History records dilemmas of people who belonged to more than one country and had to choose to uphold one and betray the other when the routes of those countries collided! From ancient times, history has seen many choose, be seen as traitors, and be misunderstood from Syrians stuck between Muslim and Christian armies in the seventh century to Jews prosecuted in Germany in WWII to Arabs prosecuted in Palestine/Israel now.
Rarely, however, did history see people in such situations make choices that make them traitors, politically and morally, to both their homelands! It might be hard to imagine but, as it turns out, it is qpossible.
Asma Al-Assad (née Asma Al-Akhras) is one of those people; an elegant, smart, woman with massive potential who will go down in history as the woman who betrayed both the country of her origin, Syria, and the country of her birth, Britain, despite the massive differences in their directions. She did that by choice and by insistence.
Asma, born in Acton in the west of London, has lived her life the daughter of a wealthy physician and studied in reputable universities. Doubtless, she would have enjoyed the privileges all British kids enjoy including being part of a representative democracy, not being arrested by secret police for saying her opinion, and watching the BBC where anti-government opinions can be expressed in a state funded institution. She no doubt could have cast her ballot in free and fair elections that could, and did, change the government and could be part of a political discussion without looking over her shoulder in fear. She could, and I hope did, challenge the government in protests and marches against injustices and made her voice heard.
Asma, then, married the newly appointed Bashar, the hereditary president of her country of origin. That happened in December of 2000 only months after the constitution has been change to adapt to the age of the young new president, the son of the dead old president.
One could find excuses for Asma, she probably knew Bashar in London when he was a medical practitioner training on ophthalmology and not yet a mad dictator, she probably haven’t yet met the family including the blood thirsty brother and brother in law and the thug cousins, and she wouldn’t have known that her fiancé will turn out to be the one of the last standing dictators from a dead cold-war tradition before he is swept by the tide of people’s anger.
Indeed, the first couple of years of Bashar’s government were promising. Political bondage on opinion and thought were loosened ever so slightly and the future of Syria seemed to be a bit brighter. This is probably when the enthusiastic first lady started thinking of her role in developing her country and when she started working on her own developmental programmes. They seemed genuine enough with focus on rural development and women’s interest.
However, and before long, the promise wasn’t delivered. Corruption and oppression poked their ugly heads out and all went to shit. The situation in Syria became much worse than it was even before and the supposed reform. The rich, mainly the relatives and friends of the regime, became richer, and the poor became much poorer. Corruption was not a random phenomena anymore as it turned into a form of organized crime.
That, you would think, could be a clue for the clueless first lady on what lurks below the surface, of what’s behind the scenes of the big Syrian ugly theatre of people’s forced love to their leader, her husband.
Another clue would have been the revolt that is now well into its fourth month where people are asking for freedom and democracy, for better life and the share they deserve in their country… asking for basic rights just like those she grew up enjoying in her other country.
Asma didn’t appear even once since the revolt, let alone a delayed print of her profile in Vogue magazine that was done before but published after the revolution started. She hasn’t said a word or appeared, as she did many times before, on television or any other media to the extent that much speculation came up about her having left the country with her kids back to Britain.
Asma has betrayed Syria by sticking to a corrupt and brutal regime and by being part of the apparatus that kills and maims Syrians. If she was Naive once, she doesn’t have that excuse anymore.
Asma has betrayed Britain by forgetting and standing against all she has learned in her democratic birth place and not seeing or advocating for the same for a country where she became the first lady.
Asma has committed double treason… and still she probably thinks that when the worst (for her and her husband which is probably the best for the Syrian people) comes, she will be able to go back to the comfort of west London.
Asma, you are making a loosing bet, however you look at it. Maybe it is now time to defect!