Stereotyping among Syrians: has it changed or strengthened?
Enab Baladi – Reham al-Sawadi
More than 529,000 Syrians live in the Turkish city of Istanbul, coming from different provinces, each carrying their own ideas and impressions about the rest of the regions.
Syrians formed communities (not necessarily regional ones), so you see people from Damascus, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, and the coastal region sitting at the same table, discussing and socializing, and getting to know each other’s customs and culture.
Each of them held prejudices about the others, adopting a stereotypical image or what is known as stereotyping, forming preconceived impressions about people, their preferences, appearance, or abilities.
The reasons for the formation of stereotypical images among Syrians vary. They are either competitive due to the stereotyping of media segments of Syrian society or due to the lack of direct interaction between the residents of the provinces.
In this report, Enab Baladi discusses the possibility of changing stereotypical images among the residents of the Syrian provinces after their direct interaction with each other, involving 14 individuals from different Syrian governorates and varying ages.
Competition as a reason for stereotyping
Four of the individuals Enab Baladi spoke to (from the provinces of Aleppo and Damascus) agreed on the lack of compatibility between the residents of the two cities and confirmed that the perceptions were strengthened after their arrival in Turkey.
Hala al-Horani, from the city of Damascus and residing in Istanbul, attributed the “confused” relationship between the residents of the two cities to competitive reasons, as both cities want to be the commercial and industrial capital of Syria.
She believes that the feud started between the merchants of the two cities and then moved to the families until it became an “adopted tradition” inherited by the generations. She does not believe that there is anything that can change what the generations have inherited.
The social researcher Aisha Abdul-Malik told Enab Baladi that stereotypes are broken with awareness, and the Syrians are not a single mold and will not be.
Similar stereotypes do not develop societies, Abdul-Malik asserted.
One should not succumb to these molds; there should be flexibility so that the Syrian community can always change them and not be a stereotypical community, according to Abdul-Malik.
In an experiment conducted by the Turkish-American social psychologist Muzafer Sherif in 1954, putting together two groups, each with members following specific standards and behaviors and having their own symbols, facing competition where one had to win, resulting in the failure of the other, the experiment led to a negative interaction between the two groups, lack of agreement accompanied by “dominance of stereotypical images, attitudes, and negative judgments towards the competing group and its members.”
The eastern region and the media
“There was an idea that the people of the eastern region are closed to themselves and difficult, but after the Syrian revolution, it turned out that they are people with authenticity, patriotism, social and simple,” this is what Kamal Khaled al-Hajj from the city of Afrin in the western countryside of Aleppo, said to Enab Baladi, describing his previous view and how it changed after his arrival in Istanbul.
Six out of 14 Syrians Enab Baladi spoke to believe that the “major” change in the stereotypical images was in favor of the eastern provinces in Syria (Raqqa, al-Hasakah, Deir Ezzor), where there was a previous belief about the people of this region being characterized by “ignorance,” and that they belong to a “low” class in society.
They pointed out that the image did not arise due to previous interaction with people from that region, but it is the result of what is conveyed through the media and Syrian series about the people of the eastern provinces.
The social researcher Aisha Abdul-Malik said that the media plays a major role in reinforcing stereotypical images in society, and the state’s policies play a role in the image promoted by its media.
In Syria, the regime created differences and conflicts between the Syrians so that they would be busy with each other to ensure its continued rule, and Syrian drama contributed to molding the Syrian society, with all the people of the eastern region being portrayed as Bedouins, and the wealthy and merchants as Aleppans, and the people of Damascus as manipulative, according to Abdul-Malik.
This is what the American researcher George Gerbner’s “cultivation theory” concluded in the 1960s, which sees television, among other media, as the central cultural base of society and the primary designer of symbolic images that contribute to shaping beliefs about the real world, and influences with its repeated and stereotypical models on the behavior of society, especially for those who watch TV frequently.
Stereotyping in Generation Z
Generation Z (born between the mid-1990s and late 2010) of Syrians lived part of their childhood or all of it in Syria, while Turkey formed the stage of adolescence for them.
Enab Baladi contacted three Syrians from Generation Z and asked them about the possibility of having stereotypical images towards a specific province or city.
The responses were similar, as they agreed that stereotypical images towards a specific province were formed after their arrival in Istanbul.
The reason is that despite leaving Syria, they did not move away from the small community of family and relatives, which formed specific stereotypical images for them, especially in marriage matters.
Alaa Salhadar, a young woman from Aleppo with a Hamawi mother and living in Hama, told Enab Baladi that, based on her personal experience, the stereotypical images remain subconscious ideas that do not appear directly in the daily interactions of the residents of the provinces, but emerge in cases of marriage and work.
Some psychologists believe that despite the possibility of absorbing stereotypical images at any age, an individual acquires them in early childhood under the influence of parents, teachers, peers, and the media.
Interaction reduces stereotyping
“Our stereotypical images of the other provinces are formed due to what we heard from our older family members,” this is what Jihan Haj Habbo said about the background of adopting opinions and positions until they became engraved in her mind.
Habbo, from Tel Aran in the southeast of Aleppo, told Enab Baladi that she used to look at the people of Damascus as stingy, and with her arrival in Istanbul, she met many Damascenes during her college studies, and they were contrary to what is commonly said about them.
Alaa Salhadar said that she used to adopt a stereotypical image towards the people of Daraa, as she used to hear about their tribes and their seclusion from the rest of the provinces in marriage matters, in addition to having customs that do not match the environment in which she grew up.
After seeking refuge in Istanbul with her family, Salhadar met several young men and women from Daraa who changed her stereotypical perceptions about the province and its people, and she learned that they exhibit generosity and nobility that others do not possess.
Two of the individuals Enab Baladi spoke to believe that the positive images in their minds turned negative after their arrival in Istanbul, while others spoke the opposite.
The researcher in social psychology and lecturer at Ohio University, Jennifer Crocker, published a study in 1983 titled “Cognitive Structure and Changing Stereotypes,” whose results indicated that contact between groups reduces stereotypical molds and bias and forming friendships between races or intimate contact, changes beliefs about the group.
The social researcher Aisha Abdul-Malik believes that the refuge of the Syrians contributed to their understanding of their own society, and they began to realize how stereotyped they were, as not all Damascenes lead to the wrong path (manipulative), not all Aleppans are rich, and merchants, and not all of al-Hasakah residents live in mud houses.
The Syrian society that emerged today will change a lot in future Syria, as it broke its stereotypical images about the provinces collectively and not individually, according to the researcher.
The impact of stereotypes
The stereotypical image is a form of classification that helps simplify and organize information, making it easier to recognize, retrieve, predict, and interact with information.
However, stereotypical images are often too general and inaccurate and can implicitly affect judgments and impose the possibility that individuals of a certain group possess specific characteristics.
Stereotypical images create a kind of bias among individuals and groups against each other, and because stereotypical images justify social reality, they are likely to have strong effects on how people perceive and treat each other, and stereotypical images can turn into hostile actions.
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