The time for military intervention has passed. But we must still do all we can to make Assad feel the heat

Through a quirk of fate, I was on a bus travelling from Beirut to Damascus on the day that the US, Britain and France launched airstrikes on Syria. The group I joined was on a pastoral visit arranged months earlier, at the invitation of the Syriac Orthodox church, to offer support and solidarity to Syria’s Christians. A circular email had arrived soliciting participants in early March. As my visa application to enter the country, where I have had a home for more than a decade, had been refused in February, it seemed worth trying this route, though my husband and I never imagined we would succeed. We were accepted on the trip – but the experience was surreal on almost every level.

The name of the bus, al-Ma’arri Travel & Tourism, was chosen for an 11th-century blind Syrian poet-philosopher, Abu’l ’Ala al-Ma’arri, whose treatise on forgiveness is thought to have influenced Dante’s Divine Comedy. His poems expressed the pessimism of his times, during which political anarchy and social decay were prevalent. He became a vegetarian and adopted a life of seclusion.

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