A “Rose in the Desert” Smells Like Shit

I mean not to diminish but heighten in significance the state repression and murder currently being executed across Syria by reminding us all of what I had intended to write of at the time, the creepiest, most morally repugnant journalism of the year – Joan Juliet Buck‘s “A Rose in the Desert,” for Vogue, with photography by James Nachtwey. Might Anna Wintour and the other editors of that glossy dross, reeking of ancien regime parfum feel more chastened now to think it, worse, in bad taste? For there were only decades to know of the barbarous tyranny of Syria’s Ba’athist regime, no different from any other party in the Middle East under that banner, with one decade of Syrian interference in Lebanon sufficient to know the nature of Assad junior. Still, for Buck,

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.


That’s an estimated 340 dead so far in the nationwide protests, you should know.

Said the French Ambassador, according to Buck,

She managed to get people [at the International Diplomatic Institute in Paris] to consider the possibilities of a country that’s modernizing itself, that stands for a tolerant secularism in a powder-keg region, with extremists and radicals pushing in from all sides—and the driving force for that rests largely on the shoulders of one couple. I hope they’ll make the right choices for their country and the region.

But, writes Hisham Melham in Foreign Policy, in addition to both the historical and present reality of Syrian politics and behavior,

the underlying reality is much gloomier: Syria does not have a serious university or research institution, a notable press, hospitals with reliable medical care, or any efficient state agency — save the institutions of repression. Indeed, the ingrained inertia of the current Assad regime, its hollow and brittle institutions, and the very nature of the political system, including its instruments of coercion, prevents it from engaging in serious reform or from delivering on the requirements of regional peace. The regime may well have finally lifted the country’s Emergency Law this week, but that will do little to change the underlying authoritarian realities: Article 8 of the constitution (which establishes the primacy of the Baath party in state and society), the illegality of political parties, and an ongoing media environment of censorship and craven dependence.

In many of these ways, Bashar has simply carried on the authoritarian legacy of his father, Hafez Assad.

Quelle surprise.

Not all is lost, however. We can always treasure, here, Nachtwey giving us the Assads, en vogue with Disney World lighting, at play on the floor with the children and trucks, the modern tyrannical family spending quality time at home. I hope it’s framed above the reception desk at the Vogue offices. After all, one needs to take pride in one’s work.


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2 thoughts on “A “Rose in the Desert” Smells Like Shit

  1. Dear Jay,

    I come to your pages the way I go to World News, when I want a bigger picture, because I need to see more. Thank you for keeping it real. With admiration and respect,


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