Before the war, the best way to enjoy Syria was in complete ignorance. That’s what I did in 2005, when I arrived in Damascus as a tourist. For two weeks I explored the country’s Roman ruins and medieval markets, enthusing about the sophistication of the food and the friendliness of the people. Syria, as my guidebook put it, was ‘the Middle East’s best kept secret’.
It was not until the following year, when I returned to Damascus to live, that I started to see that Syria had secrets of its own. Buildings from which Syrians averted their eyes. Jails from which no one emerged. To walk these streets, as writer Rana Kabbani has said, was ‘to walk on pavements that were the ceilings of basements where political prisoners hung upside down by their feet’.
As my naïveté diminished, so my admiration for the Syrian people increased. After they rebelled against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in 2011, I followed their progress closely through the blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds where activists debate the revolution, the war, and the ongoing struggle to build a better Syria.
Their stories deserve to be far more widely known, and this magazine is a contribution towards that end. In putting it together, I have relied on the insight of Syrians far more expert than me, as well as the contributions of Syrian writers, artists and activists represented in these pages. My thanks and respect to them all.
Elsewhere in the issue, French economist Edouard Tétreau urges Pope Francis to take a stand against ‘insane money and alienating technologies’ when he visits the UN headquarters later this month.
Daniel Silas Adamson for the New Internationalist co-operative.