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In case you were wondering…

Oh my goodness. You may have wondered what’s happened to the Jasmine Gate. Drought? Locust attack? Panic attack? A sudden unaccountable Nile flood that carried all away, pergola, raised beds, stunted fruit trees and all?

Nothing so dramatic. Yet something far worse. And I haven’t had the heart to write.

How, I wonder, amid the carnage and tragedy of the Middle East, can anyone devote time to cultivating a garden and blogging about it? Isn’t there something indecent about that? Who cares if the parsley has died, the tomatoes failed and only the basil is thriving? Or if the water supply is intermittent, at times non-existent? On the scale of things, we are incredibly lucky and privileged to have what we do – our lives.

Every day, I struggle with the conviction that, if we are to remain human, then we must face up to this and care. Not about the garden, but about humanity: where, in God’s name, are we going?

It’s a struggle that has been hard to bear during this dreadful summer in the region. The bald numbers of dead and maimed in Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Syria may tell us something, but they say nothing about the individual stories. Now, the bravery of journalists and the availability of the internet mean that there is no excuse for us not to see, and not to know. We no longer have the luxury of ignorance; and we cannot escape our measure of responsibility.

It’s not my purpose to write about “sides” or try to apportion blame. As a student of history, I don’t think there is ever one truthful or moral narrative, but perhaps interlocking stories that may be interpreted one way or another depending on where you start from (not necessarily where you stand). Even so – surely – there are universal values, of honesty, justice, decency and humanity, and we abandon them at our peril.

To my way of thinking, a few points from the current horrors are clear:

i) The international arms trade is an affront to civilization.

ii) High tech/low casualty warfare is a myth. War is not a computer game where, the further you are from the dying, the less moral responsibility you have for what you have done.

iii) Civilian populations continue to suffer terribly and arguably disproportionately, as they have since time immemorial (about this, Euripides’ “Trojan Women” is a good place to start).

iv) There is no such thing as an “honest broker”. Nations pursue their narrow self-interest; international organizations are stymied by each interest group with a veto.

v) Particular to this situation now: there are no statesmen in the world capable of standing up to tyranny and violence. This is a terrifying thought. Is it, therefore, up to all of us?

I am at a loss to know what to do.

Voltaire would have recommended precisely going back to cultivating the garden. I am not convinced. All I can do is keep the Jasmine Garden ticking over, watering when I can, tending the sick and cutting back the overbearing, until life renews itself in some way.

And writing? Why do it, when even words have been stripped of their honesty and they are misused to pretend that appalling violence is in some way benign? I will never, ever, ever, EVER speak about “mowing the lawn” again.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. As you get older you begin to realise that humanity never learns, looking at history only serves to document the repeated mistakes. All you can do is try to take comfort in the garden, in nature, to preserve sanity and reach for the kindness that also exists but is so elusive. Amelia

    August 3, 2014
  2. Quite right Sylvia.

    August 3, 2014
  3. Anonymous #

    I was deeply moved by your latest comments, Sylvia. They reflect my increasingly pessimistic views on the Middle East where everyone seems to be fighting against each other and where there are only losers, no winners, in sight. But I want you to carry on growing your garden and writing about it. Write about mowing the lawn, too, because only in this way can the original meaning of words and actions be restored. And write more about peaceful, beautiful places you keep discovering in Cairo and elsewhere. That’s a sign of hope, at least to me, in case you were wondering…

    I have just come back to Doha from Warsaw where we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising (1 August 1944) which devastated the city and decimated its population. But people came back and started growing flowers (and, yes, potatoes, too!) in the ruins, started rebuilding their homes.

    I agree with Voltaire.


    August 9, 2014

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