“From your point of view, who embodies action for peace and how? Inspire yourself with a personality or someone from your entourage.”
For a couple weeks in June, a major name flitting around online news was Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari. The author of the blog “A Gay Girl inDamascus,” Amina made a name for herself with her direct, honest accounts of her life as a lesbian living in Damascus, Syria. Her weblog became popular after her entry on April 26, titled “My Father the Hero.” The piece was about two security agents who came to her house, threatening to rape and detain her and were prevented from doing so by her father. The blog’s popularity increased further during the ongoing Syrian uprising.
Amina’s blog compares about popular opinion to her own on topics such as “women’s issues, gay issues, life inSyria, history, politics, [and] living out”, as she writes in one of her first posts on the site. Her posts alternate between reflections on current events, remarks on the Islamic viewpoint towards LBGT individuals, chapters from her autobiography-in-progress, “A Thousand Sighs,” and the occasional poem or narrative writing. “A Gay Girl inDamascus” soon became a sort of haven for women of all nationalities and sexual orientations, especially gay Arabs.
Amina’s strong voice and personality gained her many followers and admirers. Therefore, when on June 6, Amina’s cousin posted an entry on her blog stating that Amina had been kidnapped, there was an instant virtual uprising. Word spread across the Internet, “Free Amina” petitions were created, Facebook pages were set up, and even online news sources wrote articles about her. Therefore, it came as a brutal shock when the truth came out: Amina didn’t actually exist. She was a fictional persona made up by Tom MacMaster, a straight American male.
Peace can be described as the absence of war, but more importantly, defines a society with awareness of basic human rights, in which people can freely express themselves without fear of oppression, and in which everyone is treated equally and fairly. Through the character of Amina, MacMaster was aiming to achieve peace by way of raising awareness and by creating a sort of online refuge for Arabs who are discriminated against by the law. Though the character was made up, the facts and emotions portrayed in the blog are real, and millions of people experience them each day. The number of people commenting on Amina’s writing, saying that it had touched them, and that they understood what she was talking about, demonstrates this perfectly. In this sense, the fictional character of Amina embodies peace.
MacMaster thoroughly developed Amina’s character, as evident in the six chapters of her autobiography that were uploaded. He speaks of her starting school inSyria, then moving toAmericain 1982, being ostracized by all but one classmate throughout middle and high school, and her family’s reaction toAmerica’s invasion ofIraq. MacMaster writes of her dual heritage, American and Syrian, and how that affects her political and cultural perspective. This background knowledge gives her character depth and makes her a more sympathetic, interesting, and influential character.
To Americans and Europeans, Amina’s blog served as a method of gaining information. Many uneducated Westerners are especially ignorant of Middle Eastern customs and daily life. MacMaster uses Amina’s voice as a method of teaching. Raising awareness about these issues is important, especially in a time such as this, with the many rebellions and wars currently going on in theMiddle East. Unlike a class in school, Amina’s personality and strong narrative voice helped attract a denomination of people who otherwise would not have been interested in the happenings in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, to people living in the Arabic world, Amina’s blog was a possibility for Islamic and Arabic homosexuals, feminists, and people who disagreed with Islamic teachings to express themselves and talk freely about subjects directly affecting them. This was made possible via the anonymity of the Internet, which makes individuals feel more secure, particularly in an environment where one can be punished by the government or others in the country for talking about controversial topics such as those discussed in “A Gay Girl inDamascus.”
In conclusion, though fictional, Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari embodies peace because she attempts and succeeds to spread information about the daily oppression happening to lesbians in theMiddle East, and at the same time, creates a safe environment where people with relatable problems can freely share their opinions. Most importantly, Amina inspired people to act on their own: to further their knowledge about the culture, customs, and injustices of the Arab world, or to raise awareness of topics they feel strongly about. Thanks to Amina’s bravery, she was able to spread awareness about issues she cared about. Therefore, by some, she might even be considered a hero.