Sunday, 8 September 2013

A Post I didn't Think I'd Write

This is the desert of Maaloula, in Syria.  And this article about anti-Assad attacks on Maaloula, has spurred me to write this post.

To be honest,  I never thought I'd write a post about international politics. I never get involved in other countries' politics.    So much goes on that I'll never understand, and I expect I'd be a sitting target for any local political activist who knew how to manipulate foreigners.  

But sometimes newspaper reports raise questions in my mind that won't go away. If you read the article linked to above (and the one linked to below) you'll see how certain anti-Assad rebels - yes, those anti-Assad rebels that the Western World wants to help for "humanitarian reasons"  have finally moved in to Ma'aloula.

This amazing place is one of the true birthplaces of Christianity, and a centre of the Syrian Orthodox faith.

Aramaic, the ancient language which was Jesus' native tongue, has almost died out - but it is still spoken in Ma'aloula.  Some of the village's holy places are so early that they are recognisably Roman temples, adapted for the "new" faith of Christianity.  There are rock dwelling two thousand years old or more, too, and read here how anti-Assad rebels are now holed up in them and what they are doing there. 

As you would expect, Ma'aoula has long been a place of Christian pilgrimage.    

...a  place which gave a glimpse of how it was in the desert where Christianity had its birth. 

Will those who oppose Assad really allow this to continue? It hardly sounds like it from the reports.

Don't get me wrong. I HATE Assad. He is a complete monster, like his father before him. The Assad dynasty has made Syrians miserable for decades, and their rule has been evil and corrupt and thoroughly nasty.   But, for political reasons, religious plurality was possible in Syria, up to a point,  under the Assads' rule.   For many years, most minorities have been allowed and tolerated, not least because Assad comes from a religious minority himself.  And this relative tolerance - which lets us see a cross dominating a Syrian landscape  -  is obviously something that some of those opposing Assad, don't like to see..  

I have read the words of "hawks" particularly American ones, who are apparently devout Christians yet feel an obligation to go into Syria.   I don't happen to know any of them personally. If you do, please ask them if their Christianity takes second place to their desire for military action?   And let me know what they say. (Or, if you are one, let me know. I'm genuinely interested).

I am not a practising Christian, and to me the idea of unleashing fire on the helpless people of all faiths in Syria is more horrifying than anything that happens even in the most remarkable religious shrine. And  I know enough to know that the situation in Syria is very, very complicated, and I can't understand it.  I remind myself that whatever happens there is not my business.  At least I can speak out about here, and I can only say that I'm glad that our Parliament voted against our getting involved.

But the question remains in my mind - what do those Christians supporting intervention in Syria think about Ma'aloula?

Oh well. You might as well see some of the pictures I took when I visited Ma'aloula with friends - both Muslim and Christian -  a few years ago.


We clambered  through the rock houses and down the steep hillsides

 Some of the places we visited were so, so old....

or beautiful 

hidden away

And I wondered how much the little farms had changed over the centuries. See the horse eating the olive leaves?

I wait with sadness and fear to see how the swaggering and posturing, the lies and propaganda, will pan out. Certain people obviously stand to make a lot of money and get a lot of power out of putting soldiers into Syria.   I went on the anti-war march against UK involvement in Iraq, years ago. It didn't do any good and I know we had 9/11 before that -  but I still don't think the countless dead soldiers and the huge sums of money have brought us a peaceful and less threatening world.  

Do you agree or disagree?


  1. Sadly agree. I wish there was in international cultural military force to protect treasures like the Giant Buddhas at Bimidyar? (Sp)


  2. Jenny, I agree with every word you have said. You echo my own thoughts completely. I don't feel I need to say any more than that. Your photos tell their own story too. What astonishing beauty and cultural heritage there is in that country. I wonder if it will survive. Thank you so very much for sharing them with us!

  3. It is my supreme hope and prayer that at least the House of Representatives will tell the President no and that he will accept that. There's no telling what he might do.
    I've seen one small article about the rebels entering this area, be assured that story will be buried in hopes that the bombing can begin.
    I despair for my country.

