Kenan Nassar is Syrian and currently lives in French Guiana. Here, he talks to us about the factors that influence his sense of identity as a Syrian:
My identity is a result of all the years I lived in the country where I was raised. Like most Syrians, I’m an emotional person, which is why we’re always so attached to details. And the most important detail for me now is the fact that I’m outside my country, torn between different questions such as: when will I return? What will I do when I go back? How can I arrive at what I want? The thing that I originally left my country to find? This is one side of it. Then on the other side there’s what I’m still holding onto from the past. There’s a conflict for me between the past, the present, and the future. That’s why I feel like my identity best represents the way I think and how I was raised rather than the place where I find myself. That’s why I won’t change.
In terms of Syria, what ties me to the country is the fact that I’m someone open to life, who loves to learn, and I lived there as I was maturing into an adult. In Syria I was introduced to so many beautiful things, and I was always seeking to become more cultured and more aware, and I felt the results of all this when I left Syria. When I was in Syria I wasn’t so concerned with details. I was always just asking why. Why are we here? Why are we living here?
On how the Syrian conflict has impacted his sense of identity:
The Syrian conflict was the danger we were exposed to regardless of our political affiliation, and regardless of our personal opinions. It consisted of our reading of reality and the details of our lives, and the people we mixed with. In general, the years I lived in Syria were years of confusion and internal fear, fear of the unknown. No one should feel that way in their own country. You should be able to feel safe and comfortable in the place where you were born, this is the most minimal requirement. We didn’t have a sense of comfort in Syria and this is what has remained lodged in my memory from that time. I also remember the friends I had and the cultural events we attended, the exchange of ideas and opinions, the attempt to spread awareness among different people, and most importantly, learning to listen—which is an ability we lack—as well as being accepting of others’ opinions.
On how the different outcomes of the conflict might impact his sense of identity:
This all depends on contact with other cultures. When you’re closed off or uninformed or have no previous experience, travel can change the outcome. I think that it would have been possible to have a different understanding of my Syrian identity, but now in my personal situation, no matter the outcome I’m fully ready to take the same stand toward my Syrian identity. And this is because I’ve had contact with different cultures, direct interaction with various cultures and ways of thinking and other peoples. When you see the way Western societies think you discover that your identity is a kind of shield. My identity is my foundation, I define my identity before I introduce myself by name.
On how immigration has impacted his sense of identity:
Immigration has impacted the identity of all Syrians in general. For me I sometimes think of myself as an ambassador for my country to the outside world. Because I live outside Syria I represent it, and my identity is my personality. Immigration can’t change my ideas. For many Syrians, especially the cultured and well-educated, they felt that their environment before the war was being built correctly, and this is what gives me strong motivation even if I live outside Syria now.
On how the practice of traditions and customs influences his sense of identity:
If we consider customs and traditions together we can see that they have a relation to the past, and a relation to the place where you are. Since I’m in France, I feel like French society has something similar to our own rituals, traditions, and customs, and you can see this in the way they talk about history, and in their daily habits. The thing that influenced me most here is the sense of order, how time is used and opportunities are seized. These are things I didn’t have in Syria. This is what impacted my identity most, or let’s say my personality more than my sense of Syrian identity.
If he had to define his identity in brief terms:
My country, my family, my friends.