Mustapha Alouche, 50, lives in Germany. Here, he talks to us about how he defines his identity:
I am Syrian by birth, but at the same time, this sentence isn’t sufficient explanation. I was born in the city of Silmiya, and most people who live there are from the Ismaili sect, a religious minority in Syria. I present myself in the cultural sense, given that even culture is something that is always changing and evolving. At the same time, I feel closer now to a humanistic approach more than anything else, meaning that I’m closer to a culture of human rights, a culture of joint cooperation between people.
Politically, I’ve never belonged to any party or organization. Even in Syria I wasn’t part of the Baath Party or any other organization, though I was close to some of the left-wing opposition groups. I’m a human being first, with all the weaknesses and strengths of a human being, with all the dreams, the attempts to find a way out onto life, and the attempt to arrive at, I suppose, some measure of joy and happiness in this life.
On how the conflict has influenced his sense of identity:
As an individual, I assert that I belong to this revolution, in the moral sense above all, because I found my voice among all those voices that were raised during the initial, peaceful protests. During those first six or seven months, when people called together for “freedom and dignity,” my voice belonged to all of those voices, and I defended all those voices and I still defend them to this day. But at the same time this relationship was also strained in the intellectual sense, because though my voice stood for the voices of thousands who believe in human rights and in keeping to peaceful protests and in the fact that religion cannot change things, this relationship remained fraught with danger.
On how a different outcome to the conflict might have influenced his sense of identity:
Had the conflict remained internal and spurred political change, and if the revolution hadn’t become a military one and hadn’t fallen prey to interference from external influences, then the outcome of the conflict would have certainly have resolved to the benefit of the Syrian people. Of course it would have resulted in political change, because during 2011 and 2012, even during the early part of 2013, the regime was weaker than you can imagine. It was weaker than you imagine because the size of the demonstrations during those years was immense. But in reality the Syrian revolution received no international protection, as it should have during that period. And the regime manipulated people with lies, as is well known, and used time to advantage—is still using time to its advantage—and in the end we are where we find ourselves today.
On how immigration from Syria has affected his identity:
Before I left Syria, I was first and foremost a Syrian human being. And after immigration I remained a human being! But this Syrianness remained behind… This doesn’t mean I renounced it. This nationality is stuck to me like a second skin, like the color of my eyes, like the color… of anything real in a person. But I transformed into a human being because when we arrived to Germany, setting aside the fact that we’re people like everyone else, we, like everyone else had to try and adapt to this country, and this meant we had to change a lot of our internal concepts. This is what happened to me.
On the rituals, habits and customs that keep him connected to his sense of identity:
I continue my Syrian life through personal habits, such continuing to eat and drink as I did in Syria. I have makdouss (pickled eggplant with walnut) and olives and olive oil and za’atar and shanklish (sharp cheese with spices) and all these other Syrian products we used to eat back home. German society is pretty normal; it has all the positives and negatives of any society. But an individual’s privacy is highly important here, and we had to—I personally had to—learn a lot in order to understand what an individual’s privacy means. In general the Germans love to be very organized with their time. They love to have very organized lives, and so it’s normal for a German to give you an appointment a month in advance just in order to come over and have some coffee. I learned to accept this.
If he had to sum up his identity in three terms:
My identity: love, freedom, and sadness as well.