How do you end the conflict in Syria? Easy. Just get the President’s missus to bend his ear about human rights abuses and he’s bound to stop.
The latest hit with the slacktivists is to sign a petition asking the first lady of Syria to stand up for her people and put pressure on her husband to stop the violence. The YouTube appeal was started by two other members of the “wives of important men club”, Sheila Lyall Grant and Huberta von Voss-Wittig, respectively the spouses of the British and German ambassadors to the UN.
In the “Letter to Asma” video they make some rather cutting comparisons between the style-conscious Asma al-Assad and the struggles of ordinary Syrians. They also include a snippet of Syria’s British-born first lady making a speech in English about everyone deserving peace and dignity. Then there are the poignant scenes of dead and dying children, contrasted with shots of Asma al-Assad glad-handing sick kids at a political photo-op. The narrator implores her to “Speak out now…Stop your husband and his supporters.”
The video climaxes by asking viewers to sign the letter via the www.change.org petition website.
In examining the Letter to Asma phenomenon it’s difficult not to be cynical and reflect back on the same criticisms levelled at the Kony meme. The idea that Bashar al-Assad’s wife has any real influence in Syrian politics is naive in the extreme. Not because she’s female, but because Syria is not a one-man state in the same manner as Libya or Tunisia was. The government of Syria has many major shareholders and even if Bashar rolled over and gave up today, someone else would likely step in.
As I have written several times now too, the Syrian conflict is also not a black and white case of good versus evil. The government is able to point to the fact that they are facing an insurgency and a disintegration of order in some areas based upon religious radicalism and ethnic sectarianism. The Syrian opposition contains some dubious elements and it’s not clear where the authors of the Letter to Asma stand on whether say, ethnic cleansing by Sunnis should be allowed to proceed unchecked.
This of course leaves aside the whole notion of whether a bunch of Facebookers in the West clicking a link will cause the Syrian leadership to think twice.
As for Asma, it’s likely that the travel ban placed upon her by the EU will have a greater effect. Known for her shopping sprees in Oxford Street and the Champs-Élysées, the boutiques there will probably feel it even more keenly.