My name is Emad Abu Ahmad and I was born in Hama in the early 1990's. In early 2011, I decided to study English literature at the Ba'ath University, but unfortunately I had to leave the country a few months before I graduated. I was left to go through a bitter asylum journey that ended with my arrival in Germany. I had not intended to go to Germany but because of certain conditions on our way to seeking asylum, only Germany opened its arms to me.
I left Syria in mid-2014 and four months later I arrived in Germany. I am now 28 years old, and I have been living here for about five years. I started learning German in 2015 and stopped in 2018. It might look like a long time but German is difficult and it takes years to learn. I arrived when I was 22 or 23 years old, which is a year and a half ago, then started university.
When we came here, we were not familiar with the dynamics of the German society or the culture. Our only concern was a safe country, where we could take refuge until the war ended, maybe! But months after I arrived in Germany, and after I had temporary residence, I started learning German and started to integrate with society. I made some German friends here. I started to notice that there are differences, or let me call them problems, and that it was not easy to live in a European country as an Eastern guy from an Islamic country. There is a cultural conflict between the West, represented by secular Europe, and the East, represented by Islamic culture.
After almost two and a half years and after finishing the language courses, I enrolled at Dusseldorf University to double major in English literature and Jewish studies.
The reason I chose to do Jewish studies is that I am interested in the Jewish culture, history and language. Due to this and my love for literature and poems, we started hosting many open-mic sessions, discussions and book fairs.
One of the weirdest situations that I have faced here in Germany, was when I was going to the Immigration and Passports Office to complete some paperwork. It was a few months after I arrived in Germany and I was still unfamiliar with the laws and traditions etc.
When I got to the office, a young man was standing in front of the door. He asked me in Arabic, “What do you want?” I was so surprised! His accent was Lebanese, so I told him that I wanted a certain paper. He asked me to go to another office to get a number in order to wait for my turn, so I did as he told me.
I waited for my turn then entered and completed my paperwork. When I came out of the office I remembered that I needed to do something else and I figured that I should go back to the officer to ask him for it. The Lebanese employee stopped me again and asked me what I wanted. I told him that I wanted to do something else that I had forgotten but he asked me to leave, saying that I could not do that because I had already had my turn. I was surprised at this and did not know what to do.
I had never met anybody else in Germany who had spoken to me in that way and with that tone. Even though I had not long arrived in Germany, it was not his place to speak to me like that. I told him again respectfully that I wanted to see the officer again. Suddenly, and without warning, he attacked me and pushed me back so I almost fell to the ground. I was shocked, because my nature is peaceful and calm and I do not like confrontation. It may have looked like kind of fear or cowardice, or maybe my passiveness was due to my shock. I did not understand what had happened. I thought I was in a respectable country, a country that respects human rights, and that it was impossible for such a thing to happen.
But I told myself that perhaps in the recent past, some newly arrived people from the Middle East had behaved in a chaotic way in government offices and state institutions, and perhaps for that reason this Lebanese guy had been appointed as a security officer and been given the powers to act with violence.
After the incident, I left the building, lit a cigarette and started grieving. I started thinking about how I had travelled illegally through seven countries and over the sea. How I had left my country, a country that had never made me feel like a human being. I had been through all of this, and at the end of the journey, a person who is considered to be my brother treated me like this. Moreover, it was clear that the young man had been born in Germany. While I was smoking, a young Iraqi man came up to me, I think to assure me that he had seen what had happened between us and was surprised by my response. He indicated to me that I could have called the police and that what had happened was considered an abominable attack because I was a person who had come in a respectful way to ask for a document, as was my right. I was encouraged by the Iraqi youth's attitude, and others assured me that I had been wronged.
I went back to the building to the same floor where the Lebanese officer was, and as I was going back I felt a great force that I had never felt before, and I felt very confident. That power allowed me to face him when he asked me what I wanted. I did not answer him in Arabic, but I spoke to him in German to show that I did not need him. I completed all my tasks in German, and I told him, “You don't have the right to throw me out in this way”. I repeated that three times, and I said it firmly!
He was shocked by the way I responded, so he took out his phone and told me in German, “ I will call the police.” So I answered him calmly in German that I would call them too, since I had not done anything against the law. He stepped back and told me that he would return. He went to the end of the aisle and disappeared, and every couple of minutes he would look to see if I was still there or not. Here I realised that he was the weak part of the equation, and had only acted this way because some Lebanese people do not really like Syrians. I say ‘some’ out of respect to my Lebanese brothers as our countries have some political disagreements.
After he found me very firm in my response, he came back with a German officer. The officer came and asked me nicely what I wanted and why I had come back to the office. I think that the Lebanese officer had explained to him what had happened between us.
I went with the German employee to his office and drank coffee. He helped me finish my errands and printed the required papers for me, although that was not his responsibility. I explained to him how what had happened had caused me to lose trust in what I had heard about respect and human rights in Germany, and that in the German constitution, human dignity is a red line that cannot be crossed. I said that it was literally written in the German constitution: 2human dignity is untouchable.”
I had two contradictory feelings inside me, one about the young Lebanese man, and the other about the officer who had done right by me. I felt proud that despite all the tragedies and suffering that I had experienced, I could, as an Arab from a third world country, demand the respect that I deserved. At the same time, I felt that someone of the same blood had humiliated me or taken advantage of my weakness as a newcomer. Thus, I felt the difficulty of belonging to certain Arab countries.
This story is one of the many incidents that I or others like me experienced. It either causes us to be proud of belonging to the East, or makes us in one way or another feel the difficulty and bitterness of belonging to the Arab civilization, or to an Arab country at this time.
After the behaviour of the Lebanese youth, my belief in the idea of integration and belonging was shaken a lot. I felt that it was a fake idea and that it did not exist in real life. Perhaps without the German employee's intervention at the appropriate time, I would have experienced psychological shock. The shock that might have pushed me to isolation, and not to work on myself and study or enter the university and dream ... But what this German employee did made me regain confidence in the idea of integration and the idea of openness to others. Very possibly, if I worked on myself, I could be part of German society even though I came here when I was almost 23. This is a summary of what I felt after this incident that happened to me.