Making dictatorships pretty: Isn’t that Hillary Clinton’s job?

A Fashion Commentary by Rahat Kurd

Something sinister lurks inside the dazzle and shine of Vogue magazine’s print version of the March 2011 ‘Power Issue’. Among features on iconic performer Lady Gaga and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, past the Miu Miu heels and the sample strip of Jimmy Choo’s new perfume, a few good pages are spent glossing the ego of Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syria’s dictator.

The article, “A Rose in the Desert” (Vogue, March 2011, p. 529), written by Joan Juliet Buck and photographed by James Nachtwey, is an exercise in the surreal alternating with the dangerously fantasist. Fawning over the “glamorous, young, and very chic” Assad, the writer repeats a Paris Match quote calling her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones” – then blandly informs readers: “In Syria, power is hereditary.”

Conspicuously neglecting to call up, say, Human Rights Watch for their views on the magically hereditary nature of Syrian power, Vogue’s intrepid Buck zips alongside Assad in her SUV, portraying “Syria’s first lady” on a mission “to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen…to engage in what she calls “active citizenship”; later, visiting their home, she quotes President Bashar (off-duty, wearing jeans) happily explaining that he studied eye surgery  “because…there is very little blood.”  [That last ellipsis inserted to allow time to stifle my scream of bone-chilling terror – RK].

To the American fashion enthusiast all this rich editorial fudge might seem merely sweet, if hard to chew, had it been published before February 2011. But in the wake of the exhilarating Egyptian Revolution, from whose peaceful example Syrian protesters have begun to draw the courage to claim their own freedoms after almost fifty years and two generations under the violently repressive Assad regime, this puff piece ought to rankle – yes, even among Vogue readers. Why should they consent to cast their eyeballs over the Ikea-catalogue-ready image of Asma and Bashar in sock feet on their living room floor, fondly indulging their offspring with Lego? Aren’t American rubbish heaps full of last year’s Ikea catalogues?

More seriously, exactly how far, and with what threats or inducements, does Asma al-Assad’s publicity machine reach? What can her candy-coated “citizen empowerment” rhetoric possibly mean from the regime that tortured Maher Arar in compliance with the U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition? What about Syria’s secret police abuses against its own people, detentions without warrant, routine suppression of free speech and assembly, blackouts on social media, enforced disappearances, and torture with impunity? Even Miuccia Prada knows that after a revolution like Egypt’s, fashion can’t do much to polish up the woman with a dictator on her arm. Surely the formidable Anna Wintour knows it too?

Rahat Kurd lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. She was a devoted reader of Sassy Magazine in its prime.


10 thoughts on “Making dictatorships pretty: Isn’t that Hillary Clinton’s job?

  1. Thank you for writing this. I was so infuriated with that piece and you managed to hit some of the main points in your article above. It seems that if you’re young, hot, and fashionable you can do whatever the he’ll you want in the world and still be rewarded for it. Too bad Qaddafi only had a unique sense of fashion and isn’t young or hot, otherwise he wouldn’t be getting such universal damnation and would instead have vogue spreads about his life.

  2. thank u for this article….it explained excatly what i’s soo sad because many syrian people see the glamours part only..and thier memory fails them when it comes to thier own reality!!!!

  3. Thank you syrian people are not dump. They are just waiting for the right time to revolt against the dictator. I hoped they had asked Asma about the 19 year old Syrian girl who was imprisoned because she used the internet to express her views on the future of her country. By the way I am Egyptian American and from now on I am just Arab American.

  4. What they rarely treach in history class is the fact that in the 1930’s the Germany military plan and have to cancel 3 or 4 coup against Hilter who have 98% approval rateing of the Germany people.

  5. Rahat, you shine. Vogue, you disgust: you have joined the ranks of those who help dictators such as Gaddafi and the Asaads pretty up their PR image during their reigns of horror; you have just kicked Syrian freedom heroes in the groin. I leave Vogue editors to the astronomical bad karma they have just racked up.

  6. Does Vogue really think their readers are blind to the worlds goings on? Thanks Rahat for pointing out this empress is not wairing any clothes and for letting Vogue know too 😉

  7. Rahat Kurd is an incisive thinker and a good writer. Vogue is just a fashion magazine which means it is about vapid ink clouds meant to lull the populace into insignificance while the privileged fleece them with impunity.

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