A “Rose in the Desert” Smells Like Sh*t

This is cross posted by A. Jay Adler at The Sad Red Earth

I mean not to diminish but heighten in significance the state repression and murder currently being executed across Syria by reminding us all of what I had intended to write of at the time, the creepiest, most morally repugnant journalism of the year – Joan Juliet Bucks “A Rose in the Desert,” for Vogue, with photography by James Nachtwey. Might Anna Wintour and the other editors of that glossy dross, reeking of ancien regime parfum feel more chastened now to think it, worse, in bad taste? For there were only decades to know of the barbarous tyranny of Syria’s Ba’athistregime, no different from any other party in the Middle East under that banner, with one decade of Syrian interference in Lebanon sufficient to know the nature of Assad junior. Still, for Buck,

Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. 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.


That’s an estimated 340 dead so far in the nationwide protests, you should know.

Said the French Ambassador, according to Buck,

She managed to get people [at the International Diplomatic Institute in Paris] to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides—and the driving force for that rests largely on the shoulders of one couple. I hope they’ll make the right choices for their country and the region.

But, writes Hisham Melham in Foreign Policy, in addition to both the historical and present reality of Syrian politics and behavior,

the underlying reality is much gloomier: Syria does not have a serious university or research institution, a notable press, hospitals with reliable medical care, or any efficient state agency — save the institutions of repression. Indeed, the ingrained inertia of the current Assad regime, its hollow and brittle institutions, and the very nature of the political system, including its instruments of coercion, prevents it from engaging in serious reform or from delivering on the requirements of regional peace. The regime may well have finally lifted the country’s Emergency Law this week, but that will do little to change the underlying authoritarian realities: Article 8 of the constitution (which establishes the primacy of the Baath party in state and society), the illegality of political parties, and an ongoing media environment of censorship and craven dependence.

In many of these ways, Bashar has simply carried on the authoritarian legacy of his father, Hafez Assad.

Quelle surprise.

Not all is lost, however. We can always treasure, here, Nachtwey giving us the Assadsen vogue with Disney World lighting, at play on the floor with the children and trucks, the modern tyrannical family spending quality time at home. I hope it’s framed above the reception desk at the Vogue offices. After all, one needs to take pride in one’s work.

12 replies »

  1. she’s attractive but still the spouse of a ruthless dictator. i dont understand what attracts leftist journalists to monster dynasties.

    the west is trying to turn Asma al-Assad into another queen rania. last thing the world needs is more glorified dictatorship families.

  2. My favorite part of this odious puff piece is this:

    “Back in the car, I ask what religion the orphans are. “It’s not relevant,” says Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. That’s how religions live together in Syria—a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these lands—the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans—make up who I am.”

    “Does that include the Jews?” I ask.

    “And the Jews,” she answers. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”

    The Jewish quarter of Damascus spans a few abandoned blocks in the old city that emptied out in 1992, when most of the Syrian Jews left. Their houses are sealed up and have not been touched, because, as people like to tell you, Syrians don’t touch the property of others. The broken glass and sagging upper floors tell a story you don’t understand—are the owners coming back to claim them one day?”…

    …Answer to that one is a simple no. The Jews of Syria are gone for good and will never return.

    My advice to this family is to move back to London, where they will no doubt be welcome. Bashar can pick up where he left off and open an Ophthalmology practice, where he can help humanity instead of killing people. He can cater to a wealthy clientele of expats and rich Brits who want to bypass the National Health and should do well. Until his practice takes off, Asma can help support the family by working in the financial industry. There are plenty of good schools for the kids and access to the latest fashions. Alternatively, they can move to the US. We have a great witness protection plan and a lot of places they could live where no one would find them in a million years.

  3. Hold on a minute, I almost forgot about this part:

    “The presidential family lives surrounded by neighbors in a modern apartment in Malki. On Friday, the Muslim day of rest, Asma al-Assad opens the door herself in jeans and old suede stiletto boots, hair in a ponytail, the word happiness spelled out across the back of her T-shirt. At the bottom of the stairs stands the off-duty president in jeans—tall, long-necked, blue-eyed. A precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer, he says he was attracted to studying eye surgery “because it’s very precise, it’s almost never an emergency, and there is very little blood.””

