By William J. Furney
Asma al-Assad, the first lady of Syria and previously known for her love of high-end shopping in London and other fashionable capitals of Europe, until the European Union slapped a ban on her traveling to the continent to indulge her luxurious ways, has no shame.
The British-born, onetime investment banker who is now 43 and a mother of three, presides, with her despotic husband Bashar, over one of the biggest humanitarian disasters of our time. Last year was one of the worst in the Syrian civil war that’s now in its ninth year, according to the hapless United Nations, whose vast army of cossetted workers seem to revel more in their enormous salaries and extensive perks than fulfilling the organisation’s post-World War II mission of ending conflicts and bringing about peace in the world.
Who cares if over half a million Syrians have perished in Assad’s brutal clampdown this decade as long as we get to jet around the world — we’re so terribly, indispensably, important — and enjoy the fine luxuries of life?
Amid this backdrop of UN indifference, Asma is certainly not choking and out of breath at the gargantuan loss of human life in the Middle Eastern country. Her husband, who inherited the ruling job from his late father, is trying to wrest control of his crumbling country, after all.
And so it’s no surprise that the “First Lady of Hell”, as the British media have dubbed the photogenic Asma, has been busy reaching out on social media with happy, smiling pics ostensibly showing she’s winning her own war — against cancer.
The latest happy-pic, posted this week on Instagram (above), attracted over 22,200 likes from her acolytes — and you dare not mention the nation’s strife, as I did following the post, or you’ll be shot down with a barrage of Asma-supporting, “what do you know?!” comments from enraged Syrians who also seem oblivious to the ongoing carnage in the troubled country they claim to love. (Mercifully, my Gram is private, preventing further faux-outrage from sycophantic Syrians, and follow requests were roundly denied.) Asma has been documenting her breast cancer struggle on the image-sharing site since last year, and in her new posting is clearly wearing a wig, luxurious tresses and all, as up until recently she had lost her well-coiffed hair due to chemotherapy.
It’s great that she’s getting well and bouncing back from a disease that kills over half a million women around the world each year (it also ravages men). It’s not alright that she’s putting on a social media PR show as if all is right with the world when her country’s conflict has claimed as many lives since it began in 2011; and that the troublesome, Assad-supporting intervention of Russia and self-serving Vladimir Putin in the fight means it shows no sign of ending. Bashar has long ignored calls from Western countries to step aside so that the uprising that sought to remove the autocrat from power, sparking the war, can be quelled and some semblance of peace restored.
Meanwhile — and again, where is the impotent UN, which seems destined to go the way of the equally inept, disbanded League of Nations? — the world is silent as Bashar’s regime arrests thousands and flings them into the country’s notorious prisons. Since April last year, at least 3,600 men, women and children have been arrested in their homes and shops and arbitrarily detained for their supposed opposition to the government, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitor of the conflict that has been documenting abuses and deaths since the civil war broke out.
Altogether, 1,200 of those caught up in the roundup were released after being interrogated, but over 2,400 remain behind bars and without any kind of upcoming trial to judge their innocence or guilt, and “amid fears for their lives in the light of the torture they are subjected to in regime’s prisons,” the observatory says.
And Human Rights Watch says that even in areas retaken by the regime, following bloody battles with anti-government forces, arbitrarily detaining, harassing and disappearing people has been widespread, and that the “abuse is taking place even when the government has entered into reconciliation agreements with the people involved”.
The right’s body’s Lama Fakih, its acting Middle East director, said that even though government-rebel fighting had concluded in many areas, Assad was continuing with his purge of those he believes are against him.
“Active combat has ended in much of Syria, but nothing has changed in the way intelligence branches trample rights of perceived opponents of Assad’s rule,” she said. “Lack of due process, arbitrary arrests and harassment, even in so-called reconciled areas, speak louder than empty government promises of return, reform and reconciliation.”
For now, the Syrian conflict remains a war without resolution, and one that has been forcing millions to flee the once-proud and now devastated country for friendlier shores — notably Europe. Who knows when it will end, but one thing is for sure: Asma, there is certainly nothing to smile about.