Asma, We Share Your TransgressionFeatured, Social Justice — By Penny Carothers on April 19, 2012 at 12:14 pm
Yesterday, while doing my normal business of driving to pick up kids from daycare, I heard about a campaign and petition launched by the wives of the British and German ambassadors to the UN. These women had created a video juxtaposing pictures of Asma al-Assad, the Syrian President’s wife, with devastating pictures of the Syrian people who are locked in a battle against the government. The video is meant to encourage people to sign a petition to Asma, asking her to do something about the bloodshed. The video shows the glamorous life of the President’ wife in contrast to the bloody uprising and its toll on women and children. In the video they ask “What has happened to you?” and call on Asma to “stand up for peace” and to “stop [her] husband and his supporters.”
According to the United Nations, as many as 13,500 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising began over a year ago (out of which, approximately 3,000 are said to have been combatants). Scores more have been injured. Tens of thousands have been uprooted from their homes. It’s devastating to watch these videos and see these pictures. That’s why so many people ignore them, including – perhaps – Asma al-Assad. During the uprising, she’s spent her time shopping.
The first lady, who married Bashar al-Assad in late 2000, was born and educated in Britain and worked as an investment banker before she married. Until recently, she’d been considered a breath-of-fresh-air, the Western educated wife who stood up for women’s rights. But over the past year she has been silent on the issues of the uprising. Meanwhile, it appears that she has been online shopping, spending tens of thousands of dollars on luxury goods such as candlesticks, fondue sets, and designer shoes. In response, last month she was banned from traveling (and shopping) in the EU.
As I heard this report in my new-ish car I felt disgust that someone could behave this way. I compared her to Imelda Marcus and Marie Antoinette. And, to a degree, rightly so. And then I began to question how one gets to the point where the human connection between one’s own life and those of the “lesser” among you is severed. Did it happen when she was instated in the Presidential palace, surrounded by guards? When her own children were born? Or even before, when she was working in Paris and London for investment firms? When did beautiful things and other barricades so surround Asma that she couldn’t rightly see the people around her and the struggles they were enduring? I could ask myself the same question.
It is normal, in the developed world in which we live, to be cut off from those less fortunate. We surround ourselves with computers and iPods and clothes and brick and mortar houses with locks. We don’t have motorcades like Asma, but we effectively cut ourselves off from those who do not have the same conveyances, as we pass them by on the off-ramp or intersection. We do so out of “necessity” or convenience. We have groceries to buy, kids to pick up, jobs to do. And yet, we have choices.
We can choose to see their struggles, even to be a part of them. We can choose to impart dignity to others by saying hello and perhaps starting a conversation. I can choose to walk down the street and talk to the people in my neighborhood who live in RVs and under the bridge. I can choose to get involved in their lives. Or I can go about a less glamorous version of Asma al-Assad’s life, never realizing that I am building walls. My life can be enriched by relationships with others only if I make my life less busy, and cut out some of the “essentials” that keep me from seeing the people around me. I might not be buying designer shoes, but I know that my choices can be just as oblivious, and perhaps, as harmful. Again, I have choices: how can I, each and every day, choose to see the “other?” How can I be involved in their lives, even in the smallest ways, rather than barricade myself away from their concerns? We may not live in a war zone, but there is a battle for hope, for joy, and for connection – even life – happening all around us. And the people we pass by are not the only ones in need. We need only look into our own lives to see how much being cut off from others harms us all.
But let’s be honest: easier said (or written) than done. Still, one can try, every day, and after awhile it’s just life.