Questions are flying as the plot thickens around the already notorious mystery of Amin Arraf. Since the news of her supposed kidnapping or arrest broke earlier in the week via the very blog- under the moniker A Gay Girl in Damascus- that propelled her to fame and accrued a following, the media has almost forgotten the wider Arab world troubles in the excitement and possibly sinister turn of events (or indeed non-events).
Shrouded in mystery
Amina Abdullah Arraf as we knew her shot to fame for her internet-announced kidnapping but was already known in the bloggosphere and by revolution groupies in all spheres for her bold postings on the revolution, her sexuality and Syrian identity. While some theories have surfaced on her 'pseudonym' Amina, speculating that she may have completely misled readers as to her identity, this is not an improbable scenario, given that Syrian activists often have to keep low to 'no' profiles. Dissembling identities is common place using pseudonyms and operating under multiple personnas- such that it is entirely possible that her personna was a complete fiction. Indeed her very existence has become a moot point. That the whole creation might have been a fictional hoax has not been ruled out.
Al Bawaba, who featured some of her blog post entries at the peak of these revolutionary times, including 'My Father, My Hero' would see it fit to address some of this intrigue and increasingly heightened speculation on the case of Amina the Syrian-American Lesbian Revolutionary Blogger. Who was/ is she, and are we to believe any of her accounts or read them as a fictional experiment. We have been reminded that she at the start of her original 2007 blog, candidly invited us in a pre-amble, to read a series of posts that would mix fiction with reality and not disclose which was which.
Many individuals have taken it upon themselves to be maverick or rogue detectives: some are motivated by their remit as journalists wishing to re-provide information after a lot of media mis-information has been circulating- especially say at the Guardian, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal who ran with the wrong picture- since discovered to be that of Jelena Levech of London who appeared on BBC Newsnight to put paid to rumour and set the record straight. The Londoner caught up- by her face- in all this as the mistaken identity of the purported Amina, was probably just a case of 'lazy journalism' as Jeremy Paxman's guest on newsnight special, Syrian human rights activist Mahmoud Hamad, suggested.
Don't forget Syria:
What we at Al Bawaba are concerned by as the rumor mill heats up on overdrive is the question of why this is of such interest at this time, and we would venture to say that, whether this woman proves to be some amalgam of fictional and real contemporary cyber activist, what she has provided is a human face for the media to latch on to: similarly as did Nada of Iran’s Green Revolution and Iman Obeidi of Libya and Taraneh Mousavi of also Iran. All these faces made compelling and haunting viewing and audiences were thereby more drawn to otherwise dry announcements of numbers, deaths, sects and run of the mill coverage of the wider general story. Every mass scale narrative of suffering and strife needs a human face, even poster girl/ boy to engage and compel people in a human story that allows the public to feel more involved and vested in another country’s events. It is probably safe to assume that the debate about the disappeared 35 year-old 'Amina' is hardly taking place in Syria, as much as it is raging outside of it, for the blogger’s writing more appealed to the outside world familiar with her American references and Middle class mind-frame.
The jury is still out on who Amina really is- a fictionalized or nom en plum, for a veritable blogger- an alter ego that is a mesh of fiction and fact, a social and political experiment, or a hoax to test the perameters of social media.
But what she has proven to be is a intensified lens to cyber activism, trust in internet, scrutiny and interest in gay Arab minorities and sadly a destraction for some of the unquestionably real trauma unfolding in times of Syrian strife and acts perpetrated by a brutally repressive regime. Granted it is a gripping, and 'cautionary tale' about trusting the internet and its pull, but it's also very worrying that more people seem to be following this story in favour of what is actually happening in Syria. To date, the army has repeatedly fired on unarmed demonstrators in Hama, Derra and Homs and horrific tales of sexual torture of children, men and women, fingernail extraction and psychological torment are rampant. Given that homosexuality is illegal in Syria and Amina's forceful and frank platform as a gay blogger, her treatment by the regime could be terrifying, and her life could be in danger. There are still 10,000 human beings arrested in Syria. And they need to be freed, whether they are gay or not, whether they speak English or not, whether they have an online presence or not. Amina herself commented prolifically on her country's state of affairs: Torture, she wrote, is "routine and normal". "It is what all of us expect. It is why we keep our nails as short as possible so they can't be pulled off. It is why we were slow to come out into the streets … It is why you don't see so many women in the protests. What do you think happens to women who get picked up?"
Most recently the identity of her cousin Rania Ismail, who reportedly brought us news via the blog of her celebrity blogger cousin's unceremonious seizing, has also been more or less discredited. To date, no one can claim to have met in person any of these names that have surfaced- and g-chat, skype chat, and email interviews can only lend more fuel to these theories. Political cyber activist operating within a secret police state would not be expected to protect their true identity. How can an activist whose life is in danger provide that credibility? But this alter ego may have borne no resemblance to the character we followed. A search of the IP address on which Araf contacted people can be traced to a server in Edinburgh. Yet still, activists keen to obscure their identities frequently use proxy servers to disguise the source of their postings.
Political and social uses of “fictional” blog personnas.
One skeptic suggested: "I would not at all be surprised if some of my social media contacts were complicated fictional creations — either literary experiments, or politically motivated cyber-infiltrators."
Fictional blog hoaxes or alter ego stunts are manifold in the history of blogs. Currently doing the rounds is theTrue life story of Filipina Maid in Dubai who one could be forgiven for regarding as suspect. The notion of the immigrant worker house-keeper keeping such a subversive blog without being outed, especially when it is written to mirror the broken English one might expect, and therein smacks of too much of a middle class privileged prank /hoax-- even if politically driven.
It is a non-story, not just because no one in the activist/blogging communities that have contacts in mainstream media outlets she was looking at knew her, but because they would not be able to cover the story because of the “homosexuality”. There has also been concern were very concerned that her blog posts were drawing attention to Syria's LGBT community in ways that could be dangerous for them.
Andy Carvin has created a running enquiry into the truth behind Amina, and was one of the first to raise shades of doubt over the authenticity of the 'story'.