Category Archives: Syria

Going to Syria is not like going on a day trip to Bognor Regis

Max Hill QC: a conceited ass, and at the same time a naïf

Dalrymple writes:

One of the reasons given by Max Hill QC, the independent reviewer of anti-terrorist legislation, as to why not all British travellers returning from Syrian war zones will be prosecuted — namely that many of them were merely naïve — is itself somewhat naïve.

What we are being asked to believe

is that young people — but not so young as not to have reached the age of discretion — travelled to Syria without knowing very much about what they might find there, or what they might be asked to do.

This, Dalrymple points out, is

among other things an insult to their intelligence.

Snivelling Syrian beggars

In Paris, writes Dalrymple, a kind of beggars has come out like a rash in the Métro.

A mother, a father and a couple of young children sit against the wall with a carton on which are inscribed the words Famille syrienne.

The children, Dalrymple notes,

have been trained to make a continuous whining or keening sound that is neither spontaneous nor sincere. It is bad acting. Far from wanting to give them a coin, I want to give them a slap. Perhaps where they come from such snivelling is expected from beggars.

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The good old days

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Dalrymple speaks (from 3:15) of his nostalgia for the Syria of Hafez al-Assad (pictured with friend), when it was still possible to understand who was massacring whom

A cultured utopia

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 09.06.41It is difficult, says Dalrymple, to see

what the French wanted a mandate in Syria for, other than to maintain their prestige and be generally important.

France and Britain ratted on the Arabs and between them

carved out territories that had no real meaning for their inhabitants but whose borders held for 100 years, which is said by some to be at the root of the present troubles. I don’t really believe it: I doubt that the Middle East would have become some kind of sandy Scandinavia if it had been left to its own devices.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 08.48.18Joseph Kessel, in his 1926 book on Syria, argues that

the French made the mistake of changing their top administrators too often, so that by the time any of them began to grasp something about the country they made way for a replacement who knew nothing.

Dalrymple bought the 2014 Folio edition of En Syrie

because of the picture on its front, the photograph of a street in a still-Ottoman Damascus taken, I should imagine, about 1914, in the subtle shades of early colour postcards. It is a beautiful narrow street, leading (I think) to the Great Mosque in the distance.

Joseph Kessel

Joseph Kessel

It conveys

peace and a civilised existence. In the foreground a couple of men ride donkeys; in the middle distance are the only wheeled vehicles, a couple of calèches; the sun is overhead and the pedestrians cast long shadows, two of them walking with parasols. The architecture is pure Ottoman, with delicately-latticed mashrabiyas overhanging the unpaved road below. Life continues at a pleasingly slow pace.

The picture, says Dalrymple,

excites nostalgia for something that one has not even known and never existed; it provokes an almost dream-like state, a reverie of a life without politics and ideology, a cultured utopia, where there is an abundance of beauty and taste rather than of things, where people treat each other with ceremonial courtesy rather than in business-like fashion at best, and even the smallest and most ordinary of things are infused with a concern for aesthetics. A more fully human life.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 08.55.27Dalrymple says that in his peregrinations,

I occasionally came across somewhere in which I thought, or rather preferred in my ignorance to imagine, there was such a life. All those places have since descended into chaos and massacre, with millions fled or displaced and the vilest doctrines propagated.

Kessel, who among many other things wrote a novel about Himmler’s charlatan doctor, was, says Dalrymple, a kind of

André Malraux minus the self-advertisement and dishonesty.

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Against Islam, the ideological gloves must come off

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 08.56.04For the moment, writes Dalrymple,

it will have to be accepted as a regrettable fact that there are substantial numbers of young people in European countries susceptible to the siren song of idiot Islamism.

Obviously,

there must be properly directed surveillance of susceptible types.

But

surveillance will never be enough: criticism of Islam itself must be free and unconstrained and relentless. For example, in the very small town in France near which I live some of the time, there was a demonstration against terrorism. The small and generally well-integrated population of Maghrebis there was conspicuous by its absence. Of course, citizens are free to demonstrate or not demonstrate; but it is at least possible that some of the young Maghrebis did not demonstrate because of fear of denunciation, of accusations of apostasy.

Mohammedans

live in fear of one another more than in fear of others, at least in the modern world, and this is because of a fundamental incompatibility of Islam with the modern world.

The accusation of apostasy in Islam is

potentially fatal to the accused. So long as this is so, so long as Muslims fear to adopt another religion or publicly proclaim their atheism or detestation of Mohammed and Islam, intellectually justified or not, the religion is incompatible with our notions of what our polity should be.

The prevalent

insincere (and cowardly) homage to Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance

must cease. No religion

that makes apostasy a punishable crime is tolerant. On the contrary, it more resembles a criminal conspiracy, at least when the punishment is severe. This is so no matter what proportion of Muslims are decent people (the people of Egypt, for example, have often struck me as among the most charming and hospitable in the world, as did the Syrians in the good old days of uncontested secular dictatorship), or how troubling or hurtful they find the thought.

Aux armes, citoyens! And let your arms, says Dalrymple,

be intellectual ones as well as a good intelligence service.