I’m not a big consumer of fashion magazines. But there was a copy of Vogue on my coffee table, and in that issue was an extremely flattering profile of Asma al-Assad, wife of Bashar. It was early 2011, and between the commission of the article by Joan Juliet Buck and its printing, the Arab world erupted and Syria entered its current phase of violence.
It’s an interesting example of how quickly opinion, and especially elite opinion, can change. Less than two years ago, the Assad regime was respectable enough for Asma and Bashar to sit down with Carla and Nico in the fifth summit between the Syrian and the French president. It was a good time, apparently.
In the Vogue article, the then French ambassador to Syria described Asma’s work thus, “She managed to get people 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.”
Today the position of the Syrian government that it is defending the state against terrorists is widely ridiculed in the Western press, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s not a new argument, and one that the West was happy to swallow in much less turbulent times.
I wonder who will be the next recipient of a Vogue puff piece to be revealed as actually being cruel and murderous. I’ll think about it as I read their profile of David and Samantha Cameron.