".....Also, I believed then, as I do now, that economic reform should come before democracy; without the rule of law, economic freedom and the middle class that follows, democracy turns into dictatorship or ethnic conflict.
And you’d have to be a total naïve idiot in the Webb tradition not to see that this was a country with all the worst politics. Its guiding philosophy was Ba’athism, a sort of mixture of European nationalism, socialism and fascism, blended in with various local prejudices, creating a Syncretism of all the most terrible political ideas in the world. This was reflected in the Stalinist architecture, the banknotes that idolised non-existent industrial strength, and the idolatry of the ruling family, whose images were ubiquitous (often in a brutally masculine pose that denotes strength in this part of the world but to western eyes screams “massive personal insecurity”).
But I believed then, as I believe much more now, that people did not put up Bashar Assad’s image purely out of fear of him but of fear of what might follow. The country was teeming with Iraqi refugees, and there was a clear sense that in this religiously diverse country the same catastrophe could unfold. If the moustachioed men one saw all around were rather distasteful, then they were preferable to the bearded men who would follow. For in Middle Eastern politics these days, always back the guys with moustaches against the guys with beards.
Listening to the choir of young Christian girls and boys at the cathedral, in the country in which Christian music has its very origins, I remember feeling profound sadness about what might happen one day. All around the 5,000-year-old city, with its windy, ancient streets with images of the Virgin Mary, and tiny old houses and rooms dating back to the first millennium, one really feels the story of early Christianity, but can it last forever?"