Reem Alshaar is a forty-something woman living in Damascus. Here, she talks to us about her sense of identity:
In my opinion, a person’s identity has two dimensions, subjective and objective. The subjective one is composed of many factors, including psychological and physical ones, as well as those to do with one’s makeup, like for example, I’m female. Some of them have to do with the roles entrusted to me, or to the roles I embody personally, as a daughter or wife for example, as a mother, as a sister to a brother, as a sister to a sister. After that, how has my identity evolved? How did I become an aunt to my brother’s children, an aunt to my sister’s children? This is me, this is how I see my identity. The objective part of it has to do with my social identity, and it’s sometimes related to one’s religious identity, and other times to one’s economic class or identity, one’s intellectual identity… Every part of our lives confers to us some part of our identity.
As a Syrian woman, I see my identity as a daughter of Syria. I feel a belonging to this land, I understand something extremely profound about it, something ancient and venerable. It’s a thing that deserves my effort the effort I will put into trying to understand the relations that bind history and geography and that bind me to this land.
She goes on to talk about her Syrian identity specifically:
I can’t be neutral about Syria; Syria is my golden standard. Everyone who loves this land, who loves Syria, is beloved to me! If you ask me about my identity, I’ll say that everything is related to Syria, from heritage to food, from culture to history. It’s a human inheritance of civilizations and inscriptions. I see my identity in anything imprinted with Syria.
On how the last ten years of conflict have impacted her:
I believe that the conflict in Syria is a conflict over identity. Its intended victim is identity, its intention is that our identities become fragmented and tattered and that we are reduced only to groups of minorities, each one of us becoming exclusively affiliated to a nationality, or religion, or doctrine, or group, or person. The intention is to play with our identities, to specifically target our identity, because all its life Syria has never even known the meaning of sectarianism. Syria has never even known the meaning of exclusion.
If I were, for example, an atheist, or I had my own path to or understanding of God, or if anyone were different from me, I don’t see that I should kill them. This acceptance is embedded in our true Syrian genes.
On how a different outcome to the conflict might impact her sense of identity:
This is the word of history: the blood that is spilled has had its say. And sadly we have left rich material for disagreement to the coming generations. They will fight on and the chasm of difference will grow wider. This is why I believe every Syrian has a message, no matter their position or work, no matter how small their influence, every Syrian has a message that they must impart to this country, and they must spread awareness to the people around them.
On how the mass migration from Syria has affected her identity:
What is identity? Who makes it? There is a human carrier, there is an influential and effective Syrian person, tied to the land and universe, tied to older civilizations and history, and connected to the collective consciousness of this land. For example, how were the people of the city of Maaloula able to hold on to their identities? How did the people of Maaloula preserve the language of the Christ for thousands of years? It’s the human being that’s important, that preserves and carries. If there’s a demographic shift and the person moves and goes elsewhere, of course the balance of identity will differ!
On the rituals, habits and customs that keep her connected to her sense of identity:
I have a near-weekly ritual of going to visit places related to traditional Syrian crafts and professions. I discover how they have evolved over time, who worked on them and who developed them. I discover historical sites that are new to me; I try to understand the heritage left to us by our forefathers and what it means. I examine those cave drawings at the archeological site of El Kowm and wonder: what were those first peoples trying to tell us?
If she had to describe her identity in brief terms:
I believe that faith in humanity is a religion, the highest religion. It is practiced through love, through goodness, beauty, peace, and art. If we want Syria to own these tools then I hope my country can become free, a place where everyone in it can enjoy well-being, love, and abundance.