These women are now in the awkward position of trading on their husbands’ position
The Independent, Thursday 19 April 2012
Being the wife of a dictator is, I imagine, pretty much like being married to a mafia boss. Everyone’s a bit scared of you, wondering what you might say to your husband, but I doubt whether you have a great deal of power. Then there’s the thing you don’t talk about, all the nastiness that went on in Libya last year and ended so badly for the poor Gaddafis. You don’t want to wind up dead or in exile, so why would you listen to a couple of women who seem to think you should stop your husband blowing the country to bits?
“Speak out now, for the sake your people,” these strangers implore in a video. Their husbands are senior diplomats at the United Nations and they want to talk to you, Asma al-Assad, woman-to-woman.
“Asma,” they plead. “When you kiss your own children goodnight, another mother will find the place next to her empty.” It’s heart-rending stuff, full of images of dead and injured children – and wrong-headed on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin.
First, the inhabitants of Syria aren’t Mrs Assad’s people. She’s actually a British citizen and in any case her husband’s family imposed itself on the country by force. They’ve tortured and murdered people for decades but Mrs Assad was relaxed about marrying into the dynasty. “What happened to you, Asma?” is the silliest question in the video, given the absence of any evidence that she cares about human rights or democracy.
And while I’m sure that Sheila Lyall Grant and Huberta von Voss-Wittig mean well, I don’t think that the wives of the British and German ambassadors to the UN have (or should expect) any special standing in this matter. Their video wouldn’t have got anything like as much attention if their spouses were plumbers, which puts them in the awkward situation of appearing to trade on their husbands’ positions. As it happens, I agree with them about the horrors taking place in Syria. But where do we draw the line? Would it be acceptable for an ambassador’s spouse to make a video supporting Mitt Romney? Or start a petition demanding the arrest of a democratically-elected politician for alleged war crimes?
But the most annoying aspect of the video is its sentimentality about women. It’s in a similar emotional register to Kony2012, the film which deluded millions of people into thinking they could “stop” an African warlord. Its most egregious fault is an assumption that women can just get together and sort these things out.
Everyone has a responsibility to behave humanely, regardless of gender. Until the conflict began, Mrs Assad was quite happy to present herself as the glamorous face of the regime. She may be a wife and mother, but I’ve no reason to think she’s any nicer than her ghastly husband.