*** DEBUG END ***

Rebuilding the Ruins: Following God’s call to serve Syria, by Samara Levy 

15 November 2019

Stephen Griffith reads about a gallant but ill-informed humanitarian

THE Syrian revolution began stutteringly in January 2011 in the mainly Kurdish city of Hasakeh with a man self-immolating in protest against the brutal and corrupt Syrian regime, followed in February by a demonstration in Damascus following a very normal act of police brutality. In March, several demonstrations took place across the country, all peaceful. But the government’s reaction was violent, and in weeks huge demonstrations were taking place daily. People wanted the rule of law, and to be treated with respect. What they got was extreme state violence — the storming of mosques by troops, government thugs abducting civilians; and the result was the catastrophe we now know.

In 2013, Samara Levy decided that she, with no relevant experience, would heal some of the wounds of the suffering Syrian people, and this book is her tale. She had no intention of working with Tearfund, Christian Aid, or any of the many other skilled and experienced NGOs already there. Her book has her stumbling bravely or foolishly in Syria, and I found it both baffling and intriguing.

Levy is a very Evangelical Christian. She practises bibliomancy, the sort of magical divination rejected by scripture, spending time trying to convert her Christian co-workers, and judging the brave faithfulness of Syria’s Christians as wanting. She imagines that the Syrian border authorities deny her a visa because of her not praying the right prayer. She tests God.

Allowed for some time to deliver aid to government-held territories, she describes powerfully the excesses of Islamic State and other jihadists. Saying that she has no interest in politics (except the political struggles in the Old Testament, her only source of political analysis), she ignores the ongoing brutality of the Syrian regime and its Russian, Lebanese, and Iranian allies. Passing through the empty city of Tadmor (Palmyra), she mentions the damage done by IS, but not that it had destroyed the notorious prison there, where political prisoners from 2011 onwards had been held and tortured in filthy conditions.

Rather than the complex story of who is fighting whom, this is a narrative of the government (good) against jihadis (bad). It ignores a great deal that flourished away from both.

Naïve, sentimental, theologically vapid, and with no serious grasp of the complexity, it is a book with interesting descriptions, and stories of traumatised people who deserve better.

The Revd Stephen Griffith is a retired Anglican priest. He specialises in Syria and the Syriac community in Turabdin.

Rebuilding the Ruins: Following God’s call to serve Syria
Samara Levy
Hodder & Stoughton £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)