Pray for Syria

By | Category: Travel rumblings

The Syria I remember, does not look like the one that we see on TV.

I was in Damascus, the capital of Syria, with my friend Diana during 2008 when there was a real sense of optimism.

Blessed with biblical history (as Mark Twain once said: ‘Go back as far as you will in the vague past, there was always a Damascus’), the medieval UNESCO World Heritage listed beauty was charming travellers in their droves.

And for good reason. Back then, the Syrian capital boasted an embarrassment of riches: citadels, ruins, religious, architectural and archaeological sites and a labyrinth-like souk were are all present and correct.

As someone who was living in the Gulf region at the time I can say that, in 2008, Damascus was easily the most magical city in the Middle East – and the most diverse. Contrary to popular perception, Damascus isn’t an Islamic state. During my sojourn, the skyline was punctuated not only by domes and pencil slim minarets of mosques, but also by churches and synagogues and the three religions successfully mingled and collided on every street corner.

Fast forward 10 years and the death and destruction sweeping Syria is on a scale not seen since the Second World War. The widespread annihilation of Syria’s towns and cities by the Syrian military, the Islamic State group and international forces have left entire neighbourhoods in ruins.

The locals I met a decade ago were all unfeasibly friendly – and fiercely proud of their country. Not so today in the wake of the news that an estimated 400,000 people have been killed and 5.6m have become refugees, since the start of the Syrian War in March 2011.

Indeed no one can be proud of their part in the Syrian conflict. Not Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, the brutal dictator intent on slaughtering his own people. Not the Islamic State – the terrorist organisation that, though damaged, remains a threat. Nor the rebel groups, many of whom have have committed some unquestionable atrocities.

And certainly not the UK whose Tory government has, after turning a blind eye to the genocide of the Syrian people for so long, suddenly professed to be sickened and saddened by the suffering of the Syrians – despite their poor record on taking in Syrian refugees.

When we left Damascus in 2008, Diana and I vowed to revisit Syria a decade down the line having reached the same conclusion as French archaeologist Andre Parrot, that: “Every person has two homelands; his own and Syria.”

Diana and I have, for obvious reasons, decided against experiencing Syria any time soon but that’s not a luxury the Syrian citizens have.

Britain and the US can no longer turn its back on the Syrian people and leave Syria to the whims of Russia, Iran, and Turkey.

In the words of Marshall McLuhan: “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

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