  4. Hi Jenny! Whew! I hate the politics and power-mongering of men, too. Why can't everything just be like a Cicely Mary Barker illustration full of fanciful beauty, gentleness, and peace? Well, the answer IS found in history - and yes, Christianity, I daresay. You have recorded some great pictures here of the marks of early Christians trying to express what they came to know of God. Our man-made attempts to know God fall so short and are fraught with great imperfection. That's why we should never focus on man knowing God - but God knowing us. What we are seeing happening in the Middle East at present is not a surprise to Bible believing Christians. We've been expecting it ever since Israel was restored to a nation in 1948. I can tell you this - current events are fulfilling Biblical prophecy at record speed. I feel a grief - but also a peace. Only God can give me that - because I know I belong to Him. I am no fan of war and absolutely hate the part I see the US is playing in it all. Not what our Founder's ever intended. But, there are greater things ultimately ahead and no man will be able to take credit for it. C.S. Lewis wrote a magnificent metaphorical picture of it all in "The Last Battle." If you've never read the seven books - you might enjoy them - especially now. Also, Lewis' "Mere Christianity" might help put some of the pieces in place to give more light to what we're watching on the news.

    But - do keep recording images of the beauty of your English countryside. England's rich history and landscapes have played such a huge role through the centuries in what we're living today. It always blesses me to see how well your country preserves the memorials from the past. I LOVE how people still live in 700 year old village homes! Here - they knock things down in less than 50 years for techno cities.


  5. I remember a post you wrote ages ago about Syria Jenny, and what a beautiful place it was and how welcoming the people were. It flashes into my mind each time I see yet another horrific report about what is happening there. Like you I don't pretend to fully understand all the complicated issues there but anyone can see suffering and fear at the personal level of families who are the victims of the conflict. I can see how special a place Ma'aloula is from your pictures and it is terrible that this place has too become involved in the violence. Like you I am glad that Britain is not getting involved militarily as I cannot see any benefit which will arise from it-only more death and injury for Syrian families and British soldiers. It is pretty hard to think how this situation could be helped and I suppose it will fester for years like all the others. Thank you for this post, it was very interesting and thought provoking.

  6. It is a terrible conundrum - it is the ordinary innocent Syrians and their children that I fear for. We know that going in does not solve the problems - we only have to look to Afghanistan and Iraq to see this is the case.
    I find it so hard to think that Assad was an eye doctor working in a London hospital, perhaps I am wrong or disillusioned, but I expect someone with a medical background to have more humanity. Sadly I fear that some of the rebels are just terrorists who are taking advantage of a terrible situation.

  7. A very sincere and honest post.
    There is a very confused situation regarding Syria and the people involved do not really know what is going on and the major powers have no idea how to stop it. The people on all sides suffer.
    Sadly the Christians in this area now suffer like all others, but Christians are used to this!
    The situation is dire and we can just ask their God to help bring this situation to an end.
    He alone knows the beginning and end and reason for this particular fight, and indeed all the others not covered by the media.

  8. I meant to add the pictures were magnificent and spoke a great deal about that land.

  9. Thank you for posting your photos of beautiful sites of astonishing antiquity. As to your question, I fear for them. Like you,"I see how the swaggering and posturing, the lies and propaganda, will pan out."

    Indeed, It's like the mime who can handle an imaginary needle convincingly and make us see a thread that is not really there. Currently, politicians here and in Israel are using events in Syria to focus hostility upon Iran. As with 911, we need only ask who stands to gain.

  10. I am against any military action in Syria especially what my ex military son told me about his experiences in the middle east. I won't go into detail, but feel that it would be better to just let them fight amongst themselves.......

  11. You're not writing about least that is how it seems to me. You are writing about the horrible reality facing innocent people without the means to defend themselves and their way of life.

    You are right that so far the U.S. led military interventions have done nothing to bring about peace and when I hear U.K. politicans asking for the House of Commons to 'have a second chance to vote' - to get it right this time, I suppose on the lines of EU referenda - I am horrified by their sense of priorities.
    More important to lick Obama's boots than to seek real remedies for this and other atrocities throughout the world.

    I don't want to see more British trrops sacrificed on the altar of politicans' ambitions.....and nothing done for the people of Ma'aloula.

