By the rivers of Babylon

The second day of September, the rain has relented, it’s 7am and the sun is shining, and down by the Thames the Canada geese have gathered, and I have as usual to navigate my way around both them and their droppings. The perils of running.

All so peaceful, though I can hear a gentle sloshing from the river if I stop beneath the big sycamore, and listen.

I run back into traffic, and a little bit of civilisation, although schools are still not back, and the roads still have a hangover August holiday calm.

I think of Sangatte, and the migrant crisis further afield in Europe as I head back home. Good fortune hardly describes my situation. We rejoiced so much in the Arab Spring, and it’s turned out to be the last and terrible throw of the neo-con mentality, where we assume that our western democratic ways are somehow inevitable, that history is pre-determined. I trust we will never think or feel or argue that way again.  It may be the highest aspiration of mankind, but the wholly unnecessary and unpredicted fate of Syria, visited on Aleppo, on Homs, on Palmyra, and the open channels for migrants through Libya, remind us that we meddle at our peril. We may affect to dislike the el-Sisi regime in Egypt, but we know it will serve a purpose in the end. Syria was on a slow irregular and tortured path before 2011, but it was stable, and the old country survived alongside the new middle classes in the cities.

I will read again William Dalrymple’s description of traveling through Syria in From My Holy Mountain. The image of a building shared as a place of worship by Christian and Muslim communities stays in my mind. And there was Palmyra to visit, a place of wonder.

Sometimes I run quietly and enjoy the silence and, God willing, the sunshine. On other days the thoughts come flooding in.

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