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What happened to you Asma?

india Updated: May 03, 2012 22:59 IST
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Vogue magazine, in a surprising move, has scrubbed out a flattering profile of Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad from its website. Last year's profile had praised her as 'glamorous, young, and chic'. But the magazine is regretting having said nice things about the woman who has since been dubbed the 'Marie Antoinette' of the Arab Spring and is trying to remove any evidence that it spoke well of her.

In the Vogue profile, Asma was the 'Rose of the Desert'. Now, after the fighting between the Assad regime and rebel groups trying to overthrow the regime, she has become a wicked witch. Like a poodle, Vogue is rushing to join the campaign of vilification being waged against Asma in the western press.

Let me make it clear that I hold no brief for Asma or her husband, Bashar al-Assad. I have no idea of their virtues or vices. But I do find the attack on her puzzling. Her first crime was to be shopping online when the rebels and government forces were engaged in battle in the Syrian city of Homs.

I'm not sure what she was meant to do instead. When we go through crises or the people we love are dying in hospital, we still go to work, cook, eat, watch television, socialise and, yes, shop.

Unless I'm mistaken, the relatives of the western leaders who invaded Iraq and Afghanistan continued to shop while Iraqis and Afghans were being blown up. None of them missed a meal. Or a holiday. Why is Asma being held to a different standard?

The character assassination has become even more ridiculous with the wives of the German and British ambassadors to the UN launching a video and online petition urging her to tell her husband to stop the bloodshed. These two women want Asma (raised and educated in Britain) to stop being a bystander and say 'darling, you must stop being a nasty dictator'.

The demand is hilarious. Whenever a British politician (Germans tend to be less prone to sex scandals) is found to have been guilty of adultery, had sex with a rent boy or visited prostitutes, the denouement of the scandal is always identical. A press conference is held at which the wife appears beside her husband pledging her intention to 'stand by her man'.

Yet these two UN wives want Asma to go against her husband and repudiate his actions in front of the whole world? Let western women first show some gumption over their husbands' sexual antics before disparaging an Arab woman for not sticking her neck out and reversing her husband's national policy.

Speaking of Arab, the European wives' campaign is repugnant for another reason because it is based on the assumption that Asma, owing to her westernised background, will be responsive to their demands to protect human rights. In the video, they ask 'what happened to you Asma'? The unspoken words are: "You used to be one of us."

This is the only explanation for the fact that these wives have never approached any other first lady in West Asia to embrace their noble ideals. Presumably, the non-westernised Arab first ladies would have no clue what they were talking about. I guess this is also why they have never asked the first ladies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to demand human rights for their women.

This expectation from Asma to be the wife who can tell her husband his policies are wrong might start a whole new trend. People have traditionally said 'cherchez la femme' whenever a man behaves out of character or inexplicably, meaning he is trying to cover up an affair.

In future, we might be saying 'engagez la femme' - hire her to influence the husband. So the next time American soldiers in Afghanistan take trophy photographs of the body parts of suicide bombers, Arab ambassadors' wives can engage President Barack Obama's missus to tell him to teach marines about respect for the dead.

Or the next time Nicholas Sarkozy bombs a country like Libya for a regime change, all we need is Carla Bruni to remind him of the principle of self-determination during pillow talk and all will be well.

Amrit Dhillon is a freelance journalist