And now Aleppo

There is no permanence on this earth. Rome, Constantinople, Delhi. And now Aleppo.

Rome, the sack of Rome, by Alaric in 410. Having stormed the city his soldiers pillaged rather than torched. He didn’t attempt to rule – he didn’t have the resources to do so. But the damage was done. Over years and decades Rome crumbled, literally – invincibility and old imperial order forever undermined.

Constantinople, in 1453, the foreboding of the inhabitants when the Ottomans finally breached the walls – their sense that seemingly God-given civilisation had come to a brutal end, after more than 1100 years.  (Compare also Alexandria when it capitulated to the forces of Mohammed, 800 years earlier.)

Delhi, in 1857. The recapture of Delhi, last remnant of Mughal civilisation, under which Hindu and Muslim, and indeed Christian, had successfully coexisted, by British forces seeking to revenge the Indian Mutiny. The aftermath was brutal.

We imagine permanence, and most of us will be spared that moment when walls come crushing done, and our faith (or simply our belief system) is crushed by another. But we ought all to be aware. Beware arrogance. One irony is how Erdogun, as president of Turkey, now acts out all the arrogance of power, even though Istanbul should be a reminder of what might befall him.

Aleppo. Aleppo, which has somehow survived intact over 3000 years, and which we now destroy in our own time. And we are in great part to blame. We made promises to the rebels of support we did not – arguably, we could not – provide.

We assumed our Western democracy has history on its side, and many of us still do, despite the terrible aftermath of the Arab Spring. Aleppo had its own unique dynamic, driven by lifestyles and habits and emotions both traditional and modern. We assumed that the modern, in terms of politics, would somehow emerge victorious, while tradition, in terms of daily life and custom, would remain intact.

We assumed inevitability, and we were wrong. We would be the champions of democracy, but if it is destined (and there are no certainties in history) to advance, and that advance be permanent, it will be by increments. Not by armed force, or by revolution.

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