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Vogue does Asma Al-Assad

February 25th, 2011 · 7 Comments · Politics

Ill-timed, or just sloppy journalism? Vogue has gone big with its exclusive profile of Syria’s First Lady, Asma Al-Assad.

“One can only assume that the Assads agreed to be interviewed for this piece before the current outbreak of unrest made it embarrassing for both for them, and for Vogue,” says Foreign Policy magazine. Well, yes, Vogue admits as much:

“Two nights later it’s the annual Christmas concert by the children of Al-Farah Choir, run by the Syrian Catholic Father Elias Zahlawi.”

The fact that FP missed that point makes me wonder if FP didn’t just read the first paragraph and assume they knew what the whole story was about.

True, Vogue’s first paragraph is truly awful:

“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.”

Words like that are bound to grate in the current climate.

FP argues that Asma should not be flaunting her glamour. If FP bothered to read the article, they would’ve found that she isn’t:

The first lady works out of a small white building in a hilly, modern residential neighborhood called Muhajireen, where houses and apartments are crammed together and neighbors peer and wave from balconies. The first impression of Asma al-Assad is movement—a determined swath cut through space with a flash of red soles. Dark-brown eyes, wavy chin-length brown hair, long neck, an energetic grace. No watch, no jewelry apart from Chanel agates around her neck, not even a wedding ring, but fingernails lacquered a dark blue-green. She’s breezy, conspiratorial, and fun. Her accent is English but not plummy. Despite what must be a killer IQ, she sometimes uses urban shorthand: “I was, like. . . .”

But come on, this is Asma Al-Assad, the media-shy opposite of Jordan’s Queen Rania. I have been saying for years that Syria needs to put Asma in the spotlight. Her work – and indeed her character (because that’s what impressions are based on) – needs to be understood by a Western audience. Paragraphs like this are priceless:

Back in the car, I ask what religion the orphans are. “It’s not relevant,” says Asma al-Assad. “Let me try to explain it to you. That church is a part of my heritage because it’s a Syrian church. The Umayyad Mosque is the third-most-important holy Muslim site, but within the mosque is the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. We all kneel in the mosque in front of the tomb of Saint John the Baptist. That’s how religions live together in Syria—a way that I have never seen anywhere else in the world. We live side by side, and have historically. All the religions and cultures that have passed through these lands—the Armenians, Islam, Christianity, the Umayyads, the Ottomans—make up who I am.”

“Does that include the Jews?” I ask.

“And the Jews,” she answers. “There is a very big Jewish quarter in old Damascus.”

The piece (minus the first paragraph, which was probably written by an overenthusiastic editor who has never been to Syria) paints an honest portrait of Asma, and reminds me of David Lesch’s The New Lion of Damascus.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Vogue responds to Asma Al-Assad criticism | Syria News Wire // Mar 2, 2011 at 12.36 am

    [...] whipped up a storm on the net. Now Vogue is explaining why it chose to run an apolitical profile of Asma Al-Assad at a [...]

  • 2 Malik Al-Abdeh // Mar 6, 2011 at 1.07 am

    The Vogue piece is not a one-off. It’s part of a well-organized and well-financed image makeover executed by corporate lobbyists and image consultants, not unlike that which The Monitor Group has been doing for the Gaddafis. Read more:

    http://syriaintransition.com/2011/03/05/in-the-post-ideological-age-arab-regime-go-for-image-makeover/

  • 3 Wake Up Syria // Mar 25, 2011 at 10.16 am

    Wow…over 37 (probably a lot more) unarmed protesters dead. Way to go Syria!!!

  • 4 Arabian Freedom » Blog Archive » Vogue responds to Asma Al-Assad criticism // Apr 22, 2011 at 5.27 am

    [...] whipped up a storm on the net. Now Vogue is explaining why it chose to run an apolitical profile of Asma Al-Assad at a [...]

  • 5 Aggy och Marcy chattar om: Carine Roitfeld och andra grejer | Rodeo Magazine // Mar 28, 2012 at 4.46 pm

    [...] Precis. Frågan är bara om Anna någonsin kommer att bli respekterad efter att ha publicerat det där porträttet på Syriens diktatorfru,”Asma el-Assad, en ros i öknen”. Det kanske blir Franca [...]

  • 6 Richard B. // Sep 10, 2013 at 3.21 pm

    I always written to radio damascus syria and they only told me that it was armed terrorist groups like al-quida doing this their own country and not of the goverment Basher Al Assad and his wife and must admite it was a goverment run station.

    Asma Al Assad is a speaker of womans right in damascus and not many people outside of syria know this.

    Some people that reports from syria have blinds pull down so the syrian police cant see anyone reporting about syria to western media funny enough.

    Many people had been gased in syria and many had died some say it is armed terrorist and some say it is the goverment doing this in syria Basher Al Assad.

    I have been a shortwave radio dx’er for many years and it was quite odd that I have a letter from Damascus saying it was armed groups in syria doing all of this funny enough as I am a westerner.

    Richard Bealey
    Exeter UK

  • 7 Richard Bealey // Sep 23, 2013 at 2.37 pm

    Hi, I wonder if Syria is one of those countries that worship terrorists in countries like Algeria, Iran and so on. Syria is always keep a close eye of what other countries are saying about them and even people going to Damascus reporting about the civil war in syria which had left 50,000 people dead so fair are one of those dictator countries that want terrorist in syria so it would make syria a safe haven for terrorist because of the Algerian war of 1960′s to 1991 when most terrorist are exspelled from Algeria and had moved to Europe. To remined Syria Algeria was always a French colony and I am not a person to tell what Algeria or Syria should think of changing there own social ways because of Occupation on one hand in the late 1960′s where woman freedom fighters go into coffee bars and blow the place up. This is fair more a joke about terrorist in Syria as for us in the UK as Terrorist are just a name giving to a group of people that that tried but even in there own group are trying to leave but are afreid to leave the group in Syria and Algeria of conciqencences of that group even if from Al-Quida or Al Shibab in Nirobie.

    Richard Bealey
    Exeter Devon
    UK

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