There are just so many things wrong with this farcical Gay Girl
in Damascus debacle. But what I find most offensive is the fact
that the self-assured Tom MacMaster-a white, heterosexual male from
America-has the audacity to pose and speak for the experiences of
the oppressed - something which he knows nothing about.
MacMaster knows nothing of what oppression does to an
individual. He can never feel what it is like to live in brown
skin. He can never feel what it's like to be a woman. He can never
feel what it's like to be gay. Yet he writes his version of these
experiences and presents them as an authentic voice. These are
experiences he can never claim to own. It would be the equivalent
of a man being the face of feminism - a man parading down the
street claiming that he can speak for women and that he knows all
about what it means to be a woman. This would never be tolerated.
And nor should MacMaster.
The sad truth is that the fact that MacMaster is able to even
write this blog is a testament to how privileged he is. Those who
are truly oppressed-like the people he claims to represent-do not
possess the ability to reach such a broad public audience. That's
why they are silent, and MacMaster with all the privileges of being
white, male, American and heterosexual is able to talk.
In fact, while the media and activists rage and Amina's
supporters feel utterly betrayed, the heroic knight-our gracious
white American saviour who feels such compassion for the poor,
oppressed, and demonised Arabs and Muslims that he thinks he's one
of them-is on holiday.
Yes, according to his wife (this particular Syrian lesbian does
indeed have a wife, oh the irony), he is taking a break from
his £10,000 postgraduate course at Edinburgh University and
vacationing in Turkey. Wifey-dearest herself stated, "We are on
vacation in Turkey and just really want to have a nice time and not
deal with all this craziness at the moment."
Oh boo-hoo. Poor Tommy. That's ok. The
non-fictional reported butchery will still be here when
you return, complete with tan lines and fond holiday memories.
But the cherry on top of this mound of hypocrite-cake is
undoubtedly the fact that MacMaster has the audacity to refer to
media coverage of this case as indicative of "liberal
So what's liberal Orientalism? It's basically imperialism
dressing up as liberalism - a wolf in sheep's clothing. If
Orientalism is the imperialist west's demonisation of the east,
then liberal Orientalism is the tendency of western liberal
democracies to peer into the cages of Muslims or Arabs-formerly
figured as barbarians-and see them now as cuddly, fluffy, cute
alien creatures who have their own twee little lifestyles. These
are lifestyles which we, as the west, accept on the basis of
cultural relativism because we are such wonderful progressive
liberals who are more advanced and evolved than those sweet little
brown-skinned backward foreigners.
Perhaps MacMaster is right about the media. Indeed, this is also
a tale about sloppy journalism. The media seems to be incapable
and/or unwilling to present the complexities of the disingenuous
east/west dichotomy, so they resort to oversimplified binaries -
ones that MacMaster shrewdly tapped into. He fed them exactly the
kind of simplistic nonsense they wanted to hear - a courageous
Syrian lesbian battling against the barbaric regime, a sure-fire
winner. Let's not forget that we all love a story about an
aesthetically pleasing underdog, which is why various newspapers
picked his voice over all the other
brilliant-and genuine-activists out there.
Sadly, although MacMaster recognises the media's misguided
sensibilities, he can't see his own "liberal Orientalism". In
the blog posts on A Gay Girl in Damascus,
MacMaster speaks about Islam for Islam. He paints it as a
peace-love-and-hugs religion, and claims that the west has got it
all wrong. This view is nothing but a white neo-liberal fantasy and
it does more harm than good.
MacMaster claims that Amina "can tell you this in all honesty;
[she has] never once encountered any problem here [Syria] on
account of [her] sexuality".
This is a lie. And it severely damages the campaigns of those
who do struggle. Rather than engaging in honest critical debate
about how religion and society interact, MacMaster and his
neoliberal cohort galvanise religion disingenuously.
MacMaster writes as Amina: "I reject the […] notion that
westerners know what is best for Arabs better than any Arab
Tommy, it seems you've started believing your lie and forgotten
that you are ultimately also a westerner speaking on behalf of
Arabs, and expressing what you think is best.
You are deliberately pandering to what you know the western
media will lap up like silly puppies. And in doing so, you
are lying not just about your identity, but about the true
experiences of Middle Eastern people and Islam. You are using your
white, male, heterosexual privilege to present an idea you see as
true, as right, as best. If that isn't imperialism, then what is?
Ultimately, Tom MacMaster is pleasuring himself with thoughts of
his own heroism, importance and righteousness.
But if you'd allow me to say, Mr MacMaster, sir, and I don't
mean no disrespect, sir, but - what do you know?
And finally, a message to the British media - the real voices
are out there. They're not all fictional. And they are talking.
Whether they're saying what you want to hear on not, they are
The sad fact is, you're just not listening.