Saturday, February 06, 2016

Being Syrian

A few days ago I was having coffee with a Syrian friend and we were talking about how someone can like Syria but not like to spend too much time with Syrians. It's a serious question, because it does raise questions like what on earth are we writing for? What is the Syria that we're dreaming about and trying to create, and who are we? I don't know anymore. I live miles away from anything, and as a matter of principle I try not to get too involved in the byzantine politics of Syrian activism in London. We all know, or at least some of us do, that we're against the Syrian government, that we hate Assad, and that his regime and its Baath party are probably the greatest calamity to befall the region since 1918 - no, I'm not exaggerating. But, what else is there that we have in common? The Kurds in the North are doing their own thing, the Islamists now own the revolution, Syria's upper classes want to keep their head stuck in the sand, and the poor are too busy drowning or starving while getting shot at and bombed to think about tomorrow.

Who do I really identify with? And with most, if not all, family now outside the country or thinking of leaving, what is there left for me there? I know I'm not crazy, that I'm not alone in thinking this. It's one thing being an exile who has never lived in Syria, to pine over something you've never seen because of the stories your parents tell you, but for someone who lived it and breathed it, and who knows that it's now all gone - truly gone - what is there? Whoever wins in this, be it Assad or the rebels, I know that me and my "kind" will not be accepted. It doesn't matter what any of us said and wrote and did during this awful period, when the rebuilding begins, we will be strangers. People might smile at us politely, but that's about it. We are going to become relics of the same past we tried to bury.

I don't know what it means to be Syrian anymore, and when I think about it, I doubt that I ever did. Syria was never *my* country. I lived there for a while, I visited during the summer vacations, I had a life there once, a long time ago, but what does that all mean? Does that make me Syrian? Or is it that my parents are Syrian? When the Syrian revolution started I had no idea so many people existed there, that there were so many towns and villages and places that I'd never even heard of. This disconnect that I feel cuts me to the core, making me doubt everything I thought I knew about myself, about the world around me, and about life in general. Some Syrians say that they only have Allah because the world has deserted them. If He's all we have left, then after five years I can safely say that he's as indifferent as the world we condemn.

I don't know where I'm going with all of this, and that pretty much sums up the whole damn situation in Syria as well. It's all so goddamn awful and ugly right now. I don't recognize the place from the pictures and videos that I see, and even the people I thought I knew are not what they seemed. I don't know anything, so I think right now the best thing for me to do would be to go out for a walk and get myself another hot cup of coffee.


aussiesadiqa said...

As I read your latest post, I was reminded of the many migrants in the diaspora who develop dual/multiple identities. Where I come from, "kinds" are increasingly irrelevant labels. I urge you not to doubt your identity but to relish the prospect of discovery, for it seems to me that each of us is a muliplicity. In a previous post, I mentioned the works of Heidigger, Gadamer and Ricoeur. As philosophers, they sort to answer how we make meaning of ourselves, our experiences and the world into which we are born. I suspect that with your intellect, this dispair is part of your journey. Relish the ability to go for a walk, to reconnect with nature and to be rejunenated by your coffee. Your answers will come...

Sameer Saboungi said...

"When the Syrian revolution started I had no idea so many people existed there, that there were so many towns and villages and places that I'd never even heard of. This disconnect that I feel cuts me to the core, making me doubt everything I thought I knew about myself, about the world around me, and about life in general."

Many Syrians who have lived their whole lives in Syria also had never heard of many of the towns that sprung up in protest, and lived disconnected from other Syrians of other socioeconomic classes or sects in regions across the country. I don't think that made them doubt their identity and I don't think that it makes one less Syrian. Rather, this experience has been an eye-opening one to many Syrians I feel. It exposed them to Syrians they never heard of or never thought they'd be marching in solidarity with. This revolution was both disunifying and unifying. A new Syrian consciousness may be born from this experience. A consciousness that everyone was affected in one way or another by this conflict and we must heal our wounds by coming together in peace and reconciling as a nation. I think your value and input and identity is important, as I believe Syrians recognize that so many Syrians now live in the diaspora, due to the refugee crisis, so I foresee diaspora Syrians playing an important role in rebuilding and inshallah repopulating Syria. I've had many of the same concerns and doubts as yourself. As a Syrian-American, I've also been to Syria several times, and I feel it is a part of me and I feel very much Syrian. Yet sometimes I also don't like spending time with Syrians and I also think about what future Syria holds for me, if anything.

tpopop said...

We 'lost our Syria' in 1918, before the state was even conceived of. I don't know about you but I am a Damascene first and everything else second. My loyalty and identity lies with those people who have intermittently called Damascus their homes for 4k plus years. We have a unique culture, tapestry, history and chatacter that no Baghdadi, Qardahi or whatever else can take from us. Our passports and state may be meaninglessness but our city will live on long past any of the heroes or villains of the war. True metropolitanist identities started in the fertile crescent with the advent of city state civilisations and they continue to this day. We may lose our country but we will never lose our city.

Petros said...

I was born in an "intelligentsia" family, far away North from Syria. Our family was lucky enough to escape the war and the changes of borders. They traveled just a thousand kilometers, maybe two, and settled down in the same country -- only within new borders, shifted with the strong hand of a tyrant. They left behind everything -- for years even a mention of their birthplace was banned, as subversive and politically unacceptable. My father till the end was talking about going back "home".

Today I am a migrant myself. Not because of war, because of restlessness. So I am in much better position then them, perhaps. I have no home to return to, I carry it inside.

But I still remember. And I still feel.

I am sending you this message, whatever it is worth. Because I believe that we never walk alone. And maybe, just maybe, it is important.


Jon Rose said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I don't know too much about Syrians, but I have met some wonderful and kind Syrian refugees here in the south of Turkey. Maybe the difficulties are bringing out a beauty in some of them. They say "hard times can make you better or bitter." Not sure where your journey will end, but please keep speaking up for the Syrian refugees. The indifference of the world is deafening. Also, I enjoyed your previous post as well, even though the subject matter is so sad. The poor refugees are being fleeced by landlords here who are doubling the price of their slum dwellings because the refugees have no other choice.It is a sad day for the poor man.