Immigrants left Syria decades before war… Do they still have sense of belonging to their home country?
Enab Baladi – Saleh Malass
“I have not visited Syria for ten years, and I do not think I will be able to fit in it after all this time,” Farida al-Masri, in an interview with Enab Baladi, expressed her longing to Idlib city in northern Syria.
Al-Masri did not visit Syria for more than 30 years. Throughout that period, she lived in Turkey, where she married a Turkish man, and raised her children according to the lifestyle that she used to live by in her home country.
Al-Masri, who works as an English teacher, continues to maintain her links with her original roots by embedding specific values in her children, mainly, the spoken dialect of Idlib’s residents, and the principles of the Syrian conservative society.
Besides, al-Masri said that her long time absence from Syria was not for political reasons, as her relationship with her relatives there remains strong despite their different political opinions and ideas.
The main reason, however, is that Syria nowadays does not provide a safe environment for living as it used to do before, according to al-Masri.
The power of belongingness
Nada al-Fawal, a social specialist, says that individuals make great efforts to cope with new challenges and adapt to their new lives in societies of different social and mental concepts and backgrounds than those in their original countries. Therefore, they may gradually lose their sense of belonging to their countries, thereby, lose their identities.
Nevertheless, al-Masri was able to live a state of psychological balance between her original society and the hosting one, and even though she has been absent from Syria for a long time, her desire to create a spiritual experience through her subconscious mind has kept her in touch with all the crises happening in Idlib city.
As for Diaa al-Din al-Khatib, a Syrian immigrant for more than 35 years, he believes that the sense of belonging to one’s home country is an innate emotional feeling, and that homeland’s expatriation is as painful as the separation from one’s mother, for both experiences create feelings of longing and distress.
Social and cultural belonging
45-year-old al-Khatib, lived the expatriation experience twice, the first of which was in the Arab Gulf region, where he kept his Syrian social ties with his friends through their frequent trips, and visits. Their talks were usually about their memories in Syria.
However, the second time was when al-Khatib traveled to Germany. His expatriation experience in Germany was different, as his sense of social alienation increased to include the cultural isolation according to what he said to Enab Baladi.
During his three-year stay in Germany, al-Khatib learned the German language, and only then he recognized the aesthetic value of the Arabic language. Amid translating some German terms into Arabic, al-Khatib was shocked to know the vast number of vocabularies that he was not using in his daily life before arriving in Germany. “Once I learned German, I became more proud of the Arabic language,” al-Khatib added.
Al-Khatib also talked about how Syrian restaurants are spread in several German cities. These places helped to revive the traditional habits that were absent from his memory during years of diaspora, He said regarding this matter, “some Syrians are strengthening their sense of identity in Germany through practicing varied works.”
In an opinion poll conducted by Enab Baladi on its Facebook page, in which Syrian expatriates for more than ten years were asked if they still feel a sense of belonging to Syria. 57 percent of participants said that they still have a sense of belonging to Syria, despite decades of absence. In comparison, the other 43 percent illustrated that they no longer feel that they belong to Syria.
About 1,400 persons participated in the poll, and a number of them commented on the post that they feel nostalgic for Syria apart from the Syrian regime’s rule and that their sense of belonging will remain at all times. In contrast, others denied their attachment to their home country.
Integration or loss of identity
According to al-Khatib, some young Syrians in Germany and European countries in general, when asked about their origin, “hide their Syrian cultural and social identity on purpose.” This identity denial situation, when frequently occurs, is considered an “abandonment of belonging.” Furthermore, when their way of talk reveals their Syrian identities, they show signs of annoyance.
Nonetheless, the social specialist al-Fawal explains this matter to Enab Baladi by saying that voluntary integration into new societies does not prevail over the natural sense of belonging to the original country. However, sometimes the diaspora strengthens this feeling of alienation.
Al-Fawal added individuals adapt to the new status quo in order to achieve cherished life goals, and by denying the sense of belonging to the home country, individuals express their refusal of the social and cultural systems of their original countries. For the sense of belonging, by definition, is the acceptance of the actual surrounding reality with its aspects.
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