Mohammad (not his real name), is a computer engineer from Idlib governorate and currently lives in Latakia. He spoke to us about how he defines his identity:
My identity is about absolute nonviolence and humanism, and this is completely and literally integral to everything I am, whether to my own political standpoint or someone else’s, and is a subject that stands entirely apart to everything else. The sectarian, religious and ethnic separation we know now didn’t really begin to show itself in detail until after 2011. As for the subject of nationalism, for me, currently, I am only Syrian, and nothing represents me except my Syrian nationality. After the conflict there’s nothing that brings us back together.
On the impact that immigration has had on his identity:
Of course immigration will have an impact on one’s Syrian identity. From my perspective, everyone who has immigrated has a stronger tie to their Syrian identity than those still in the country, because of the never-ending crises that affect one’s life. For example, the immigrant doesn’t have to deal with an electricity crisis, gasoline shortages, shortages of gas, diesel, bread. This alone can make you hate your country and hate everything to do with it. You become willing to sell all your principles and belongings just to get the services you need. Living conditions abroad for immigrants are much better than they are here. Of course immigration affects one’s identity and has a huge impact on it.
On the problems of Syrian identity within the country:
I’m from Idlib, and this was a huge problem for me everywhere in Syria except for when I was in Idlib itself. Today if you have Idlib on your ID card then you are immediately branded as a terrorist. The opposite is true in Hama; the majority of those from the city of Hama are from the opposition, and they see everyone coming from Idlib to Hama as a shabbiha, a pro-regime thug. They think, so, you left Idlib while we send our children to fight in Idlib? Most of the people from Hama went to Idlib and here you are leaving it and coming to us? This caused me a lot of problems, even in Aleppo, even though Aleppo and Idlib are quite close to one another, and so many people from Idlib were always to be found in Aleppo, with no distinction between them. As a person I don’t believe in this sort of generalization; I have friends of every sect, religion and ethnicity, and my personal relationships with them are closer than family, to the point where they are my real support system.
On the role of customs and traditions in his journey:
In terms of customs and traditions, certainly there’s some fundamental differences. Hama or even Aleppo might be fully in line, their traditions one and the same. In the end I’m from a Muslim community, so there’s a lot of similarity in terms of the religious factor between Aleppo, Idlib, and Hama since they are all a single Muslim entity. As opposed to Latakia where things are quite different, with completely different customs and traditions. For example: in Aleppo if you want to have a beer or arak or another alcoholic beverage there are specific neighborhoods you have to go to in order to be able to do so, while in Latakia it’s normal to drink and available everywhere. As for Ramadan, I’m always surprised that in Latakia or on the coast there’s no such thing as Ramadan, no rituals connected to it. You don’t feel like there’s a fasting ritual in place. I myself fast but have no problem with those who don’t, but the ritual is lovely even if you don’t like Ramadan. Because of Hama’s religious background you feel it more than you do in Idlib. Like if I don’t want to fast and I want to find somewhere to eat I can do so in Idlib, whereas in Hama it’s impossible to find any restaurant open during fasting hours in Ramadan. Today what’s different between Hama and Latakia is that each governorate represents a different extreme. For example, in terms of clothing, it’s impossible to see any woman in Hama not wearing full niqab—you won’t even see anyone in regular hijab. But in Latakia it’s totally different. Today in Hama it’s commonly said that the city was ruined when people from Idlib and Raqqa came in.
If he had to define his identity briefly:
I believe in humanism and humanity, and I regret taking some of my previous positions. Afterwards I discovered that neutrality and greyness, not black and white views, are the correct positions to take, and this is the only thing that can save you from what comes next. I don’t want to get attached to this place.