April 19 2011

Family Time in Syria

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

Last month, Vogue ran a ridiculous puff piece on Asma al-Assad, the first lady of Syria (see Charlotte Hays’ excellent takedown of the piece here.) The magazine highlights her idyllic family life and her childrearing style: "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.'"

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But what does asking for democracy lead to in Syria these days? 

The Daily Mail reports: 

On March 6, 15 teenagers were arrested for scrawling graffiti in Deraa, a nondescript farming town near the Jordanian border. They had written on a wall, 'The people want the regime to fall' – the mantra of the Arab spring. Their parents, accompanied by a local religious leader, went to the police to plead for their release, but were told to forget about their children. 

'Go away and have some more' was the advice. 

… 

When some of the arrested teenagers were freed they had been tortured, with faces smashed up, burns on their bodies and fingernails pulled out.

Vogue mentions that "the 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls 'active citizenship.' 'It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.' In 2005 she founded Massar, built around a series of discovery centers where children and young adults from five to 21 engage in creative, informal approaches to civic responsibility." 

Perhaps actually advocating for freedom wasn’t what al-Assad had in mind? 

I can only assume Vogue will be featuring a profile on one of Robert Mugabe or Kim Jong-Il’s wives in an upcoming issue. As Slate points out, glossy dictators’ wives are very in this season.

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