privilege. Making Amina a hero reconfigured an uprising started and largely maintained by the poorest, least privileged members of society to an operation carried out by a hugely privileged, Western-approved figurehead.
Although the internet has proven vital in the ongoing struggle, most Syrians still do not have internet access/ use the internet and what access they do have is state-controlled. Many rely on internet cafes, but as food/oil prices rocket due to the unrest and the streets are seen as unsafe for many due to the government forces, people won’t be able to use them, either. This is not an uprising that was either started by, or is occurring, via the internet.
Likewise, many Syrians, particularly those from poorer areas are not likely to speak English, all of which means it is unlikely that her blog is the rallying point for the uprising as the articles implied. When an article in Jezebel lauded her bravery while simultaneously referring to the slaughter of hundreds and imprisonment of thousands as a “crackdown,” the framing moves from the implausible to the star-seeking and offensive. The Western media deserves criticism for erasing the reality of what is happening in to people Syria to produce a “juicy” story.
And how juicy ‘Amina’ was. For it was clear that to the media, the lesbian and Muslim Amina was a rare and exotic figure indeed, with much of the coverage having a gasping “How rare!” tone. In our media, which is saturated by the male gaze, it surely cannot have gone unnoticed that “Amina” (pictured using Jelena Lecic’s photos) had both feminine beauty and a fondness for talking about her sex life in lascivious detail.
Did such tales of heady lust cloud the media’s ability to fact check? Unfortunately, the blog is now password protected, but several posts gave huge clues that maybe Amina really wasn’t such a safe source. Repressive police state it may be, but plenty of people have visited Syria and so it is astounding that so many were so quick to cite her unquestioningly.
Let’s begin with the post that shot the blog to fame, “My Father, The Hero.” Here, Amina is saved from the clutches of the Mukhabarat by her father’s impassioned pleas and knowledge of the arresting officers’ family trees. A quick Google will show that Syria is a rather large country of 20 million people, not a little patch of land with a few tribal villages, so her father being able to identify the men in such a manner, when he and they come from completely different parts of the country and were previously unknown to each other, is not particularly believable.
Then there’s the fact of the Mukhabarat being sent away with a few carefully chosen words, which so betrays the actual author’s “Mighty Whitey” mentality. The Mukhabarat are widely feared in Syria, now more than ever, because they can take whoever they like. This story, far from being a tale of heroism, actually distorts the truth occurring in a country where a 13-year-old boy can be tortured to death. However, the author feels that, unlike your average Syrian, he could outsmart them—something insulting enough to insinuate, but even more insulting for the Western media to believe. Those poor Syrians! If only they were a bit more modern and articulate, then they wouldn’t be in such a mess! /sarcasm.
Less famously but more implausibly still, another post contained a confession from her father that the family had been approached when Bashar Al Assad was looking for a future star of Vogue/wife, with Amina as a possible match. Well, she did say she came from a privileged, old Damascene family. However, Amina also said that her uncle had been imprisoned and tortured for being in the Muslim Brotherhood and had since had to flee Syria, something that would surely destroy your niece’s chance of marrying into the Al Assad family.
At this point, it should have been clear that the blog was entering Walter Mitty territory, but the only W in the media’s mind was the whole Western-friendly tag. Note that the writings of the actually real and actually imprisoned blogger Tal Al Mallohi never received this level of scrutiny, because idle Western journalists would have had to translate them from Arabic.
So while Tom McMaster deserves huge criticism, particularly from LGBTQ folks in the Middle East, who discuss the impact the hoax has on them, the Western media should reflect on why they were so eager to swallow this fiction instead of engaging with Syrian facts.