The Fiddler and the fiddler’s wife – a duet


Did Nero or didn’t Nero, fiddle while Rome burned?  When I was growing up, it was stated as a fact; Nero in a demented state of mind played his fiddle while the barbarians burned the capital city of his state – Rome.  All untrue it would seem, Rome, the city not the empire, did burn while Nero was emperor, but not from invading armies; it was rumored  that the fire was under Nero’s direction – as it burned a section of the city where he wanted to build a palace and needed space for his building.  Nero lived and ruled for four years after the famous fire, history is silent on whether or not he continued to fiddle; he died by his own hand rather than wait for the assassin’s blow.   Still, as inaccurate as the saying may be, it has become a metaphor for ignoring reality.  It is particularly applicable, in common usage, to leaders of nations.  When their country is faced with disaster, these leaders fail to see the danger and continue in their old ways, playing their fiddle as it were as the empire burns.

President Assad and his lovely British-born wife may indeed be playing their fiddles, if the emails are real.  The Guardian has moved on, the Assad email story was hardly worthy of two days of coverage, but for Al Arabiya, it is a bigger story with a much longer shelf life.  Yesterday, Al Arabiya said  it would not reproduce or comment on purely personal communications and would only report on those emails that had an implication for the current fighting in Syria.  Today, an article talked about Assad making jokes about dying Syrians, playing tennis while complaining to the world press that the Arab League waspreventing him and of his wife buying expensive English things – playing a violin duet together.  I can almost hear the cannons echoing behind them, as the violins play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, can’t you?

There were no comparable reports of frivolity on the last days of Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Gaddafi; Gaddafi is said to have become confused and unable to grasp the gravity of the situation and Mubarak had a new plan for holding on to power very day. -But no one has accused either of buying things, playing tennis or gallows humor in the face of the revolutions.   Bashar and Asma, on the other hand apparently see no danger and therefore no reason to change their behavior.  However, the emails indicated that Asma bought tailor-made, fashion designed and bullet-proof clothing and Assad read about war.

Assad is apparently a wide ranging reader, well sort of, he directs assistants to read books and write summaries for him, but the subjects range from history to current events;  according to the emails the subjects included the French military tactics in the Second World War and terror and violence in the modern Arab world.   Her clothes and his books suggest they are at least aware of the fighting, but not so concerned as to delay any purchases, tennis matches or their fiddling.

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