Although Syria have a rich history and a privileged location at the center of an area, full of ancient civilizations marks, many nations have not heard about this country before. The war and the news reported from there were the only ways to get information from this far and unknown country. The refugees camp became the only identifying sign for the Syrian people and for their lifestyle. Thus, Syrians face prejudice and “unfair” generalizations wherever they go, and any attempt from them to shatter these stereotypes or get rid of them has become a matter of great surprise and amazement.
Mr. Muhammed, a Syrian refugee who settled in Germany two years ago, said: “Of course, it is irrational to ask people to know about our country in every way. However, as Syrians, living away, we are experiencing many situations that indicate how low the expectations of other people are towards us”.
Do you have swimming pools in Syria?
Mr. Muhammed told Enab Baladi, referring to a “frustrating” story in a public swimming pool in Germany where he frequently goes to swim : “Last month I went to swim like I usually do. While I was sitting on the chair to rest for a while, a 20-year-old German came closer and asked me where I learned to swim. When I told him that I had learned to swim in my country since childhood, he was surprised and he asked me whether we have swimming pools or a beach back home.
Muhammad was provoked, though he knew that the young man’s question was more likely to be caused by ignorance not mockery. He said: “I tried to hide my uneasiness and I told him about Syria and its geographical location and I showed him some pictures of natural landscapes in Syria from various provinces, including pictures of the Syrian coast and some Gyms and swimming pools, which clearly surprised him”.
Mohammad confirmed that he recurrently went through similar experiences. he said: “Hearing this kind of questions repeatedly does not make me less upset, every time I try to introduce my country as best I can to the ones who inquired. I get uncomfortable by the stereotypes people have on Syria”.
Based on her personal experience, Najwa agrees with what Muhammad said, but from the perspective of her own daily life in Turkey. She explained : ”I have been living in Turkey for three years now. Almost everyday people around me think I am Turkish because of my blond hair and my colored eyes. However, once I start speaking Arabic or using poor Turkish, they ask me where I am from. Actually, they seem pretty amazed and they point out that I am beautiful like Turks not Syrians. Oddly, most people who say such comments are not blond”.
Accordingly, Najwa gets obviously disturbed when encountered by a situation in which she might face “multiple discrmination”. She asserts: “These comments have several racist dimensions. The first is to focus on looks and reduce beauty to specific skin or hair colors. The second racist aspect is to assume generally that there is no beauty among the whole Syrian population and the third aspect is how sometimes people treat me differently when they discover that I am Syrian”.
A Look of Pity
Mai, a Syrian refugee living in Germany, also expressed her pain vis-à-vis the superficial views of others regarding Syrians. She spoke to Enab Baladi about her experience, saying: “It is hurtful to know that many people know about my country only through war and chaos there, and that their sympathy often turn into pity, despite how distinguished Syrians can be everywhere they go”.
Mai added that the disruption of Syrians either the professionally qualified or the college graduates by keeping them sometimes in the refugee camps for more than a year contributes to enhancing the perception of Syrians as beggars who are “waiting for aids”. According to Mai, this is contradictory to how “effective” Syrians can be, adding that: “the astonishment coming out of any accomplishment you achieve as a Syrian, makes you feel marginal lacking the means and the ability to do anything significant, whether it is learning a language quickly, producing an artistic or scientific work, excelling in a creative handcraft. How can we possibly explain to others that war forced us to become refugees, yet it did not take our excellence and passion? “.
Bashar al- Assad is a Muslim!
Despite that the two neighboring countries have mutual borders, the Turks’ misunderstanding of Syrians and their life style is no better than the experience of Mr. Muhammed in Germany. Mr. Nabil, a young Syrian immigrant who lives and works in Turkey, confirmed this point of view through daily experiences, saying that: “I noticed that Turkish people know too little about politics, but we expect a deeper interest in the affairs of a country like Syria which affects them in an overt manner. Thus, most people I come to direct contact with, lack this kind of understanding”
Nabil told Enab Baladi about an incident that happened to him in his residence in Ankara. He said: “I was in a taxi heading to work when the driver started talking about the conditions in Syria, expressing his sympathy for the Syrians at first. He asked Allah to defeat Bashar al-Assad, who is attacking his Muslim brothers. So I asked him whether he knows that al- Assad is a Muslim (Did you know that Bashar al-Assad is a Muslim?). Suddenly, the driver stopped the car on the side of the road out of shock.
The Turkish driver did not believe Nabil’s story until the latter showed him a picture of Bashar al-Assad praying in the Eid feast. Mr. Nabil stated that: “the driver told me that all he knows is that al- Assad is a Jew. Hence, he carried on driving while constantly expressing his confusion ‘Oh Allah! Oh Allah Bashar al- Assad is a Muslim!’ ”.
A republic or a kingdom
Mrs. Noor, a young lady living in Turkey, has emphasized what Mr. Nabil was saying. Thus, she added: “Although Turkey is the first country to which Syrians fled at the beginning of the revolution, I am surprised by their ignorance of what happened in Syria and the reason behind the popular upheavals against the regime. All they know is that a war is going on, Muslims are dying, Syria is going through a very tough time and three million Syrians who are taking education and work opportunities from Turks”.
Reporting a discussion held with a Turkish lady Noor said : “Although my interlocutor opposes Erdogan’s political regime and sees him as a dictator, she was, at the same time, surprised by the Syrians’ revolution against Bashar and the trouble they caused for themselves. She sees that Syrians should have waited for the end of al-Assad’s term and elect a new president then. In fact, the woman was heavily surprised to hear that the Syrian president was the successor of his father and that the generation of my father and mother and all the following ones, including mine and my son’s generation, have only known al-Assad family rule. Besides, we never voted in any presidential elections whatsoever”. Noor told us also that the woman with whom she had the discussion was extremely surprised and asked her: “Is the regime in Syria a monarchy?”.