  12. These mysterious historic places have been rife with strife since time began it seems. The lives lost and destruction of precious artifacts that can never be replaced is disturbing and irreconcilable in this current situation. Yet with so much propaganda going on from all sides who is to know the whole truth? I remember the smoke and mirrors surrounding Iraq. The uncertainties about who is who in Syria have a similar feel.

  13. Everything is more complicated than it seems on the surface. Watching the news here in the USA (and it may be the same everywhere, I only know what how it is where I live) all issues, including the situation in Syria, is condensed into are you on this side or this other side? If you are like me, and very often are sitting on a fence looking at both sides, then you end up with neither side liking you. It may seem cynical to think of the people wanting to intervene thinking of the money to be made, but it seems to me that very often is the case.
    Thanks for this post and for your beautiful photos.

  14. I cannot imagine why our reasoned and scholarly president is taking this position. May he come to his senses.

    Your tribute to Ma'aloula is beautiful. May it endure.

  15. This is a beautiful post, Jenny -- visually stunning and extremely thoughtful. I'm in such a conundrum about this. The last thing I want is another war, more deaths, more innocent people killed. Yet, I think back to WWII and Roosevelt's almost denial or at least ignoring of the concentration camps and genocide occurring there. If we had joined the war effort then, would fewer people have died in the long run? And I just don't know. I don't want to see the innocents killed. If they had solid intelligence on where these weapons were made or stored, I might be OK with it. And I don't know if they have that. Obama says "no boots on the ground." Well, that's fine for us, if it is so. But what about the people there? I look at the whole thing and I'm not sure who the baddest of the bad guys are... All I know is that it hurts...

  16. Jenny, there's a lot to say but I'll be very brief. I wholeheartedly agree with your views about Syria and the entire complicated situation.I enjoyed this post and your photos are absolutely spectacular.

    My personal opinion is that Obama is focused on Syria solely to detract from his complete incompetence concerning the Benghazi fiasco that happened a year ago. He did absolutely nothing about the four Americans who were sodomized and slaughtered. Attacking Syria would be a serious mistake for many reasons. Obama is a thoughtless buffoon and I fear what he is capable of doing......

    1. Agree with you wholeheartedly Jon about what you said about Obama!

  17. I whole-heartedly agree with you, Jenny.

    It is a fact that the strongest rebel faction is Al Qaida led. What the west would unleash if they supported all rebel factions indiscriminately doesn’t bear thinking about.
    I daresay, as always US citizenry is not fully informed, any more than we in the UK are (or were in the case of Iraq). Watch some European news and you get a slightly clearer picture, although in Europe too the information just isn’t entirely available. There is too much uncertainty.

    I would be devastated if some of these historical sites were destroyed, as they were in iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, I find myself unable to visualise the suffering ordinary Syrians undergo.

    I wish Assad (who is by no means the strongest force among the ruling elite in Syria but pushed and pulled by those of his clan who work only in the background) could be eliminated somehow, forced to abdicate or driven into a hopeless position by diplomacy.

    I think this remain a pious hope.

    Like you I belong to no religion but value and admire historical artefacts and buildings religion has caused to bring forth.

  18. I wish I could sort out my thoughts on Syria, but I just don't know what the right course of action is.

  19. It's a question i will continue to ask myself -- why the rush to replace one evil with another?

  20. I think whatever the faults of their own government, what they don't need are foreign powers going in with bombs and guns. Whatever the problems, even genocide, the US military is not a solution, to anything. A hundred years ago, France expected to take over, loot the place and rule it, right after the Great War was won. Europeans are no good for that part of the world. Anyone outside trying to "fix" them is barging into a long running family fight, mostly because there is the ulterior motive of oil. We can make it much worse, at best.

  21. I am extremely saddened to see what is happening in Syria, just as I was after 9/11 and the country (US) went into needless wars (the strongest anti-war protesters were many New Yorkers directly/tragically affected by 9/11). The last thing I want is more war, fighting, needless death...and all for what? Humanity hasn't learned.

  22. I wish I had the answers...the correct answers; boy, do I wish I did; but sadly, I don't.

    Religion, prejudice and greed...are causes of so much bloodshed and grief.

    I don't understand it at all...I never have; and I guess I never will, even if I live another 100 lifetimes! And you can bet your bottom dollar or Euro, if the world still exists after I've lived those 100 lifetimes that the problems in the Middle East will still being going on!

