The gardens of Damascus: Can Syrians reconnect with nature?

An edited version of this article appeared online in the Middle East Eye on May 26, 2019.

By Alex Ray

“When people pluck these flowers, it’s like they are plucking my heart,” said an emotional Fareed Notafji as we drank sweet, strong ‘labourer’s tea’ in front of the guard shed at Damascus’s Botanic Gardens.

The sound of the fast-flowing Barada river accentuated the gardens’ dreamy setting beneath the old city walls.  The location made it possible to momentarily forget the ongoing war outside the Syrian capital. Continue reading

Appearances are everything on Amman’s Culture Street

by Alex Ray

Culture Street Shmeisani

A tiny blue and grey Tourist Police kiosk sits at one end of Culture Street, a 350 metre strip of low-rise apartment buildings in Shmeisani, an inner suburb of the Jordanian capital Amman. The area attracts tourists mostly from the wealthy Gulf states: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the U.A.E.

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A Taxi Driver Told Me: “Let’s see what the policeman says…”

by Alex Ray

“Let’s see what the policeman says. Maybe he’s in a good mood and he’ll allow us to stay; maybe his wife gave him a hard time this morning and he’ll be in a bad mood,” said my Careem driver when I asked him to take me to the airport and drive me back to Amman. Continue reading

Beirut, beyond the Corniche

By Alex Ray

For every civilisation that has arisen on the territory now occupied by Beirut, one asset has been central – its harbour. Nowadays the port district (Al Marfa in Arabic) has an air of neglect. It remains vital to the economic life of modern Beirut but is barely visible to most inhabitants of today’s sprawling, chaotic city.

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Jordan, the view from Gaza Camp

By Alex Ray

“The Kebabs are ready dad!” Faris yells over his shoulder. His father, busy preparing the bread and tomatoes cannot hear him, so he calls again. “Dad, they are ready!”

Taking matters into his own hands, Faris locates a near-full jerry can of water and drags it across the grassy picnic ground to douse the coals on the barbecue. Faris is only four years old and the jerry can is only slightly shorter than he is. But like most of Jordan’s refugee children he is fast learning to be independent.

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The Death Toll in Syria: What Do the Numbers Really Say?

This article appeared in Counterpunch on May 26, 2016.

What is the Syrian death toll now? 400,000? Less? More? While the aphorism “One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic”, has been attributed to many, it is likely none foresaw the inverse utility of this concept for shaping narratives in an age of humanitarian intervention. Statistics are now weapons in themselves. Raw numbers are ambiguous; as journalist Sharmine Narwani writes, “It doesn’t tell us who is killing and who is dying. And that information matters – the global political response to a genuine civil conflict would be different than to a genocide committed by a ruthless authority.”

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Laundering Al-Qaeda

Alex Ray

12.10.14

Influencing public opinion on the Syrian civil war continues to be just as important to winning as fighting on the ground. The ever-increasing complexity of the conflict means what is not said can be just as influential as what is said. Reporting that ignores context and vital explanatory detail can simply confuse or, even worse, mislead the reader.

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