Dyala Ghanem is Syrian and currently lives in France. Here, she talks to us about how she sees her identity:
I’m Syrian, but I also carry some other particularities which have made me into the person I am and given me the identity I have today. These are made up of the cultures and different civilizations I’ve carried with me from the place I come from, the things that prove that I’m Syrian. But my real identity is contained in the experiences I’ve passed through and which have allowed me to make the choices I’ve made in my life.
She goes on:
My struggle with identity, or my identity as a Syrian is contained in specific places, related to Syria’s history and its ancient civilizations. When I immigrated, all I had left with me was my body. I haven’t been expressing myself through writing for a long time, but I used to love drawing certain things, like the window in my room, or the view from that window. When I emigrated I kept all these memories and all the layers of things I had lived in Syria.
On how the conflict in Syria has impacted her sense of identity:
I always thought of the conflict as a revolution. One that arose not just against the dictatorship of the regime but because we needed a revolution. The regime never allowed us to be what we were, to be what we wanted to be. We all had to be copies of one another, even though Syria has so much diversity. We didn’t even know that, we didn’t actually know who we were. We were all distant from one another, and when the revolution came it made us begin to understand who we are, where we’ve come from. And it led us back to the roots we’d forgotten, which gave us hope that we would be able to find ourselves. I want a Syrian society that is accepting of everyone, one that is diverse and various enough to contain all those differences. I feel like I belong to all of Syria’s ancient civilizations more than I belong to present-day Syria, and I hope that when I come back I'll find a Syria that is inclusive of all differences. The revolution taught us all of these things, and it certainly changed something in every Syrian person.
On how immigration has impacted her sense of identity:
Certainly immigration to a new place impacts a person’s identity and I won’t deny that I’ve wanted to emigrate since before the revolution, if only to discover something new and continue my studies. It so happened that my travel aligned with the time of the revolution. Over the last ten years I’ve loved learning about new cultures and civilizations, and at the same time when I left Syria I also brought a piece of it with me, adding it to the place I came to.
On the rituals, habits and customs that keep her connected to her sense of identity:
There are many things that are definitely difficult to change about traditions and customs. Sometimes there’s an affinity with the new society, but it’s still difficult to let go of some of our old traditions. It’s beautiful that the things we get used to in the new society are things we lacked or couldn’t enjoy in our own country. Maybe the most important among these is the new sense of organization, of exact appointments, a healthy way of thinking. It’s noticeable that the logic with which people think here is different than the logic we Syrians have, or maybe we can say us Arabs in general. Just as most French people have an opinion about everything, from the biggest issues to the smallest, while we’ve been raised to be afraid of expressing our opinions directly and clearly, or even saying them at all. Another thing that’s different here is how so much of your studies are about developing your way of thinking, broadening your perspective which then helps you to better accept those who are different from you.
If she had to define her identity briefly:
I find my identity through loving and accepting others, through my faith in diversity and difference, and I also find myself in Syria’s ancient civilizations and history.