Mauritania: A simple citizen demanding his rights

Published on Pambazuka News, by Sokari Ekine, June 16, 2011.

Following the death by self-immolation of 41-year-old Mauritanian Yacoub Ould Dahoud in January, Sokari Ekine revisits his demands for change in the country. In the wake of the revelations around Gay Girl in Damascus’s true identity, she also explores the outrage and severe criticism directed at the site from those in the LGBTI and Middle Eastern blogosphere.

On 17 January 2011, a 41-year-old Mauritanian businessman, Yacoub Ould Dahoud, burned himself in front of the presidential palace in Nouakchott. He later died in Morocco where he was sent for medical treatment. 

‘Dahoud was not a poor man, nor was he unemployed like his Tunisian counterpart. His Facebook profile accessed today by this blogger shows Dahoud followed very closely the events unfolding in Tunisia culminating with Ben Ali’s ousting by his people. He came from a prominent family and many Mauritanians I spoke with agree that he was driven by the same motivation as Tunisia’s Bouazizi: making a statement about tyranny and the lack of freedom in their societies….
Contrary to initial reports from Reuters claiming Dahoud committed this act to protest tribal grievances, his was a genuine political act of pre-planned and meditated dissent, in fact his suicide note states clearly that he sought peaceful constitutional reform and a functioning democracy.’

Dahoud’s death was overshadowed by events in Tunisia and Egypt at the time. This is unfortunate because his manifesto and demands lie at the heart of the uprisings, large and small, across the whole continent. To highlight the significance of Dahoud’s action and to give it the prominence it deserves I publish those sections which speak to the continent as a whole: … //

… ‘You took away my voice, Mr. MacMaster, and the voices of many people who I know. To bring attention to yourself and blog; you managed to bring the LGBT movement in the Middle East years back. You single-handedly managed to bring unwanted attention from authorities to our cause and you will be responsible for any LGBT activist who might be yet another fallen angel during these critical time.’

Ironically one of the blogs which published GGiD aka Tom MacMaster was Lez Get Real, whose co-founder ‘Paula Brooks’ has also been outted as an impostor and liar. She turns out to be a straight white male from Ohio. Right up till Monday evening ‘Bill Graber was still pretending to be deaf lesbian “Paula Brooks”’. The comment below was left on the Electronic Intifada site by Graber’s colleague at Lez Get Real, in response to the outing of Tom MacMaster (note the tone of indignation):

‘We are both very real [Paula Brooks and Linda Carbonell]. But there is a reason neither of us gets terribly ‘traceable’ in our on-line personas. We have family members who work for the government. We have jobs that would be in jeopardy if our blogging were ever linked to those jobs. More importantly, Paula has encountered the same situations that my daughter has – physical threats because she is gay. Being deaf, Paula is more vulnerable than most people under any circumstances. She is afraid of something happening to herself or to her children. Just in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s open season on gays, Hispanics, Jews and Muslims in some parts of this country [US].’

The indignation gets worse as Linda Carbonell expressed her disgust at MacMaster’s deception when in fact her colleague, Paula Brooks, was also a member of the impostors club…
‘We were a voice for the people of the Middle East and you have nullified our voice. Worse, [the site that unveiled MacMaster's hoax] is accusing us of not existing. They accused our executive editor of being an avatar, called into question her qualifications and entire life experiences…’
They were right – Paula Brooks was indeed an avatar. Again hear the arrogance: WE were the voice for the people of the Middle East and OUR voice has been nullified. The concern over these callous and arrogant deceptions from self-righteous individuals who cannot even bring themselves to apologise with any sincerity is not limited to those on the frontline in Syria and other Middle Eastern and African countries. For example, Lez Get Real has been one of the main US blogs reporting and commenting on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In fact I had written to them at the time of David Kato’s death complaining about the posting on their blog of a photo of a Ugandan tabloid which referred to David in an extremely derogatory way. This was on the day of his funeral.

For those of us with an online presence and who engage with bloggers and tweeters (many of whom we do not know personally), these two betrayals of trust leave me feeling violated in a profound way. They undermine bloggers and blogging, undermine those activists who have to blog anonymously in order to genuinely protect themselves. Now I am left wondering about the reliability of some online sources. How much of the gains we think we are making or have made are really just an illusion? Are these the kind of blogs and reporting we in Africa and the global South should be referring to on issues that concern us and take place in our countries? In the uprisings reviews I have made a point, where possible, of using blogs and Twitter as the main source rather than mainstream media, but if there are doubts on the reliability and honesty of these publications then that raises some very uncomfortable questions. The importance of blogs is that they are written by ordinary people, many on the frontline or in direct contact with that space. While it’s great that we can all communicate across borders with knowns and unknowns, it’s disconcerting to discover the person you believed to be genuine turns out to be so far from that reality – that person is nothing but a mockery of the truth. Both of these impostors claim they faked their identities so they would be taken seriously – one as a gay Syrian activist the other as a white disabled lesbian. Both are white heterosexual males who chose to steal the voices of LGBTI persons and lie about it … (full long text).

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