With the passing of Patrick Seale (1930-2015), it might become difficult to read more “authoritative” personal-political biographies of members of the Assad family. Assad the son demonstrated little trust in the past decade, even for the British scholar in whom Assad the father frequently confided. Will anyone else step onto the stage of political biographies about Syria’s elites in order to offer us a stronger grip over the character of Bashar al-Assad? Not certain, at least as of now.
A book review of Jay Nordlinger’s “Children of Monsters,” by Christine Smallwood, which appeared in Harper’s Magazine (September 2015 Issue), provoked me to discuss this question. Nordlinger, a conservative intellectual, whose treatment of the subject the reviewer describes as “sketchy,” believes his book in part to be “a psychological study.” The book’s title has revived an old interest in discovering what influence Assad the father (or the “monster” to use Nordlinger’s term) exercised upon his child, Bashar. Daniel J. Flynn of Breitbart website cites Nordlinger as stating, “It’s a strange fact that Bashar Assad has killed many more than the old man, Hafez Assad, killed or probably dreamed of killing” (the number of the Syrian dead today borders on half of a million). Nordlinger adds: “Bashar has kept the family business going, so to speak. He has killed as many as necessary to remain on the throne, to keep that family business going. I suppose his father would be proud.” A word of clarification: the subject of Nordlinger’s book does not focus upon one specific monster, but rather concerns the children of many 20th and some 21st century dictators, which includes Bashar al-Assad.
This excerpt is from Elie Chalala's "'Children of Monsters': Doomed by Nature and Nurture?" which is scheduled to appear for Al Jadid Magazine (Vol. 20, No. 71, 2016).