    Am I dreaming? – did he really say:

    “because it’s very precise, it’s almost never an emergency, and there is very little blood.”

  4. “i dont understand what attracts leftist journalists to monster dynasties.” Abban azziz

    What attracts them is the perfect opportunity to display their abject mental servility.

  5. The capability of the Arab/Muslim mind to convolute itself and tell itself mutually exclusive stories about why they do things never ceases to amaze me.

    It’s a very immature cognition, very much based on magical thinking and a little like a child singing to itself in the dark so that it won’t be afraid. The Arab will tell himself a story to make himself feel better, which he then makes true and insists is the truth until it takes on a life of its own.

    It’s also an extreme defence against cognitive dissonance, and in this Muslims/Arabs have the advantage over the rest of us: Never having been taught to introspect about the effect of their behaviour on others or of others’ behaviour towards them things seem just to “happen” to them, which absolves them from initiating anything which will stop them from happening to them again. This means that they can always blame others rather than look to themselves for the cause. They are often not aware that they are actually holding multiple contradictory notions about the world, much less contradicting themselves again and again.

    The confusion this causes must be almost catastrophic, which is why we see Arab/Muslim leaders conveniently forgetting what they said earlier if it contradicts what they are saying now; why they are experienced as being so untrustworthy (and they are, given this cognitive lack) because they compartmentalise so well that it appears they really have wiped their memories clean and reinvented themselves in their own eyes at least.

    In the shame/honour culture in which they live, there is no concept of “That didn’t go so well; I should have done it differently” which means that they keep on making the same mistakes again and again and again in the vain hope that the next time it’ll magically come right.

    Samson: Bashar, having killed or ordered killing with such consummate ease, is a sociopath. Moving away from where he can exercise his sociopathic tendencies without hindrance will not prevent him from being a sociopath and it’s best that he’s kept out of decent society.

    Editors, has the link to this article been sent to the editors of Vogue? If not, it should be.

  6. “i dont understand what attracts leftist journalists to monster dynasties.” Abban azziz

    Other monster familial dynasties embraced by socialists are:

    – castro familial dynasty of Cuba
    – jong ill familial dynasty of norte korea

  7. Samson – the frequent and odious commenter on CiF known as “Teapot” is a Syrian Catholic.

    When LWOJ (Dan Rickman) was writing pieces about Judaism for the Guardian, which never failed to stir up the anti-Semites with nasty phrases they culled from anti-Semitic websites about the Talmud, she was front and center with her vile remarks.

  8. AKUS – Not that it means anything, but she does appear to have a sense of humor based on this comment from yesterday’s CIF:


    25 April 2011 10:14AM

    I left out Meena Alexander in the previous post. Under normal circumstances, I would say “I would kill to have been there”, but since this is an I/P article, I won’t say.

    Note, dearest moderator, that I have not said it.


    Of course, I am assuming she was kidding.

  9. Mitnaged –

    “Samson: Bashar, having killed or ordered killing with such consummate ease, is a sociopath. Moving away from where he can exercise his sociopathic tendencies without hindrance will not prevent him from being a sociopath and it’s best that he’s kept out of decent society.”

    With that in mind, the witness protection program ought to work perfectly for him. It is used all the time in the US for Mafia “wiseguys” who testify against their former colleagues, as well as for other criminals in similar circumstances. Their law enforcement handlers keep these sociopaths out of trouble while simultaneously keeping them out of harm’s way.

    The analogy with the Mafia is quite apt for the Assads. Young Bashar must have had some notion of leaving the family “business” when he went to medical school, but “duty” called when dad passed away and he had to fulfill his obligations to the family. His initial promises to institute reform are now long forgotten and he has become just as repressive and murderous as his father. Hopefully there won’t be a “Part 3” to this Godfather saga.

  10. hi there – I just saw your title and laughed my butt off. Thank you so much for exposing this hypocrisy. I’m a writer/blogger and have subscribed to Vogue for many years, but this is the final straw for me. I also wrote about this article a couple of weeks after it came out, because I was so pissed off, especially given the timing of everything going on in the Middle East. Anyway, if you are interested, you can check out my piece here, and thanks: http://jenniferbruni.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/syria-fashionable-dictator/