Thursday, September 26, 2013

Syria - Strange and Dangerous? or Familiar and Beautiful?

Great Mosque, Aleppo
When we held a vigil in Logan Square in Chicago in the days of highest tension around a possible U.S. attack against Syria, my friend John stood at the microphone and reminded all of us, "These places in Syria are the places we read about in the Bible every Sunday -- like Paul going to Damascus -- so how can we be thinking of them as strangers that we want to bomb?"

In fact, there had been an article in The New York Times that same day about people in the Syrian town of Maaloula, who still speak the same language -- Aramaic -- that Christ would have spoken. That description made me feel a sudden connection to people in Syria.  And it made me wonder why it sometimes takes something like that to suddenly make me see people as more human than I did just moments before.

I also remembered my friend Steve's trip to Syria a few years back. At the time, I was surprised that he went there. "Syria? But isn't that a dangerous place?" And when Steve got back, I was astounded by his photographs, showing the incredible beauty of Syria.  The pictures he shared helped me start to think of Syria as someplace familiar and beautiful, rather than strange and dangerous.  I'm grateful to Steve for opening a window to Syria for me ... and I'm posting some of his pictures here for you to enjoy, too.

Window detail - Ulmayyid Mosque - Damascus

(Come to think of it, wasn't it during an archaeological expedition to Syria that T.E. Lawrence fell head over heels in love with the Arab world?)

I've probably heard many times that some of the longest continuously inhabited cities in the world are those in Syria . . . but now I'm working to get my mind around what that really means.

Barbara Tuchman wrote an important book -- Bible and Sword -- about the way in which the Christian West formed an attachment to the Middle East (the "Holy Land") and that attachment has dictated the terms of the West's heavy-handed engagement with that part of the world ever since. I wonder if we can harness the fact that we feel a connection to the Mideast to some good purpose.

Nargile - Old Town Damascus

Speaking of connectedness, a few years ago I wrote a post about how often it is some ephemeral detail and/or a specific person that helps us form a connection to a place and to a large cause. In my case it was a small coincidence having to do with Rachel Corrie that focused my attention on Palestine.

In the souq - Damascus

I've also been startled at how a simple think like a movie can help me connect to the humanity of people in a country like Iran.

How are we going to form the connection that we need to feel in order to restore our empathy for the Syrians who need our help today?  How are we going to start a new day?

Palmyra - Sunrise

Related posts

I often refer to how important the films of Iran have been in helping me open my mind to the possibilities of a peaceful relationship with that country.  I have been fortunate to be able to go see some of the best films from Iran every year at the wonderful Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. The will be another Festival of Films From Iran showing there in February, 2014.

(See A Force for Peace: Getting to Know Iran Through Film)

Is this the perfect moment for all of us to step outside our comfort zones? I've started to think: maybe we can encourage many more people to see things in a new light. Maybe this is the meaning of a "mass movement" -- a large number of people moving a little, rather than just a few people moving a lot.

(See Read a Poem - or Eat a Peach - for Peace)

Ever since I went there to study Chinese as a junior in college, I've considered Taiwan my "second home."

(See Taipei c. 1979 )