A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, March 22, 2012

That Was No "Mystery Woman," That Was His Wife (Maybe)

I want to start this post with a few preparatory remarks: What is going on in Syria is both a tragedy and a crime. Whether you equate the Syrian rebels with the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord or with something more sinister and violent, the response of the Syrian government against its own people has been savage and amounts to a crime against humanity for which President Asad and his regime need to be held accountable.

Amid all the carnage it was perhaps inevitable that the media, both Middle Eastern and Western, might be diverted a bit by a scandal, a sort of bread-and-circuses amid the horrors, and The Guardian's  publication of the "Asad E-mails," which I blogged about a week ago, provided that diversion. At the time they began to appear I noted the natural fascination with the mundane concerns about music and amusements, shopping and everything but the tribulations of the country, which I compared to the fascination with Nero fiddling while Rome burned, or Imelda Marcos' shoes.

The continuing publications of the E-mails, the validity of which no one officially seems to be credibly denying, has continued to add a frisson of scandal and to make the Asads seem even more callous and out of touch, even with a touch of what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil."

Up till a few days ago, though, there was no real sex in the scandal, mostly just shoes and iTunes downloads.

Then London's The Telegraph ran an article with the headline, "Bashar al-Assad Email Reveals Near-Naked Woman." That's not The Sun or some other tabloid, mind you, but the stuffy old Telegraph. Various interpretations have turned up: an admirer throwing herself brazenly at the President, a mystery mistress or something scandalous. The unnamed woman E-mailed the photo to Asad with either no message at all, though the same account had previously sent the President the message "Hi," to which he replied "Hi and a half." Speculation appeared all over the place about who she was, and what her relationship was with Asad, including in the Israeli media. The woman has her back to the camera and appears to be wearing only a bra and a thong.

The "Mystery Woman" Photo
The original Telegraph story stated outright: "The photograph was sent to Mr Assad on December 11 last year by a woman who is not his wife. The email contains no words and it is not known who the woman in the photograph is." Note they state a fact it is "a woman who is not his wife."

But the scandal may not really be that scandalous. The website Al-Bawaba, after scrutinizing the photo, concludes that it may be none other than Syria's First Lady Asma, flirting with her husband. They say:
Employing advanced image analysis together with techniques of facial scanning and consultation with skin specialists, the striking conclusion has been drawn that this tall, lanky, small limbed physique, complete with cropped dirty blonde to mousy brown hair, belongs to one and the same Asma al Assad. 
Okay, you can return to serious matters now, like the carnage in Syria. Asad is still both a callous out-of-it leader and likely a war criminal, but he's apparently not a philanderer. Those of you with too much time on your hands may want to do your own "advanced image analysis," but I think this scandal has lost a lot of its bite. Let's go back to trying to figure out some action that the world can take that stops the killing without making things worse, shall we?

1 comment:

Tim said...

If that is Asma, then damn! to the second power (no pun intended)

She is very pretty, but I didn't expect to see zat !!