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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mirrors of the Orient, or, Repentance: Yer Doin It Wrong

I'm a sucker for a redemption narrative -- the more improbable the better. I would love to see Tom MacMaster redeem himself. After all, I loved and admired Amina, and she was his creation. It's clear he knows what forthrightness, integrity, valor, honesty and compassion look like -- he can describe them. They are even possibly present in the parts of his life we haven't seen; people are complex packages. No one is a one-dimensional villain. MacMaster chose wrong, but he's capable of choosing right. I'd love to see him do it.

What would that look like? Like weathering the storm of public criticism, answering questions forthrightly about what happened, and trying to make actual amends to the people harmed. Resolving to do things differently, and better, next time, and then doing them better.

An apology -- like the one that briefly appeared on Amina's blog, and has now vanished [update: and now reappeared, which is a step forward] -- is a good start, but it's only a start. An apology is a promise of deeds to follow; of avoiding the pattern of harmful acts which you're apologizing for, and of making restitution.

One should expect that an apology will be taken with a grain of salt -- all the more so if the crime in question was one of deceit to begin with. In the moment that you apologize, the mind you're really trying to change is your own. Other people's minds will be changed by deeds, not words. The proof is in the pudding.

In Mishneh Torah Teshuva, Maimonides writes -- in a wonderful image:

"One who merely verbally confesses to his sins, and does not affix it in his heart to abandon them is like one who immerses in a mikveh while clutching onto a reptile."

(Maimonides seems an appropriate person to go to here, doesn't he? A rationalist, scientist, and person of faith who lived and worked in the heart of the Arab world and whose career was proof of its tolerance, diversity, and intellectual richness -- Amina's kind of guy, I'd think. And he lived not too far from Tahrir Square.)

He also writes,

"Sins committed against another person, such as assault, cursing, robbery, etc., are only absolved after the transgressor gives the victim what is due him, and is then accepted by him. For even after the transgressor pays the victim what is owed him, the victim must still become favorably inclined toward him, and the transgressor must ask him for forgiveness." (Emphasis mine)

This is an interesting requirement, isn't it? Words alone to not suffice. Honest penitential feelings alone do not suffice. Even silent good deeds counterbalancing the harm done do not suffice -- because none of those things bring you into relation with the people harmed, and restore that relation to their satisfaction.

Which does not of course mean that, in the specific case of Amina, those harmed want anything to do with Tom. They most likely don't. But that doesn't let him off the hook. He could well ask what they want from him, as restitution, and do it.

One thing repentance would look like would be keeping the record of what happened public. Maimonides writes,

"it would be laudable for such a person to confess openly, to let his acts of rebellion be known, and to reveal his sins against another person in public by saying: 'In truth, I sinned against so and so by doing thus and such to him. I’m hereby doing teshuvah and I am sorry.' For the repentance of one who is so arrogant as to conceal his acts of rebellion, rather than disclose them, is incomplete."

So what would it not look like?

Having the blog -- including its apology -- vanish, and sending cease and desist letters to Minal for posting her thoughts on the matter, and for also posting the PDF of Tom's hoax memoir-as-Amina which he tried to trick Minal and me into helping him find an agent for.

This, by the way, is my own mirror of the PDF, and here is my mirror of the zip file of the archived Gay Girl in Damascus blog, so if you want to play it that way, Tom, you'll need to send me a cease and desist as well. Plus, it's on scribd.

I would really like to see Tom make amends. I would like to see him break the habit of stealing authority, living by proxy, and defrauding people. I'd like to see him -- and this is going to take years and a lot of work, Tom, you know -- establish himself as a credible ally to the people he wrongly imagined he was helping. I'd like him someday to write a novel that would serve his passion for the things he's passionate about, and handle them responsibly. It is possible. People are malleable. We each have the good urge and the evil urge within us. The gates of repentance are always open.

But I am not really interested in seeing him turn this particular story of betrayal and fraud into a marketing gag for this particular Arabsploitation faux-memoir. I think that boat has sailed. By wasting the time of news organizations and the State Department chasing a phantom, and endagering real LGBTQ Syrians and democracy activists, Tom, you've made these documents a matter of the public record.

Posted by benrosen at June 22, 2011 12:08 PM | Up to blog

This is a really wonderful post, Ben. Thank you.

Posted by: Haddayr at June 22, 2011 07:08 PM

Beautiful! I have a feeling my next step is to look for your RSS button and subscribe.

Posted by: C.S.E. Cooney at June 22, 2011 11:13 PM

Thank you! The RSS button is unfortunately pretty well hidden due to my archaic blog design, but pointing your reader at ../atom.xml might work...

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at June 22, 2011 11:15 PM

Wonderful post. I hope he takes your words to heart. He probably won't, but one can hope.

Posted by: LaShawn at June 23, 2011 01:29 AM
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