The challenged Tom MacMaster

by jeff douglas

He did it, he says, in part because he "liked the challenge."

Tom MacMaster is the very American, very straight, very safe PhD student at Edinburgh University who posed online as Amina Abdallah Aral al Omari, a thirty-five year old gay woman in Damascus. As Amina, Mr. MacMaster blogged on events occurring behind the media blackout imposed by Syrian authorities. And he carried on an online affair with a very genuine Canadian woman.

macmaster.jpgToday on the Guardian website, Mr. MacMaster issued a classic non-apology apology. "I regret that a lot of people felt I led them on," he said.

He also said he wrote the blog out of vanity. Which we will not pander to. So enough about Mr. MacMaster.

I would, however, like to pay tribute to the real people who risk their lives to tell the stories of their communities, their friends, their families to the world.

Throughout the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and now Syria, we at As It Happens have relied upon the courage of journalists, bloggers and, often, regular citizens of those respective countries to be the eyes of the world.

They have spoken to us out of a sense of justice, through fear and pain, often through rage.Though they don't always request anonymity, we do not air or publish the names of anyone who might face reprisal. 

During the early days of the Libyan resistance, the BBC told us it was no longer conducting interviews in some parts of the country, because one of their sources had disappeared. The BBC feared the Gadhafi regime was monitoring all communications. We followed suit and stopped phoning and emailing people we felt we might place in jeopardy. 

Of all the countries caught up in the Arab Spring, Syria has proven a unique challange due to the lack of foreign media on the ground. And so we rely on people who have absolutely nothing to gain from talking to us, and very, very much to lose.

I am no expert on Arabic names, but I think it's safe to assume that somewhere in Syria there is at least one real Amina al Omari.

I wonder where she is.

I wonder if anyone has come to her house to inquire about her 'blog'.

I sincerely pray not.

Watch the tape of his interview found on the Guardian page. See what you think of Mr. MacMaster. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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