The sweet, and deadly, sides of President Assad

Most of us probably know that beneath the mask of power dictators often behave much like the rest of us. But it’s still surprising to read this email exchange…
“Check out this video on YouTube.”
“Hahahahahahaha, OMG!!! This is amazing!”
…and think about the fact that it took place between Bashar Assad and his wife. Dalrymple writes about the Syrian strongman’s hacked emails in the Telegraph:
Furthermore, power not only corrupts but insulates from reality, both physical and moral. Bad actions come to be rationalised as necessary and then even as good.
At the same time, however, an apprehension that all is not well cannot be altogether avoided, however strong the forces of self-deception. So when I read that Assad had sent his wife the lyrics of a saccharine and sentimentally self-pitying country and western song, Blake Shelton’s God Gave Me You, I was not surprised: it rang entirely true to his psychology and his situation:
I’ve been a walking heartache,
I’ve made a mess of me,
The person that I’ve been lately
Ain’t who I wanna be.
Another of his favourites, apparently, is We Can’t Go Wrong by the Cover Girls, a song with the following lines:
There was a time when things were better than the way they are today,
But we forgot the vows we made and love got lost along the way.
Psychobabble, then, meets ruthlessness. The vague and imprecise confession that things were not supposed to turn out like this is certainly not intended as a confession that they turned out like this because of anything that I did, but to exculpate me from the suspicion, including my own, of being a bad man.
In other words, Bashar al-Assad reveals himself as a kind of Baathist Mr Blair, infinitely nastier because of the political traditions and situation of the country in which he finds himself. You can just hear him saying, Blairishly, “Surely you can’t think that I ordered the deaths of all those people, at least not unless I thought it was really necessary for the good of my country and the rest of humanity.”
This is all very sick, but it is not the pathology of the Middle East alone. It is what happens when the contemporary psychology of the Real-Me (the notion that, no matter what I do or how I behave, my inner goodness, my original virtue, remains intact), which since the 1960s has become so profoundly Western, intersects with a vile political tradition.

4 thoughts on “The sweet, and deadly, sides of President Assad

  1. Anonymous

    That poor article is a reminder that even Homer nods. When you read reader’s comments about Syria on the Telegraph site it is clear that many of them do not believe the anti Assad propaganda. Dr Daniels would have done better if had written about the behaviour and motives of those who wish to dispose Assad.

  2. Louise

    Am I hallucinating or did he actually write this: The science of physiognomy, that of detecting character in the face, is by no means an exact one, but we all instinctively resort to it when judging others; and when you look at pictures of Assad you see a weak man, whom you would expect to be a pettifogger rather than a brute. But push a pettifogger to the wall and he is capable of the greatest obduracy, which is the strength of the weak. A cornered rat, that normally resides incognito, is a ferocious and dangerous beast, even if he remains in essence weak and highly vulnerable.

    The ‘Science of physiognomy”? Is this an area of medicine covered by Birmingham Uni? Along with ‘The Science of Phrenology’ or ‘The Science of Astrology’?

    He really is the gift that just keeps on giving.

  3. H anon

    Sorry, think I misread you… I thought you were saying they do believe the anti ‘propaganda’… or something, not really sure.

    I don’t really know much about the situation.


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