  23. And, I, too, meant to say...excellent post, Jenny; and stunning photos. Thank you. :)

  24. A wonderful post, Jenny, but a terrible story of history repeating itself and of powerful people learning so little from the past.
    If only military powers could be used to deliver aid, support and comfort instead of death.

  25. I was one of the 3,000,000 in the streets protesting before the war in Iraq - and I'm equally opposed to this. As you say, this is a hugely complex situation - so how can dropping bombs on it help anyone? It will simply polarise all camps, and make it even more difficult to reach a solution that must, eventually, come from people sitting down and talking to each other.

    The one glimmer - our politicians have pulled back from military intervention. There's not even consensus in America. But if we need demonstrations - then I'll be in the streets again.

  26. Thank you for this thoughtful and eye-opening post, Jenny. Now that I learned the details instead of the headline news, I totally agree with you. I don’t belong to any organized religion but respect any other religion. Ma’aloula is the treasure of human history. Something must be done regarding Syria, but how is a difficult question. With these complexities, I’m afraid how humans can find any good solutions with love, courage, and patience, even after repeating the same things.


  27. A very good post with beautiful photographs. I don't know what the answer is either. The Nazis have always been my reason for not being a pacifist but even if there is a military strike now, the internal situation is so fraught and complex I can't see any long term benefits. On the other hand, can the use of chemical weapons go unchallenged? No answers here I'm afraid.

  28. Jenny, I agree with you.
    Thank you so much for showing me rare photos of the origins of my Christian faith.
    Please, no more wars!

  29. At this point, no matter what they do or don't do, there will not be a good outcome. We live in very perilous times.

  30. Your post is fantastic! I agree with you. I firmly believe that war is an absurd method of resolving human conflict. The problem in the USA is politics. We have "sheeple" who follow blindly anything that appears popular, without having a clue about reality. This California fantasyland mindset does not work on a global scale. Being "cool" is not foreign policy. It costs lives. The problem can be summed up in one word: Obama.

  31. I haven't kept up on the events in Syria like I should. What a beautiful looking country!

    I have to agree that war isn't the answer to resolving conflict.

  32. Thank you so much for this! I am posting this entry to facebook, it is important! Thank you again! Such remarkable photos!

  33. The Christian warlords in the USA have probably never heard of Ma'aloula, and if they did, they wouldn't care. Their god is white and speaks English.

    Thanks for an excellent post that verbalizes the anger and despair that I, too, feel.

  34. I agree with every word you said, Jenny! x

  35. A remarkable, interesting, thought-provoking and despairing post Jenny. It should astonish me, but it doesn't, that so much vitriol has been expressed in some of the comments.

    I think Lee's comment just about hit the nail on the head when he said "I wish I had the answers...the correct answers; boy, do I wish I did; but sadly, I don't. Religion, prejudice and greed...are causes of so much bloodshed and grief."

    I would simply add nationalism and sectarianism (which are probably covered by Lee's use of the word 'prejudice'.)

  36. These are so many interesting and thoughtful comments, I'm very grateful to everyone who has taken the trouble to reply.

    Rourousha, I think I might agree with you about the warlords. That's what some of them are, and they've probably always existed. Religion can be just one more hammer to hit people over the head with. GB, I appreciate your words, as always, but I myself don't think any of the comments (at least, none so far) have been vitriolic. Strongly expressed perhaps, but then some people have strong political views which I'm interested to hear. I'd probably feel different if they were commenting on British social issues, which are something to do with me. But I'm just as ignorant about the reality of this matter, as most other people are.

    Thank you Linda Sue for posting to FB, I am honoured.

    JJ what a great word, "sheeple"! I will use it myself.....:)

    Yes, mm, I agree it's a dilemma. I often think of "out of the frying pan..." etc. But on my other blog, we've been showing the kids WW1 propaganda to get men to join up and fight. It was quite eerie, to see the posters urging men to fight to stop women and children suffering because of "the enemy's" bad behaviour. Now we know what all the fighting did to the wretches who lived on the battlefields and we can see it for the propaganda it is. Eerily similar to what has been said now to justify going in to Syria.

