"To the impartial eye, the world not only seems an unlikely one-off phenomenon, but a constant strain on reason. If reason exists, that is, if a neutral reason exists. So speaks the voice from within. So speaks Joker's voice." - Jostein Gaarder

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

An Identity Crisis, or rather Identity of Crisis

Everytime I talk about our identity crisis, as Middle Easterns, Levantines, Arabs, or particularly Syrians, everytime I tell them about all the psychological burden that we carry around excellently -The one we call our History- to almost, everyone... I get a look, of, understanding, they understand "me", but, behind that, I see a thousand question marks, of, irrelevance. and I don't blame them, they might never understand that, unless they are fortunate enough -or unfortunate for that matter- to actually live in that hub, The Middle East.

How, can u present the full depth, of a personality, an Identity shaped with an extreme feeling of superiority, the feeling of superiority we've been fed, by the monuments, by the streets, books, sights and smells… by the sheer names of our cities.

A superiority, that soon begins a never-ending fight with another complex. A complex of inferiority, towards a winner West a brutally developed and civilized West.

I don't understand it neither, I can just feel it, I try to put it to words… I try to explain the power of symbolism in area that has nothing left but symbols anymore. The wealth, the philosophy, the greatness, the pride… they're all long gone… what's left, is us, the people, who will still cling on to life, they all have all these things inside [as any other human, for that matter…], at least I hope we still do… and monuments, ruins, memoirs, of a past… What's also left? The bitter truth, that we might never catch up, the bitter feeling of humiliation, of victimization, of being stepped on every single day, by our fathers, our policemen, our presidents, and everybody else…

I try to write, about the Crusades, How they still live inside every Levantine, how u can see them in the family names of people. The Crusades, probably were the absolute turning point, where we went down, towards a West that ascended on a way up… the absolute feeling of victimization that we've felt since then… towards those barbaric, monsters of darkness and witch hunting, who disrupted the wealthy, sophisticated, civilization of ours… and, drove it… here.

It goes way beyond that, further than that. It's way before Muhammad [PBUH], before we even discovered that the poems of "Omro' al-Kais" are masterpieces. Before that, even before, Princess Europe of Phoenicia sailed from Byblos, to give Europe its name… before that…

When I write about, my Human Identity, when I write about my Syrian Identity, when I write about me, the sum of all these little things, what I eat, what I write, what I do, who am I… where did I grow up, and where am living… when I try to un-define myself, rather than define it with a single identity… I'm only trying to loosen up, this burden, this history. But the only way I can ever seem to do that, is through that very same history.

This Middle East needs people who are willing to forsake an unbeaten vicious circle. Willing to put off our complexes, to read the History, as a book… as a text book that is. And even more, He needs Faith in these people… all the faith that we've given to all the gods who were born here, to all of them who passed and stayed here…

I, for one, have not yet been able to. Not Yet, that is.


Blogger abufares said...

That's one hell of a post Yazan. We do suffer from an identity crisis. Any Levantine who denies this fact is suffering from a denial crisis as well.
First I believe that it's more likely that my generation will pass away while the entire region is fucked up. The damage done in the last few years, since the 9/11 tragic fiasco (I called it a fiasco because it was planned by a group and executed by another) would take many years to overturn. But the birth and death of civilizations are not matters of years but rather centuries. While the sun is shining again on the East (China), darkness will eventually fall in the West (the US). There are no clear-cut lines or dates, but all it takes is the election of a couple more idiots for president in the US to hasten the process.
My personal crisis with the issue is not about why the West is so advanced. It's rather about why don't we get collectively off our asses and do something about it.
I have no answer. I just hope for a better future for your generation. It's just possible that you might be able to do what our parents and we were unable to achieve.

January 25, 2007 1:00 AM

Anonymous Lost somewhere said...

I loved your post!
I personnally think that the crisis will only get worse with globalization and with the generations to come.
Who will we relate to?
What will remain of the characteristics of our civilization?
Who cares about history anymore?

What civilization is leading the world right now? One with a short history and that lives by the rule of technology and consumption.
There is no more space left for culture (real one) and civilization.
History has brought us enough glory in the past. But unfortunately what remains today is only for tourists to admire!
I think that the crisis comes from fact that we are the generation of transition.
We already are the mixture of what remains from our rich culture and a lot of the western way of life.
A West that is politically harassing us and attacking our own civilization.

