Video appeal to Asma al-Assad: will it really work?

A YouTube video calling on the dictator's wife to stand up against bloodshed in Syria has good inten

In a slightly unexpected twist in the deeply depressing Syria story, the wives of the British and German ambassadors to the UN have launched a video appeal and petition to Asma al-Assad, British-born wife to the Syrian dictator, urging her to "stand up for peace" and "stop being a bystander" to the violent repression. 

"Some women care for style and some women care for their people" the video begins, juxtaposing Asma in big Hollywood shades and blow dry against a woman in hijab cradling a baby. Asma al-Assad must have grown elephant hide by now, but even so, this probably stung. 

"Some women have forgotten what they preached about peace," the slightly robotic voice continues. "Some women pretend they have no choice." Against a backdrop of gruesome, horrifying, heart-breaking photographs of dying children, the narrator appeals to Asma to stop her husband.

Their motivations are worthy, undoubtedly so. How wonderful it would be if Asma watched the video and defected. If she, Marie Antoinette-style, had up until now lived in ignorance at the bloody events unfolding beyond her palace walls. If a few pictures of bloodied children would finally nudge her to take action. 

But in the age of the internet, it’s simply impossible that Asma isn’t aware of the atrocities in Syria, and even if she does watch the footage and risk her family’s wrath by defecting, this might be a blow to Bashar al-Assad but it would hardly convince him to stop. And the Syrian president is not acting alone; there are many thousands of people in Syria with an interest in preserving the status quo. 

For all its good intentions the petition is desperately naïve. Asma is merely a well-coiffed figurehead; she can’t take on the strong vested interests in the Assad regime. Her support for her husband may be puzzling, particularly given her British upbringing and her previous lip service to human rights, but it’s far from decisive.

Perhaps like the Kony video, this appeal will start "trending" on YouTube – when I checked this morning it had over 30,000 views - but even with ten million hits and hundreds of headlines, the gesture will still be futile - tragically so.

Sophie McBain is a staff writer for Spears

 

"Some women care for style"... Asma al-Assad was profiled in American Vogue last year. Photo: Getty Images

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Empty highs: why throwaway plastic goes hand in hand with bankrupt consumerism

We are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff.

A University of California study revealed this week that mankind has produced more than nine billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, with almost all of it ending up in landfill or the ocean. With the terrible effects of our decades-long addiction to throwaway packaging becoming increasingly apparent, it’s clear that a fresh approach is needed.

In April 2010, David Cameron set out his vision for Britain in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. Keen to show that the Tories had turned away from the "I’m Alright Jack" individualism of the 1980s, Cameron sought to fashion a softer, more inclusive brand.

The good society, Cameron argued, embraced much higher levels of personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibility. There was such a thing as society, and we’d all do well to talk to our neighbours a bit more. The Big Society, however, was roundly derided as a smokescreen for an aggressive tightening of the Government purse strings. And on the advice of his 2015 election fixer Lynton Crosby, Cameron later dropped it in favour of well-worn lines about economic security and jobs.   

While most would argue that the Big Society failed to amount to much, Cameron was at least right about one thing. We are happiest when we are part of something bigger than ourselves. No matter how much the credit card companies try to convince us otherwise, mindless individualism won’t make us nearly as contented as we’re led to believe by big conglomerates.

By any measure, we are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff. As a nation, we have run up unsecured debts of more than £350bn, which works out at £13,000 per household. Fuelled by a toxic mix of readily available credit and interest rates at historic lows, we cripple ourselves financially to feel the empty high derived from acquiring yet more stuff.

Purchasing has become a leisure pursuit, ensuring the rate at which we acquire new stuff exceeds the rate at which we can find somewhere to put it. Burdened with ever increasing amounts of stuff, consumers are forced to outsource their storage. The UK didn’t have a self-storage industry 30 years ago, but now it is the largest in Europe.

With the personal debt mountain soaring, we’d all do well to realise that we will never have enough of something we don’t need.

The growth of rampant consumerism has coincided with an explosion in demand for single-use plastic. Like the superfluous possessions we acquire, throwaway plastic packaging helps satisfy our desire to get exactly what we want without having any thought for the long-term consequences. Plastic packaging is easy and convenient, but ultimately, will do us immense harm.

In 1950, close to 1.5 million tonnes of plastic was produced globally. Today, the figure stands at more than 320 million tonnes. The vast majority of our plastic waste either ends up in landfill or the ocean, and our failure to kick the plastic habit has put is in the ludicrous position where there is set to be more plastic than fish in global seas by 2050.

There is also growing evidence that our penchant for endless throwaway plastic might be storing up serious health problems for our children later down the line. According to a University of Ghent study published earlier this year, British seafood eaters risk ingesting up to 11,000 pieces of plastic each year. The report followed UN warnings last year that cancer-causing chemicals from plastic are becoming increasingly present in the food chain.

Something must give. Unsustainable as our reliance on fast credit to finance ever more stuff, our addiction to plastic packaging is storing up serious problems for future generations. The instant gratification society, high on the dopamine rush that fades so quickly after acquiring yet another material asset, is doomed unless decisive action is forthcoming.

So what is to be done? The 2016 US documentary Minimalism points to a smarter way forward. Minimalism follows the lives of ordinary people who have shunned the rat race in favour of a simpler life with less stuff and less stress. The most poignant bit of the film features ex-broker AJ Leon recounting how he chose to forgo the glamour and riches of Wall Street for a simpler life. After a meteoric rise to the top of his profession, Leon decided to jack it all in for a more fulfilling existence.

While challenging the view that to be a citizen is to be a consumer is easier said than done, there are small changes that we can enact today that will make a huge difference. We simply have no choice but to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic that we can consume. If we don’t, we may soon have to contend with the ocean being home to more plastic than fish.

Like plastic, our bloated consumer culture is a disaster waiting to happen. There must be a better way.

Sian Sutherland is co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet which is campaigning for a plastic free-aisle in supermarkets.