    Jo, I believe you are right, and Assad is simply the figurehead of a whole clan of them. As a matter of fact, I always got the impression that he and his wife were trying to be Western style leaders, and he did introduce reforms, and Syrians were starting to feel that they could talk more freely after he came in, and before this happened. I've also heard talk of the Borgia like atmosphere of the Assad family. On my last trip to Syria, the pics of him as dictator had been largely replaced by him flanked by two other utterly sinister individuals, who really did look shifty - and you were supposed to put all three up in your window. I forget exactly who they were although someone told me, but it meant nothing to me at the time.

    1. You are probably correct Jenny. I apologise. It was the words "Obama is a thoughtless buffoon" that resonated in my mind as I wrote the comment. At least we are being spared a Republican President's reaction. We could well be on the brink then.

  37. What a terrible loss it would be to this world to have these places destroyed by greed in the guise of good. I agree with you wholeheartedly and am ashamed of our nation's government with their heartless motives.

  38. Such beautiful photos of Syria.
    When it finally calms down I would love to go there.... if there is anything left.

    So difficult to know what to do or not to do when there is so much suffering.
    Assad should be removed somehow.
    Obviously we certainly don't want another war as per President Bush who was so stupid and so belligerent.
    Greetings from NY

  39. This practicing Christian agrees with you wholeheartedly! I cannot see how more bombing and killing will be a good thing for anyone. It's heartbreaking what is happening to the Syrian Christians and the Egyptian ones too. It is nothing new, however. And there are plenty of wonderful, peace loving, God fearing Muslims in the world too. It is all very distressing. I don't know what the answer is; it is extremely complicated and tangled . . . thank you for sharing these photos of a more peaceful time and I pray peace will come again, and soon.

  40. Its an nice post about traveling and very interesting too. many writers fail to post a blog like this but its very strange that its topic is also this that A Post I didn't Think I'd Write. at last i like to say its an great work.

  41. When is war ever the right thing to do?

  42. Thanks for this post. We hear so many things on Syria that it is impossible to understand what is going on. It is indeed a difficult situation. I think that you were lucky to go to Ma'aoula a few years ago. I am not sure that it will be the same ever again...

  43. So much cultural heritage is being lost all over Syria right now; not just representative of Christianity but Muslim culture too. The entire situation is so complex it defies simple understanding and explanation - I work in the development/humanitarian sphere are we're all continually working to get our heads round it. It's a sad truth that conflict all over the world continues to damage cultural heritage - not just the tangible aspects like buildings or art, but also the senses of meaning and belonging inherent in such places. My heart is breaking for all kinds of different Syrians right now.

  44. So many thoughtful comments. And yes, Accidental Londoner, of course I am concerned about Muslims - and indeed all the people of Syria, whoever they are. And I weep for the squandering of tolerance, because Syria was mostly a religiously tolerant place, at least as far as small sects and Christians were concerned.

    I wrote the post when I was listening to hawkish noises coming from people who make a big deal out of being Christian, and I was wondering why they could therefore support those who destroyed places of great importance to Christianity, or wish to support those who were victimising Christians.

    This is as political as I wish to get in this blog. If travel has taught me anything (as I try to get to grips with wherever I am), it has shown me that no race, religion or political group has all the answers, or a monopoly on what is good or bad.

  45. I am so glad you wrote this post on Syria. And I'm with you -- I don't like getting involved in any political statements. But I have deep feelings for protecting antiquity, whatever the faith, because that is all part of mankind's cultural heritage. And because one hopes when they see the beauty that men have created throughout time that we are, and should behave, better than the animals.

  46. I firmly believe that the entire world would mostly be better off if we stopped sticking our nose into other people's business. And, by "we", I mean "Americans", of which I am one.

    What contemptible temerity we display! If any other country were to decide we should be invaded and made to behave as they wish, we'd raise holy hell about it (and rightly so, too.) So why do we think we have the right to jaunt around the world and make other people's decisions?

    There are certainly extreme instances when intervention is warranted. The best example is World War Two, of course, but even then, we were directly attacked before we took action. So much of what we've been doing over the past ten years or so has been a case of trying to pose as policeman to the world. And we keep reaping what we've sown.

    I love my country. In what I hope is a patriotic spirit even a citizen of another land can appreciate, I believe my country is the best on Earth. But I do so wish we would show others the same respect we would be shown.


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