Fake Syrian Lesbian Tried to Get Book Deal
Say what you will about Tom MacMaster, the married American grad student who pretended to be a kidnapped Syrian lesbian on the internet—at least he started his horrible fake blog to create (as he put it) "an important voice for issues that I feel strongly about." Well, that, and to cash in on a memoir written from the point of view of his alter ego, which he was shopping around in May.
MacMaster apparently sent a manuscript of the memoir—A Thousand Sighs, and a Sigh: An Arab American Education—to Minal Hajratwala, a queer activist and author of the Lambda award-winning memoir Leaving India. In the cover email, MacMaster, posing as "Amina Arraf," asked Hajratwala to forward the manuscript to an agent she knew. (Hajratwala, unlike both "Amina Arraf" and her original publisher, the also-fake "Paula Brooks,", exists, we have been assured.)
After reading it, Hajratwala elected to offer some "editorial feedback" in lieu of passing it on ("probably the best decision I made in this whole process," she writes) because she found it "rambling and in need of a lot of work." And when MacMaster was outed (so to speak), she returned to A Thousand Sighs with a fine-toothed comb, finding it "painfully obvious":
Amina was an idealized projection, the white man's fantasy of an oppressed yet courageous Arab women. Bright, reckless, courageous, American, fighting patriarchy and Islamic repression at once: She was the perfect superhero, the perfect wet dream.
Today I have read the autobiography much more carefully than I did the first time. The faked lesbian sex scenes turn my stomach. The narcissistic writing, the sprinkling of quotations from the Qu'ran and tidbits from Syrian history, the stock stories compiled from a thousand news clippings - it all seems painfully obvious.
If you really want to read the thing—and judging by the excerpts Hajratwala publishes on her blog, you don't—she's put it up here as a PDF. And MacMaster, confirming his status as an immense jerk, is threatening to sue her for copyright violation.
Update: MacMaster contacted us directly, claiming we'd posted "erroneous information" from the Times and asking to set the record, uhm, straight. In the interests of full disclosure, here's the substance of MacMaster's email:
1. Hajarwala wrote first to Amina, not the other way around. She gushed over the quality of Amina's writings when she believed Amina was a lesbian. Now she finds them distasteful.
2. I am not upset about criticism or a bad review. My issue is the piracy and violation of my copyright. Hajarwala has viol;ated fair use policies (as have all those mirroring her piracy). Copyright law doesn't exist simply to protect nice people or only people of certain sexual orientations, skin pigmentation or social class but also to protect straight, white working class jerks like me.
3. Hajarwala's friends have tweeted calls for physical violence against me. The only thing I have done is request that she comply with professional standards.
4. I have sent a personal letter of apology for any hurt feelings to Hajratwala, which she has ignored.
Beyond this, I have no further statements until I have spoken with my legal counsel.