A revelation last week in Damascus prompts me to declare that the person writing this blog is me. I do this in response to the plight of a certain Amina Abdallah Araf Al-Omari who could never have made such a statement. It now transpires that ‘she’, a brave middle-aged, lesbian academic, who since her appearance in February had become a celebrated blogger, was not herself. Rather, she was the product of an American student in Edinburgh. He, that is the prankster Tom MacMaster, has apologised and ceased his trickery. But in Amina’s wake he has left her followers furious not least because of the damage he has caused in undermining the Syrian uprising.
But does it matter? Of course I too may be lying, but the question is ‘Who is the true me anyway?’ Put another way ‘Do you know who I truly am’. For witnesses, such as Amina, knowing, or feeling that one knows, the writer does have particular meaning. But even so, when following any case in court one soon realises that much witness evidence is inevitably unreliable.
Turning away from the internet and to the ‘me’s’ met in real life, on at least two occasions during my career I have been led astray. Here I am talking about real people – whatever that may mean – and gross deceit!
First there was the Consultant Obstetrician. He was an amusing and quick-thinking man. He was also a prodigious researcher publishing papers offering new and important insights into therapy. I got to know him well when we both served on an ethics committee. Our job was to oversee research in the medical school and the hospital generally, and to ensure its proper conduct in particular. At meetings he was informed, credible and persuasive. But then suddenly everything changed. Someone had discovered that key parts of my colleague’s very own results were false. Data in a publications were fabricated with bogus patient information created to help strengthen his cause. Next he was struck off the medical register never to work again as a doctor. He never really understood how very wrong his conduct had been. Whenever I think of him, features of his ‘good’ persona are difficult to trace.
Then there was the professor of anatomy and a practicing doctor. He was fiercely intelligent, very personable and seemed to know lots about everything. He was popular with the students (a very good lecturer), a man of the people, he often came to work in sandals and would often appear on TV making amusing and provocative comments. Then, one day it transpired he also serially abused his wife and after the latest such occasion, when he had almost ended her life in a frenzied attack, had been sent to jail. Of his two ‘me’s, it is my memory of the vicious version that sticks with me.
Finally, and on a lighter note, I recall a colleague who was always rude and argumentative, indeed not someone I relished being with. Then one day we met in the corridor and he was distinctly pleasant. I was suspicious and asked why the change to which he replied ‘ Its easy – I am two-faced’. It was difficult not to laugh. His two personas were linked with insight, which made it more bearable.
We all know that pretence on the internet is commonplace and that the implications can be serious. Difficult challenges are also raised by people who have a secret sinister side to their characters, and this has been a problem forever. Whether the alter-ego in question is an imagined other self, as with Tom MacMaster, aka Ms Al-Omari or an all too real one, the capacity to cause damage or hurt is tangible in both cases.