A glowing profile of the wife of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad written two years ago for a major fashion publication is back online: read it while you can. Written by Joan Juliet Buck for Vogue magazine, the article entitled “A Rose in the Desert” serves as a litmus test for cynicism when considered against the backdrop of mass-murder, torture and imprisonment of tens of thousands of Syrians that has occurred since the story was first published.
In March, 2011, the 3,200-word story on Asma al-Assad praised the “wildly democratic” family-centric couple who vacation in Europe, nurture Christianity, and leave their security guards at home when cruising around Damascus with Brad and Angelina. Buck declared that “Syria is known as the safest country in the Middle East” and described the couple’s aim to give Syria a “brand essence.”
With catastrophic mistiming, the story was published online right before Syria’s Arab Spring erupted. It was later revealed to be the result of a coordinated public relations effort managed by Brown Lloyd James, the same firm that handled media spin for Libya’s Qaddafi regime.
The profile became a heated topic among journalists and activists, and Vogue quickly removed the article and all references to it from their website. The magazine, published by Condé Nast, boasts over 11 million readers. It later defended the story saying it was “a way of opening a window into this world a little bit,” with a qualifier that the nation under Assad was “not as secular as we might like.” The URL is still visible, but a click gets you this image:
Last week, news and gossip website Gawker reprinted the full article, without author or Vogue approval.
“We did not ask permission beforehand,” Gawker editor John Cook told Mother Jones. “I think it’s important that people are aware of how Vogue and (Editor-in-chief Anna) Wintour…felt about the Assads, and characterized the Assads. It came out almost exactly as the regime embarked on its campaign of murdering women and children…And now in the context of the United States possibly going to war with Syria, it’s important for people to see how the magazine portrayed them…[Wintour] was pushing her people to give cover to a tyrant and murderer.”
Cook continued, “There’s a very important public interest behind publishing [the profile] in a vastly different context than the one it was originally presented in. Our goal was to make sure that the actual artifact is readily available.”
Bashar is not the only Arab leader with a comely, intelligent and media-savvy wife with Western public appeal (London-born Asma studied computer science at King’s College, worked as a banker for J.P. Morgan, and sports European designer clothes).
Spinning the similarities in west-leaning lifestyle and fashion makes for easy “Oprah-fying” of these women which also reflects positively on their men. It’s a tactic borrowed from American and European politics, and it flies both ways (recall Hilary Clinton’s damaging admission that she chose to not stay home and bake cookies, as example).
Was this a factual profile of a contemporary political figure or blatant propaganda to dress up the dictator and his wife into a sanitized, Middle East “lite”? Read the article yourself (link is here) and let us hear your view.
Image of First Lady al-Assad from Syria News Wire