Mozna Bilal lives in Damascus. Here, she talks to us about the factors that influence her sense of identity as a Syrian:
I’ve been living in Syria since I was born. My family is moderately religious but I’ve always had a certain amount of openness, maybe due to my education or the surrounding environment. I’ve never lived outside the country even though I’ve traveled a lot. But all my life I’ve lived in Syria, and most of the ideas that have influenced me come from the diverse societies I’ve encountered within the country.
She goes on:
My identity: a young Syrian woman living here in a particular place, holding on to some beautiful things she was raised with, given to her either by her family or the environment. In general though, I don’t agree with most people regarding religion, or let’s say with most of the ways with which they deal with religion. I disagree with overly religious communities, even culturally. My ties of identity are those I have to my family, and those ties are much stronger than those I have to the place as a country.
On how the conflict has impacted her sense of identity:
When the war in Syria began and the situation began to deteriorate, I was 16 years old. I was still in school. With the beginning of the war, my understanding of all those parts of the country I’d gotten to know over my 16 years changed completely. I was raised in an atmosphere basically of war, an unstable atmosphere of conflict. With time this made me lose my sense of connection to the place, to the country entirely. At the beginning we were all so attached to the idea of this place. We believed, or hoped, that everything would be quickly resolved. But as time went on this just became the place I live in until I find a better opportunity and am able to travel.
On how the outcome of the conflict my impact her sense of identity:
I remember how during the three or four years after I finished my baccalaureate I felt a really strong attachment to this place. Why would I leave the country? Why was anyone leaving? I felt I could begin my life here, I could work, and whatever I achieved here would be important. But of course everything changed. Everyone knows that immigration is bad, that it’s a difficult choice to make and it’s not always feasible. If I had a better choice where I didn’t have to immigrate then everything would be better here. But sadly as time went on this never happened.
On how immigration has impacted her sense of identity:
Immigration impacted me greatly. First it was because of all the people around us who were leaving. We were always losing people, and all the people I got to know then were people I was meeting during the worst times of their lives. Maybe before the war they were entirely different people. In the end this became a very regular thing and we got used to having to say goodbye to anyone at any time and under any circumstances. I would say goodbye to my friends thinking that soon I’d be following them, because immigration for Syrians is no longer a matter of choice. It’s become the only solution to so many problems, the only way to save your life, to be able to live comfortably, to provide yourself with the most basic necessities. The way we see immigration has changed so much over the course of the last ten years.
On how customs and traditions influence her sense of identity:
Most of the things I do are general customs that everyone partakes in. Like Ramadan or Eid or different birthdays or New Years’, these occasions which are religious in origin. I participated in them only with my family since they are used to all these rituals. For me, personally, I never felt any attachment to religious customs. General social customs I adhere to include the way I dress, because this is something dictated by wherever I might be going and the people I will encounter there.
If she had to define her sense of identity briefly:
I don't see myself as a person defined by the place where I happen to be, or by the place in which I was raised. I’m a little bit different, and if I had to narrow it down, I’ll do my best to have an identity that’s the one I want, not the one I should have, and hopefully with time I’ll be able to do that.