January 25, 2007 7:07 AM

Blogger Omar said...

the example I always refer to in such matters is one of the most significant events in the moder history (imho).. and that is: the French revolution. see.. what those guys did is: they envisioned a better system, they charged the creative juices of the best minds France possessed at that time to shape and define this alternative system, and then they made the choice: cut all relation with the past, give it a bloody ending to make sure there's no turning back.. and make sure that: no matter how great the Versailles palace is, and no matter how awesome Louis XIV was, that's just history.. the contemporary France is what matters..

this is a point that's very critical to me.. no matter how great your history is.. it is worth nothing if your present is defined by what your past had been...

in other words.. even if princess Europe was from the Levant, who gives a crap.. the question is: how do we go forward from here? keep weeping about the past? or see how we can redefine this rusty identity within the 21st century constraints..

January 25, 2007 10:11 AM

Blogger Omar said...

I think the first step towards a better Middle East comes with making religion a less predominant part of everybody's life.

I know I'm going to be attacked for this but here it goes.

I think the minute you start living your life according to rules written 1500 years ago, meanwhile being forbidden the right to question these rules and beliefs, you lose very important things, critical thinking and more importantly the essence of democracy.

Anytime we take "facts" as they're told to us, without questioning them, examining their validity, comparing them against other "facts", and truly thinking outside of the (culturaly defined) box, we start becoming acceptant of bigger and worse things.

So in a sense, our mental submission towards one things, could lead to submission to other things, such our way of life, our current conditions, or even our political system etc.

I'm not saying that this is the magic formula for a better a better Middle East, I don't think such a formula exists, but to some degree I think religion plays some factor in our current situation.

January 25, 2007 3:19 PM

Blogger Torstein said...

I am not Arab, so I don't know if my opinon matters, but your post interested me.

I must say I agree with Omar in what he says about the link between the past and the present. Once the past becomes so important for who we are, it destroys our ability to look forward. Once the past is a golden age we need to go back to, things will only get worse. Like Omar says, history is only a text and it is written with bias (by the victors and those in power). Therefore, the Crusades are presented as a huge disaster for the Middle East that everything that has gone wrong is blamed on. It's like the US now, they need scapegoats for their own failures, so they blame Iran and Syria and all their other constructed enemies because to admit faults is to be weak.

The Middle East was in disarray before the Crusades and possibly, because of them, there was new Islamic unity under Salah ad-Din afterwards. But the idea that it has shaped the Middle East ever since is something that has been invented in modern times.
Arab civilisation was a beacon of the world, but it was not the Crusades that crushed it. In any case, it is not the way forward to look backwards and to blame something that happened a thousand years ago. History only has causal power if we give it causal power.

We can blame the past and we can blame the US (which undeniably is fucking up the world big time), but ultimately we are the ones with the power to do something about our own situations.
We can blame the US for sabotaging Arab unity, but Arabs are just as much to blame. We can blame the US for what is happening in Lebanon, but the Lebanese have been killing each other for a long time before the US took an interest in the region (look at who's actually shooting at eachother right now).

The Middle East is cursed in that too many powers have interests and try to influence the parties, but that doesn't mean that everything bad that happens is from the outside. It took Europe two world wars to figure out that nationalism and racism was not the way to go. We had to figure that out the hard way. I do not know what will happen in the Middle East, but you will have to find your own way to deal with your identity problems. I just hope less people will be killed in the process than what 'We' had in Europe.


January 25, 2007 11:42 PM

Blogger Ihsan said...

Interesting post Yazan.

I'll have to agree on what has been commented by most of the people here.

We do have the idendity crisis, I know I do, we live on the suit memories of our greatt history and tend to blame everything but us. All of us are Syrians...well, except for torstein, and we know that when we wanna discuss what has gotten us so down....tens of suggestions and accusation will be thrown at "usa", "Isreal", "Imperialism" and "Zionism" ...or as we say it "alemberyalieh wal sahyonieh" and now there is Farance, Iran, and the 14th of March people and the Saudis...the list grows long but we never list ourselves as a cause...we only see ourselves as victimes. Try to point out the religion issue and how misused it has been for the last 1400 years and see what happens. Nobody, or at least the majority, for that matter, will refuse just the thought of us being the biggest part/cause of our problems.

I don't see a solution, because we still don't see the real problem, us! As long as we cry over our glorious past and swear at the notorious west who have screwed us up, we will have our identity crisis.

January 26, 2007 2:14 PM

Blogger Alisa said...

very eloquent

January 26, 2007 4:35 PM

Blogger black feline said...

i have an identity crisis now...we actually looks alike..lol (using the same template for our blog)..frankly i threw out my identity long ago..im working toward a world citizenship..too much reflection on the past is painful...the future is an unknown...just live for the moment..accept the fact we are all created differently...we can agree to disagree.

January 30, 2007 3:16 AM

Blogger LaLa said...

When I read your post I immediately thought of Kumaraswamy's essay, "Who am I?: The Identity Crisis in the Middle East" (you can google it to find the whole text). Very interesting and thought provoking post not only for those in and from the Middle East but for everyone.

October 19, 2007 7:42 PM


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