Mohamad Kasas is in his early thirties and currently lives in Germany. Here, he talks to us about his sense of identity:
I feel that identity in general can be divided into two parts. One is individual and the other is social. Each of the two parts depends on the same factors, including religious, cultural and social ones. Identity is also the ideas and values you adhere to and the beliefs you have. My social relationship is to the close circle around me: my family and close friends. Then there’s the relationship with my existence, which can be summarized as ‘religion.’
On his Syrian identity:
My identity is my land. What I mean is that plot of land I cultivate. My identity is this small community with whom I can gather on that land. To me, my Syrian identity is the land where I was raised, Syria, and which is embodied in the history of the family in this area, the history of your relationships with these people you’re connected to.
On how the last ten years of conflict have affected his sense of identity:
For the first time I felt like I belonged to a conscious society where everyone loves one another. I’m talking about the beginning of the revolution in 2011, when we began taking to the streets in protest and when people started getting along with one another. If anyone fell, someone would pick them up. This was truly my identity! The regime exploited the principle of diversity that was present in Idlib, or actually in all of Syria. They played on people’s sensitivities, exploited the fact that you could get brother to turn on brother for the sake of ideology. All totalitarian regimes depend on ideology, focusing more on social, collective identities rather than individual, personal ones.
On how a different outcome to the conflict might have influenced his identity:
If the conflict had remained political and not become militarized, maybe I’d have more confidence in myself. More confidence in my Syrian identity, in my nationality, quote unquote. I would definitely have more confidence in my people, in their awareness. Maybe I’d contribute more. Now that I’m an expatriate I can’t contribute to any facet of society or help develop it whether political, cultural or social. I can contribute in other ways but the actual action on the ground has to be undertaken by us.
On how emigrating from Syria has impacted his sense of identity:
Emigration left its stamp on me from the day that I decided to leave Syria because I could no longer stay. I fought until my last breath but sadly my struggle resulted in nothing. As soon as I left Syria, I saw the way that they look at you abroad, how they might respect you or not respect you simply because you’re an outsider to their society. The way I left also impacted me because I came to Germany by land. When I left in 2014 the situation was extremely tragic, and so it affected my connection to the collective such as my family and relatives, as well as my religious, cultural and philosophical beliefs, which were the best and most well-defined segments of life for me. I left and yet at the same time you feel like you need to contribute somehow, even if in some very simple or insignificant way. But my mind won’t let me forget my old identity no matter how much I try.
On which rituals, customs and traditions help keep him connected to his sense of identity:
The nice habits I was accustomed to practicing in Syria included gathering with friends, family, close relatives, so that no matter which way you turned you felt you had someone to lean on if you might fall, someone to pull you up, as they say. These things don’t exist here. But at the same time, the tactic I’ve relied on to preserve some of my habits here in the place of exile is the practice of religion. It’s the thing I’ve held on most tightly to here, more tightly than I did in Syria, because it contains the scent, so to speak, of the homeland, the scent of my old identity.
If he had to define his identity in three terms:
A father, somewhat open, always looking forward.