Hi, have you been to Syria? I know, my home country is #1 on the list of dangerous places on the planet, so you can’t go now and you shouldn’t. When cutting out this colourful refugee map from my shattered memories, I tried to imagine Syria before it descended into infernal civil war. I heard my uncle speaking to me from the distance of several countries and he said: “Believe me, boy, Syria, and its cities in particular, were tolerant and peaceful places. Damascus and Aleppo, which are among the oldest, continuously inhabited cities on earth, used to attract visitors from all over the world. For ages and ages, various religions had been respected here. People of different faiths shared public spaces like coffee shops, art galleries, hammams, and you couldn’t tell who was Muslim or Christian, Sunni or Alawite, Kurdish or Arab. Families loved to be outdoors and had picknicks alongside ancient Roman ruins like Palmyra or close to The Crac de Chevaliers or in sight of the waterwheels of Hama. They cheerfully promenaded through souqs, buying ice creams or sweets at Damascus’ Souq al-Hamidiyya. Does that sound like paradise to you? It was, my boy, believe me! ”
I listen to my uncle but I don’t remember such pleasures. My family is torn apart, in fact, my entire community has fled to safety. All those foreign countries I passed through, afterwards I could barely identify them, and mapping my escape from Syria was tiresome. But now I am proud of my work, of my refugee map. I follow the line of the thread back to Syria, listening to my uncle and his treasured memories of peace in Syria.
British Museum – Let’s look into the future and share dreams!
Every single one of the more than 5 million visitors who enter London’s British Museum each year, will set his feet on the marvellous white floor tiles of the inner courtyard. Yet, he will not look down to the floor but lift his eyes to the incomparable grandeur of the Great Court and the shining glass-made sky above. His view is magically drawn to the two majestic staircases which graciously encircle the magnificent cylinder of the former Reading Room. Step by step, the stairs lead his eyes upwards to take in the kaleidoscopic light from the miraculous roof which spans the inner court like a giant sail in the wind. It’s more than a museum, it’s a unique public square and an irresistible cultural domain – open to all and to be used by everyone! When after a while of browsing and grazing the mesmerized visitor can finally spare some time to take a look at the floor, he may find in words what he has already sensed as a unifying idea of the Great Court and the British Museum:
“And let thy feet be set,
In midst of knowledge…” Tennyson
So, let thy feet…
…regardless of shape, size or gender of feet, color of toes, eventual smells,
… regardless of origins or boldness of shoewear, strange behaviour of socks and tights,
… and even regardless of feet being overtopped by hairy calves,
… yes, let thy feet, millenniums hence…
… be set in midst of knowledge!
At the very latest, people should start in 2016 – just one week hence – and set their minds firmly on respect of humanity and peace. And why not try and do it together: Happy New Year, particularly to the school children at Neve Shalom – Wahat-al-Salam!