Preservation in Syria

Those who criticize Professor Simon for attending the preservation conference in Damascus are guilty of reflexive rather than reflective response (“Yale affiliate lambasted for Syria visit,” Feb. 9 2017). Having visited most of the major archaeological sites in Syria in the late 1990s, I can attest to how professionally the Assad regime preserved and restored most of them (with the exception of the ghastly work done by the French). To compare ISIS’s intentional destruction of dozens of sites such as Palmyra with the bombing of Aleppo demonstrates a lack of intellectual rigor. Most of the important sites there (including the Souk and the Citadel) were destroyed several years ago during the early stages of the ongoing civil war. That destruction was unintentional. If Assad wins, there is a chance that all the sites may be restored. If he loses, you can say goodbye to them. While Assad may not be “nice” by Western standards, he at least preserved secular order and kept a lid on the sectarian hatreds that have been unleashed by the rebels. As Churchill once declared: “If Hitler invaded hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” Working with someone who wants to preserve the sites is better than boycotting such a person.

James Luce graduated from Yale College in 1966.