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.
Nonviolent activists are holding out in Syria, despite the destruction. Do not abandon them, says Daniel Adamson.
In December 2011, a group of Syrian activists released 2,000 ping-pong balls onto a steeply sloping street in Damascus. On each one, they had written a single word: freedom.
The activists belonged to Freedom Syria Days – a collective of revolutionary groups dismayed by Syria’s slide into war and desperate to hold on to the nonviolent, subversive spirit that had marked the first months of the uprising. Insisting that Assad’s regime could be crippled by civil disobedience, they instigated a ge...