Wickedness of the human mind cloaked in pop lyrics


Wickedness of the human mind cloaked in pop lyrics

Theodore Dalrymple

Asma and Bashar al-Assad: Trashy and sentimental tastes and a vague feeling that things aren’t turning out as planned. Photo: Reuters

SOME men are born evil, some achieve evil, and some have evil thrust upon them. Bashar al-Assad of Syria falls into the third category; but from the point of view of his victims, it hardly matters. For them, evil is evil and death is death. The psychological origins of a man’s crimes don’t make them less real or horrible to those who suffer from them.

The now-public emails exchanged between the Syrian dictator, his wife and their immediate circle are those of a band of people physically insulated from the hardships and horrors of their own country and who are given alternately to self-pitying sentimentality and callous flippancy. In other words, the emails are entirely plausible as a picture of the life in the court of Bashar al-Assad.

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.

Bashar al-Assad was never intended for the dictatorship. That role was reserved for his far more extrovert, flashy and outwardly vicious brother who was killed in a car accident caused by his typically intemperate driving. A man who knows from an early age that he will inherit supreme power is inclined to believe that even the laws of physics will bend to his will, and that he can therefore drive like a lunatic with impunity. Bashar was not like this; on the contrary, he was shy, retiring and anxious to succeed in his own profession, that of ophthalmology.

When he was in London learning his profession, therefore, he made no waves; he lived modestly, if comfortably; by all accounts he was a quiet, polite and careful doctor who was nice to his patients and respectful of his seniors. It is even probable that when he returned to Syria as heir-apparent he harboured genuinely reformist ideas and intentions. But once he returned home, the logic of the situation was all against him. His father was a brutal, vicious mass murderer, the leader of a brutal, vicious, mass-murdering political movement. If Bashar had been a strong, brave man, he would have refused the poisoned chalice; but, having accepted it, he had to drain it to the dregs. Latin American gangsters give people a choice: plata o plomo, silver or lead, money or the bullet; for Bashar al-Assad, it was power or total extinction, not only for himself, but for his entire group.

His wife, the beautiful, educated, Anglicised daughter of a successful Syrian physician exiled in London, was no more destined by nature for the role of dictator’s wife than he for that of dictator. Her metamorphosis from Mrs Assad to Eva Peron and then to Elena Ceausescu was by a process not altogether of her choosing. 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.

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.

As for the Assads’ sumptuary expenditure, on such things as vases, chandeliers and jewellery, in the midst of their country’s increasing penury, there is nothing at all surprising about it. The Marquis de Custine, in his book on Russia in 1839, remarked on the tendency of despotisms to demand extreme sacrifices to bring forth trifles, but at least hereditary monarchs usually had taste, and created monuments of lasting aesthetic value. THE ENTIRE ARTICLE AT SOURCE