Download Amina Abdullah Arraf’s fake memoir here: A Thousand Sighs- Part I.pdf
On May 9, a friend of a friend sent an email to me and two other women writers asking if we would help a young lesbian, a Syrian American political blogger, to find a literary agent for her memoir. He pointed us toward this powerful post.
According to her blog, Amina Abdullah Arraf was on the run in Syria, he said. Though he’d never met her, this kind man was moved to try and help her.
We had a short email exchange in which I offered some standard publishing advice and named three agents who might be interested. I soon received the following email from firstname.lastname@example.org :
I’ve attached a section of my book in progress … if you can forward
to [name deleted], I’d be very appreciative. You can also send her to
my blog: http://damascusgaygirl.blogspot.com/
I really have no idea at all about the business end of things …
The attached document was titled “A Thousand Sighs, and a Sigh: An Arab American Education.” I skimmed it, found it rambling and in need of a lot of work, and did not forward it to the agent — probably the best decision I made in this whole process. Instead I offered some editorial feedback via my friend’s friend, and did not hear back.
Last week, when I saw the story that Amina had been abducted, I wrote an email to Lambda Literary, the queer writers’ organization. I suggested that the organization get involved in some effort to assist Amina and offered my help.
As the whole world knows today, there is no Amina. Countless people, moved by compassion, wasted much more time and energy than I did on a spectre.
This spectre was more than a cynical act of manipulation, however.
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.
It is ironic that the hoaxster, in his mea culpa, says he wanted to contest “the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.”
For that is the very genre in which he chose to express his literary pretensions. By inventing this persona, creating an elaborate blog, and — apparently — intending to pursue book publication, Tom MacMaster was well on his way to pioneering “new forms of liberal Orientalism.”
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.
So I find myself among the countless people — among them journalists for many (though not all) of the world’s most respected news organizations — who today are kicking themselves for believing, and trying to help.
Here are some excerpts from the memoir:
Of Amina’s ancestors, whose stories are told in long passages of pseudo-fantasy-novel style:
Now, Hajj Musa tried to take Nashqua to his bed for she enraptured him. She refused him, saying that, though she was a servant now, she had been born free in her own land and was of an ancient noble lineage; if he would have her, he would need first to ask for her hand and do all things properly. She was no slave and would be no man’s doxy.
Amina as a child, while her family is fleeing Syria:
“I ask, is America near the sea? I’d like to see the sea …”
“Yes, you will see the sea …”
Growing up in the United States, a perfect model minority girl:
I was almost always the first one done with tests, the one who had her hand up first with the answers and so on. (If you’ve ever seen the Simpsons, I was a lot like Lisa though with less self-confidence.) I took standardized tests and did ridiculously well on them (I’m still more than a little embarrassed about my listed IQ).
Her first crush on a woman (white, of course):
The whole time, I was noticing how mature and pretty she was; long, wavy golden hair tied up in a bun, bright blue eyes, an almost pinkish face and a woman’s body, just the way that I wished that I looked.
An exchange with her father, during her adolescence:
“Remember, Amina,” he sent [SIC], waving a finger, “if the young man and the young woman are alone together, the Shaitan makes three!”
“Yes, dad,” I nodded. “No Shaitan, I got it.”
When she realizes she is a lesbian:
I couldn’t help but think of myself as evil, foul, a sinner, and a corrupter …
And it goes on.
A thousand sighs, indeed.