Syria: fashionable dictator?

I love fashion, and am fascinated by politics, especially the democracy movements in the Arab world, but I’d prefer it if Vogue magazine stopped trying to be my source for all things both fashionable and political.

Has Anna Wintour gone from the chief of fashion police to fashion dictator?

Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert,” written by Joan Juliet Buck for this month’s edition of Vogue, is a glowing portrait of the Syrian first lady and her family.

It’s too bad Asma’s husband, the “tall, long-necked, blue-eyed” Bashar al-Asaad is President of one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world.

But never mind all that! What a lovely family (and apartment) the al-Asaads have!

Syria: one big happy family? (James Nachtwey for Vogue)

Perhaps the folks at Vogue can’t be bothered to read about non-fashion-related events, as in, say, things that aren’t covered in Women’s Wear Daily, because without a trace of irony, Buck writes:

The presidential family lives surrounded by neighbors in a modern apartment…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.”

President Al-Assad was “attracted to studying eye surgery because…there is very little blood.”  What self-respecting Middle Eastern dictator doesn’t like blood? You’d never guess that based on the way he’s ordered scores of unarmed protesters to be arrested, tortured, shot and killed—including arresting 12 to 14-year-olds and torturing them by ripping out their fingernails.

But wait, there’s more:

The old al-Assad family apartment was remade into a child-friendly triple-decker playroom loft surrounded by immense windows on three sides. With neither shades nor curtains, it’s a fishbowl. Asma al-Assad likes to say, “You’re safe because you are surrounded by people who will keep you safe.” Neighbors peer in, drop by, visit, comment on the furniture. The president doesn’t mind: “This curiosity is good: They come to see you, they learn more about you. You don’t isolate yourself.”

There’s a decorated Christmas tree. Seven-year-old Zein watches Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland on the president’s iMac; her brother Karim, six, builds a shark out of Legos; and nine-year-old Hafez tries out his new electric violin. All three go to a Montessori school.

Asma al-Assad empties a box of fondue mix into a saucepan for lunch. The household is run on wildly democratic principles. “We all vote on what we want, and where,” she says. The chandelier over the dining table is made of cut-up comic books. “They outvoted us three to two on that.”

The al-Assad “the household is run on wildly democratic principles”  — why not extend those principles to the entire country?

Buck also writes that al-Assad was elected president in 2000 “with a startling 97 percent of the vote” — honey, that’s a common, not startling, sign of a dictatorship if there ever was one.

…When Angelina Jolie came with Brad Pitt for the United Nations in 2009, she was impressed by the first lady’s efforts to encourage empowerment among Iraqi and Palestinian refugees but alarmed by the Assads’ idea of safety.

“My husband was driving us all to lunch,” says Asma al-Assad, “and out of the corner of my eye I could see Brad Pitt was fidgeting. I turned around and asked, ‘Is anything wrong?’ ”

“Where’s your security?” asked Pitt.

“So I started teasing him—‘See that old woman on the street? That’s one of them! And that old guy crossing the road?

That’s the other one!’ ” They both laugh.

The president joins in the punch line: “Brad Pitt wanted to send his security guards here to come and get some training!”

Ha ha! That’s some punch line!

Contrast this puff piece in Vogue with what life is really like in Syria right now people who dare to speak out against the regime. The snipers will get you if you don’t watch out:

In a much-needed reality check, The Christian Science Monitor ran an op-ed piece on Friday about the U.S.’s tepid response to the violence against peaceful, unarmed Syrian protesters:

In the four months since it first stirred, the Arab awakening has simply refused to be put to sleep. It seems that young people seeking freedom in the Middle East will not be denied once they have broken through their own wall of fear.

The latest example is Syria, where protests against one of the most repressive regimes in the world are now in their third week – despite the killing of dozens of peaceful demonstrators…

…The contrast of US action in Libya, where military intervention was justified on humanitarian grounds, is stark. Why is one massacre of Arab freedom-seekers different from another?…

[al-Assad’s] strategy of intimidating protesters with violence is now clear. It reflects the tactics of his late father, who ended a rebellion in the city of Hama in 1982 by simply killing most of the 15,000 to 20,000 residents there…

I’ll be sure to check the latest issue of Vogue if I want to know which direction hemlines, not dictatorships, are headed. For everything else, I’ll stick to the much less fashionable traditional news outlets, thank you very much!

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