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Affiliation and Being a “Good Citizen” in Warfare Time

Syrian children
Syrian children play at a makeshift playground during celebrations for Eid al-Fitr in Binnish in the rebel-held northwestern Syrian province of Idlib on May 26, 2020. Photo: OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP

Identity and affiliation turn to be more complicated concepts when you live in a country suffering from war like Syria.

Coming originally from the Baba Amr neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs would have definitely put you in a dangerous confrontation at the Syrian regime’s checkpoints. These posts used to check people´s identity cards and their political orientations. Baba Amr was one of the first neighborhoods to organize popular protests that demanded overthrowing the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In this famous neighborhood, the armed groups were formed and fought bitter military confrontations against the Syrian army. These confrontations ended with the army’s storming of Baba Amr and other old neighborhoods of Homs years ago; something that resulted in a massive destruction in the area.

Ahmed S. is one of Baba Amr’s sons. He was interviewed by blogger Ghassan Okla and told him his story at one of the checkpoints. This story and other stories that took place in Syria prompted Ghassan to raise questions about what makes a person a “good citizen” in a country where affiliation or non-affiliation appears to be a fatal dilemma. The following is the text of the blog:

Ghassan Okla

Ahmed. S is a 46 years man who comes originally from the Baba Amr neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs. During the siege of Baba Amr in 2012, he used to come across checkpoints in Damascus. Soldiers were always astonished when they checked his identity card.

“They used to look at my ID as if it was a false one or as if it had a stain that could not be tolerated.” He says “I went through difficult moments when officials used to turn their gaze between me and my identity card. In most cases, they asked me a naive question: ‘Are you sure that you come from Baba Amr?!’ When I reply with yes, they used to ask me to stand aside for strict security checks. A single check usually took an hour.”

Such a check was used as a tool to guarantee that Ahmad is a “good citizen”. Officials usually kept astonished and told him that he did not look like someone from Baba Amr. “One can no longer distinguish them!!”, one of officials said once to his colleague while pointing to Ahmad.

When your country has a civil war, distinguishment might be compared to a guillotine. This word is like a double-edged sword. With such a word, you can execute laws and legitimize killing people. Once your country is fallen into such a whirlpool, it kills mercy and sympathy among the people of a single national identity. Although civil conflict usually includes clear forms of racial or ethnic discrimination, Syria has to be treated as a special case. The situation in Syria made distinguishment and discrimination blurry, confusing and changing based on time and place. In this country, you can find an ethnic distinguishment (Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian …). There is also a religious distinguishment (Sunni, Alawite, Shiite …). We have even a political distinguishment (Regime supporters and opponents). It seems that the resentment of the official at the checkpoint – who is no longer able to distinguish his opponents – has become legitimate and natural under the current circumstances. The examining tools are primitive to a pointless extent. They are tools with an instinct that functions like a bed of procrustes and help one to measure the loyalty of another.

If instinct is subject to the mood of its owner, and to his mental, social and psychological circumstances, then justice will become a blunt humor circulated by clumsy people. You might make mockery out of justice when you are persecuted and threated with a weapon. Therefore, when pro-Assad militias forced civilians to chant “There is no god but Bashar”, that turned to be an ordinary observation. The same applies to what happened in a not so far location where “ISIS” killed a boy for cursing religion. Such contradictory observations are treated as if they are no worthy to be shown in newscasts.

Amidst all of this, affiliation to a specific group in Syria turns into a curse and a heavy psychological burden. Under the severity and intensity of this burden, “citizens” lose their balance and will be social disoriented. In the past, people used their affiliation to highlight and enrich their national identity. However, they started nowadays to distort and lose their affiliation, let alone that affiliation might turn to be a reason for losing the national identity. In one of his speeches, the “Syrian President” Bashar al-Assad described the Syrian identity as the following: “Syria is for whom he defends it, regardless of his nationality.” The paradox is that Assad and other leaders of ethnic, political and religious groups ignore that the “citizen” they are trying to attract, has become today not affiliated. His emotional and affective ties have been broken even with the group to which he is supposed to belong. Ten years of vain fighting created a state of emotional and spiritual sickness for Syrians. This intensified their sense of non-belonging and thus alienation from the rivalry groups.

Some say that tragedy of the non-affiliated lays in his unwillingness to be a non-affiliate. However, the tragedy of the Syrian will be double. He/she is forced to declare their false allegiance and affiliation with the groups that he is subject to its power. This is what we have witnessed and still have been witnessing in the areas controlled by ISIS, the regime or others. Perhaps one day this tragedy will turn into a true identity that brings together the fragments of a people scattered between the boundaries of loyalty and death. And as the Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifa says: “I am not alone. However, this time people are collectively afflicted with grief and unfathomable depression. For the first time, I experience common characteristics among an entire people which can be simply touched. Sorrow is a Syrian collective element while joy is an individual thing that does not represent even its owner.”

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

Further reading

Fanack’s Syria country file provides a comprehensive overview about Syria, its history, politics, culture, economy and...
Syria has not been immune from the wave of pro-democracy agitation that has swept the Arab world since the end of 2010. ...
Five million Syrians currently live outside Syria, and a similar number is internally displaced. Almost half of the work...

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