Syria’s turmoil continues, with the numbers of refugees and violence and destruction at levels which would have seemed inconceivable three years ago. It is a reminder that the inconceivable can happen. Syria is such an extraordinary country, a crossroad and an intermingling of cultures, now as three thousand years ago. Diana Darke in her insider’s view of Syria and Damascus in particular (My House in Damascus) quotes Mark Twain (An Innocent Abroad):

She measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality… Damascus has seen all that ever occurred on earth and still she lives.

She is being challenged now as never before, such is the ability of modern armament to flatten the old with same equanimity as it flattens the new. It will take an extraordinary mix of tolerance and goodwill to restore old harmonies and the old fabric. We may glibly think that democracy, western-style, is the answer. But leadership and vision must come first.

Democracy as in Algeria and Egypt and Libya can tear a country apart.

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