Wednesday, July 02, 2008

EDW: Ali Pasha

Despotic tyrants are not what they used to be. Sartorially, at least, the modern crop seem a small-minded bunch trying to over-compensate for their failings.

Take Robert Mugabe, the despot du jours. A recent profile suggested that his fondness for Savile Row suits is based upon his belief that English tailoring makes one into a gentleman. Now, Mugabe may well have some high-quality tailoring but I think we can all agree that he is not, in fact, a gentleman.

(One might blame Mugabe's rather conflicted attitude towards English matters on his early upbringing at the hands of the Jesuits - more precisely an Irish Jesuit who believed the also imbued the "English gentleman represented the highest stage of human civilisation". That can't be a good combination, can it?).

The thing is, as Mugabe proves, you don't become something you aren't by dressing as that thing. Dressing appropriately, on the other hand, is always a good idea. If you are to be a murderous despot, you may as well dress in a manner which will awe and fascinate in equal measure.

Which is where Ali Pasha, the Albanian brigand who ruled a large swathe of the Balkans in the 19th century, comes in. His brutality and flamboyance fascinated contemporary Europeans in equal measure (he was a duplicitous old so-and-so too, of course, but that's pretty much what one expects of politicians of all stripes and all eras).

It's possible that his enduring fascination depends upon the quality of the travellers he entertained – Byron immortalised him in Childe Harold (writers from Dumas to Patrick O'Brian have also drawn on his career) and also described him "a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, so good a general that they call him the Mahometan Buonaparte".

However, I'd like to think that his fascination is the fact that he had a good eye for the impression he was creating. Whether he was entertaining foreigners with perfect courtesy, carrying out brutal public executions he knew the importance of image. It's hard not to be interested in a man who had a harem of 500-plus women (plus a host of catamites).

If you want more, Wikipedia has a decent potted biography. However, you could pretty much guess all of this from the look of him, could you not? And, unlike the Mugabes of this world, you do not get the impression of a man deluding himself that he is a gentleman. He is, however, worth an Elegantly Dressed Wednesday.



Blogger Quink said...

I've always wished that "flamboyance" was spelled "flambuoyance" - it would be such an unnecessary, buoyant and stylish change to make.

2:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually being cruel was the only way Ali could restore order. In the end he had to bribe the Albanians to nominally follow him; roasting them alive, or impaling didn't do much.

On the positive side, their attributes (warlike, accept no submission) made Ali who he was: everyone was afraid of him as he could get 20,000 Albanian soldiers in his side within a few hours (Byron writes about this too: Napoleon offered to make King 2 times but Ali refused.)

Ioannina did, however become the center of culture and commerce at that time, and average people did have some security, at least Ali was predictable to them, whereas the brigands Ali put down weren't.

12:12 am  

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