Edinburgh-based student defends fake Syria blog

AN AMERICAN man studying in Edinburgh has defended writing a highly publicised fake blog that claimed to be the work of a lesbian living in the Syrian capital of Damascus.

A writer giving his name as Tom MacMaster - apparently a 40-year-old US student at Edinburgh University - admitted the blog called "A Gay Girl in Damascus" was fictional but insisted it "created an important voice for issues I feel strongly about."

He said he never expected the worldwide attention from concerned readers and the media.

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The blog dates back to February this year and claimed to tell the day-to-day story of 25-year-old Syrian-American Amina Abdallah Arraf al-Omari.

On Tuesday, a blog post at the same site supposedly written by the woman's cousin, said she had been detained in Damascus after weeks on the run.

The story unravelled quickly after a woman in Britain said the photos on the Facebook account of the blogger known as Amina Arraf were actually of her.

And yesterday the author posted a blog titled "Apology to readers" which he signed off as Tom McMaster.

In the post he writes:

"I never expected this level of attention. 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. I do not believe that I have harmed anyone - I feel that I have created an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about.

"I only hope that people pay as much attention to the people of the Middle East and their struggles in this year of revolutions. The events there are being shaped by the people living them on a daily basis. I have only tried to illuminate them for a western audience.

"This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.

"However, I have been deeply touched by the reactions of readers."

Mr MacMaster is currently on holiday in Istanbul.

He told the BBC: "People should stop focussing on the hoaxer and really be focussing on the most important people, the real people who are suffering in Syria."