Identity is a very interesting matter. The way we choose to define ourselves has become the vocation for many studies centers around the world. Polls have been carried out in USA, Jordan and elsewhere to see how 2nd and 3rd Arab Americans see themselves, how Muslim and Christian descendants dealt with it “differently” (and as studies by the Arab American Institute indicate, they do!), and how 2nd generation Jordanians from different “roots” saw themselves.
Some people see themselves as citizens of the world, others as 100% American (even though both their grandparents were born Syrian). Some like to think of them selves as Palestinian, Chechen, Armenian, even if they were born in Damascus with parents born in Damascus, and grandparents hailing from God knows where.
Identity is a matter of choice at the end of the day. It’s about self-image. Self branding (if you like to use marketing jargon!). Some people succumb to the collective self-image and choose to walk with the herd, but it is still a self-image that was started somewhere by someone, controlled by some ideology.
What really matters is “Heart.” Where does your heart find itself. My heart is half Syrian, has always been like that, since my mother is from a Syrian Family. This half is more important to me than the “other half,” which I consider to be a vague mishmash of identities that I don’t like to venture into (it includes identity crisis inherited from my ancestors, society and the role the media plays in shaping what we believe who we are).
If I were to define myself, I could start by saying I am Arab, Jordanian, half Syrian, with Palestinian, Tunisian, Lebanese and Moroccan roots. But every time I am asked that question, I find myself changing the order around, skipping a detail, ignoring another… Identity can be moody sometimes!
My mother is a feminist and I learnt from her that women do count when we look back at our “roots.” I have Moroccan great grandmothers, Tunisian great grandparents (dad’s side), my grandpa from mom’s side is a Sufi teacher who has uncles and great grand parents hailing from Morocco – from his mother’s side. His father is a Syrian Sufi who served as Qa’em Maqam in Bqaa’ Lebanon and a Sufi leader.
Greater Syria (the Levant) has today’s Syria in the equation. It is very difficult to define one’s identity when one rejects the sanctity of Sykes Peko. I still believe that there is a Greater Syria. Of course I can’t voice this opinion everywhere I go because the world has gone insanely pro Sykes Peko, but in my heart I believe Damascus is the Capital of Greater Syria.
In the days of my ancestors it was one world, no passports, one bloc, one Greater Syria. I have heard endless stories about the Sufi travels of my grandparents, the Sufi travels of my ancestors under the Ottoman regime… Things were viewed differently back then, it was a different world, and we’re not talking about millions of years ago, we are talking about a few decades ago only! All those stories shape my heritage, my very personal heritage.
50% Syrian, owing to the fact my mother comes from a Syrian family, (also with varying roots when you calculate in great grandmothers, great grand uncles, etc), is perfectly fine with me. It is where my heart is.