The city of Old Damascus is presently threatened by an obtuse and cynical plan that would destroy great chunks of it. The Syrian regime is trying to push through a “modernization” and “re-development” scheme, which would raze areas dating back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, including Syria’s second oldest mosque, Jami’ al-Tawba, of great beauty and historical significance. The company that aims to do this is a regime protÃ©gÃ©. The boorish mayor of Damascus, Bishr Sabban, recently described the buildings to be razed as “garbage”, not heritage. Like most regime officials, he has been ordered to say (and may, to his shame, actually believe) that the ripping out of the world’s oldest city’s heart, to replace it with banal and vulgar multi-story hotels, tower blocks, American-style shopping malls and motorways, is a laudable thing.
I found this article in the current issue of Islamica magazine, which I picked up at the MPAC conference two weeks ago. It is a familiar story not simply because historic buildings are being destroyed for the sake of “progress” and profit but because, as is the case with many things in Syria, the hand of Iran is seen in this effort to reshape a neighborhood that is predominantly Sunni Muslim and Christian.