We are at the very beginning of what could be the most serious environmental crisis since the last great Mass Extinction. For the uninitiated, a Mass Extinction is when a significant number of plant and animal species become extinct in a short space of geological time.

The little girl’s name is Hania. She is no more than four years old and, like so many of over 10,000 children in Atmeh camp, is barefoot in the quagmire of mud. There are new arrivals every day, some days thousands at once from the latest village to suffer aerial bombing or shelling.

It is October 2013. I am in the back of a Jordanian taxi, national radio pumping out all our adoration of the Hashemite dynasty, searching for the tower blocks and alleyways where the Syrian refugees live. I am going to convince them to be part of a theatre workshop. I know it’s not going to be an easy job.

When it comes to interpreting Syria, a strong tension exists between outside and inside perspectives, between journalistic storylines and anecdotal accounts. This is a tension I’ve felt deeply through my own experiences, which often seem to stand in stark contrast to traditional narratives about Syria in Western media and academia.

As the revolutions spread from one Arab country to another, we were like a person filled with joy as he witnesses the realisation of a dream he never expected to come true; a great change was occurring to renew the waters of the Arab world which had been muddied and stagnant for a long age.

For many observers in the West, the Syrian revolution has been defined by the threat of imperialism; that is, by the notion that the Western imperialist powers would co-opt the popular struggle against the Assad regime for their own ends.

In ‘Assad’s Syria’, as the slogans at the borders and in the streets called it, schools taught by rote and intimidation. The universities were ideologically policed. Trade unions were controlled by the state and the Ba‘ath Party (these two inextricably intertwined).

In the 1890s a twenty-year-old Englishman was in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. He had been travelling for a year in Palestine and Syria and was deeply affected by all he saw. He told an elderly official of the mosque that he wanted to embrace Islam. The old man advised against such a move.