Brendan O’Neill on “Why so many hacks fell for the ‘gay girl in Syria:'”
Indeed, many contemporary journalists and activists share something important in common with MacMaster. No, not a penchant for telling outright lies, but certainly a desire to discover themselves, to give their run-of-the-mill lives a shot of political adrenalin, by creaming off the experiences of ‘exotic’ Arabs or Africans or Asians. ‘I was very involved in issues surrounding the Palestine and Iraq struggles’, said MacMaster in his apology. ‘Ever since my childhood I had felt connected to the cultures and peoples of the Middle East…. So I invented her. Amina came alive. I could hear her “voice”.’ MacMaster says he mashed his own personality, and his views on Palestine, with Amina’s: ‘Some of her details were mine.’
Here, in this seemingly weird, po-mo, borderline crazy playing about with identity, we can actually glimpse a very mainstream modern phenomenon: the construction of identity and discovery of the self through the theatre of foreign affairs. From those Western pro-Palestinian activists who don the keffiyeh in a PC version of blacking-up, to the journalists and celebs who carved out new, super-moral public personas through their campaigning against the evils in Darfur, to the multitude of hacks and human rights activists who turned the war in Bosnia into their war, describing it with undiluted narcissism as a political ‘acid test for our generation’, time and again influential people in the West have reduced conflicts and clashes ‘over there’ to personality playpens, in which they might discover a new edge and spark to their own lives and existences.
Eschewing that oh-so-outdated approach of analysing the dynamics behind war or political upheaval, journalists and activists have preferred instead to make it all about them. Pro-Palestinian types advertise their moral indefatigability by standing alongside their favourite brown-skinned victims and shouting slogans at Evil Israel, while many journalists imagine that their brave reporting in Bosnia (I say brave. I say reporting) made them modern-day Schindlers facing down modern-day Nazis. The cultivation of identity through the moral hijacking of other people’s wars and misfortunes is an activity that has been around for years now, and it is one which has seen the line between fact and fiction in foreign reporting become increasingly blurred. MacMaster has taken it all one step further by completely inventing an imaginary exotic person through which he might express his desire for political momentum. That is because in the blind world of the blogosphere, it is possible for the wall between fact and fiction to be smashed down completely.
Which is a variation on what Cuban-American blogger Val Prieto once dubbed “Omnipotent Tourist Syndrome,” for those who wish to drop in on Castro’s Cuba for a weekend, admire the ruins of an island that’s been dysfunctional for over 50 years, and then jet out. MacMaster got to play Omnipotent Tourist without ever leaving his Web browser.