February 28 2011
Why Be A Mere Arbiter of Style When You Can Be A Dictator?
For a minute, it looked like Vogue had gone all Onion on us:
"Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic-the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies," Vogue gushes. Oh, yeah-and she's also married to a ruthless dictator, Bashar al-Assad. But who the heck cares? After all...
She's a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her "the element of light in a country full of shadow zones." She is the first lady of Syria.
Shadow zones: Would those be dungeons for political prisoners or is it a harmless reference autumnal light with its lengthening shadows? Just asking...Vogue continues:
Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East, possibly because, as the State Department's Web site says, "the Syrian government conducts intense physical and electronic surveillance of both Syrian citizens and foreign visitors."
Well, that's one way to make your country safe. Vogue goes on to note that Mr. Assad received quite a handsome victory at the polls in 2000:
Asma's husband, Bashar al-Assad, was elected president in 2000, after the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, with a startling 97 percent of the vote. In Syria, power is hereditary.
Not only is its first lady stylish, Syria is a fabulous place to pick up souvenirs:
There are souvenir Hezbollah ashtrays in the souk, and you can spot the Hamas leadership racing through the bar of the Four Seasons. Its number-one enmity is clear: Israel. But that might not always be the case.
It really is from Vogue. These people have got to be morons. Didn't anybody at Vogue have the good sense to say, "Hey, this woman is married to like a really dangerous dictator!" Apparently not. Max Fisher at the Atlantic Monthly was properly appalled:
The article's fawning treatment of the Assad family and its portrayal of the regime as tolerant and peaceful has generated surprise and outrage in much of the Washington foreign policy community, which for years has viewed Syria as one of the most dangerous and oppressive rogue states in a region full of them, with the Bush administration dubbing it the fourth member of its "axis of evil." Bashar's Syria has invaded Lebanon, allied itself with Iran, aided such groups as Hamas and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and, for years, ferried insurgents and terrorists into Iraq, where they kill U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. But the worst behavior may be inside Syria's borders, where a half-century-old "emergency law" outlaws unofficial gatherings and abets the regular practice of beating, imprisoning, torturing, or killing political dissidents, human rights workers, and minorities.
I spoke with Vogue senior editor Chris Knutsen, the story's editor, who said it was "more than a year" in the making. "We felt that a personal interview with Syria's first lady would hold strong interest for our readers," he said. "We thought we could open up that very closed world a very little bit." When I asked why they chose to dedicate so much space to praising the Assads without at least noting his brutal practices, he explained, "The piece was not meant in any way to be a referendum on the al-Assad regime. It was a profile of the first lady." He noted the country's difficult media restrictions and touted the article's passing reference to "shadow zones," saying, "we strived within those limitations to provide a balanced view of the first lady and her self-defined role as Syria's cultural ambassador."
Don't you love it when people in the world of style or Hollywood try to comment on current events? I hope Sean Penn will visit Syria next.