Running alongside the contrived culture of Edinburgh in August is Just Festival. To quote directly from its programme of events: “Just Festival celebrates that peace is not only an absence of conflict; it is a presence.” And so I was privileged to participate in an event last Monday evening called Syrian Without Syria, organised by a magnificent organisation called Mercy Corps, which is currently engaged in relief work among refugees in Syria.
Like many others, my knowledge of what has been happening in Syria has been gleaned simply from being moderately aware of events there following the initial euphoria of the Arab spring three years ago. My attitude was probably one of mild concern built on a complacent and haphazard western instinct.
It could be characterised thus: this is a volatile region where conflicts seemingly run endlessly into each other and arise from each other’s ashes. There will be a television advert along in a minute where I can donate some cash by pressing some buttons – and then it’s back to the Champions League.
The numbers coming out of Syria, though, are devastating. Quite simply, one of the world’s oldest and most noble civilisations is being destroyed before our eyes. More than 160,000 people have already been killed, at least half of them civilians. Nearly 10 million people have been driven from their homes. Around half of the country’s prewar population now requires humanitarian aid.