The Composite Identity: Comparison between Eastern Mediterranean and Europe

The Composite Identity: Comparison between Eastern Mediterranean and Europe

Aasem Katbeh

Aasem Katbeh

a doctor and a cultural activist from Syria, based in Belgium

Identity has always been the concern of many of us in adolescence and youth. At the time, the discussions with parents, colleagues and friends have always reached a dead end due to lack of clarity in everyone’s perception. Many people around us were describing their identity as belonging to the tribe, family, village or town where their fathers and grandfathers were born. During the undergraduate period, the dialogue with colleagues from different social background created a knowledge structure that helped us to clarify the vision further, but the subject remained vague and it carried many answers in a wide range of terms and descriptions, between Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, Syriac, and other names used to express ethnic and regional identity.

After the end of World War I, the demarcation of the Eastern Mediterranean region made the region always unstable. As many decades passed and during the post-colonial period, the peoples of the region remained in a state of constant conflict and they failed to find realistic solutions to their accumulated problems. Many great thinkers spoke about the causes of fanaticism and the various aspects of social underdevelopment in the region such as Abdel Rahman Munif in his novel “Sharq al-Mutawassit”, and Sadiq Jalal al-Azm in his book “Critique of Religious Thought” and Mamdouh Adwan in his book “Human Animalism”.

During the last decades of the twentieth century and with the domination of the ideological parties over the political systems, many political regimes supported a dominant identity policy that denies other identities. Many of them consider the identity of the region to be Arab and Islamic. Some ethnic groups spoke about Syriac identity restoration and the region’ identity is Christian. And others talked about Phoenician identity, such as in Lebanon, or Aramic identity re-production and the characterization of Druze as an ethnic identity, such as in occupied Palestine. In the same context, many descriptions that link the political systems to religious and sectarian affiliation, such as political Maronite in Lebanon, political Alawite in Syrian Coast and Hashemite kingdom in East of Jordan River. Moreover, these descriptions are sometimes used when talking about political systems in Kurdish majority areas in northern Syria and southern Turkey and many other examples that promote racial tendencies.

On the other hand, the concept of identity in European societies has been linked to the shift in the social contract from the concept of church care which is based on the link of brotherhood in Christian faith towards the concept of effective citizenship. After the age of enlightenment, the theories of great thinkers, such as Desiderius Erasmus and John Locke in the education system and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the social contract became the basis for this transformation toward the citizenship that regulates the social relationship between the people. With the rise and growing role of social and political liberal movements that prevailed in Europe after the French revolution, Europeans realized that the church was incapable of managing the present and future of their countries. Over time, civil laws gradually replaced the laws and rules of church. After the fall of Berlin Wall which constituted a historic event in global politics, European countries started looking for more collaboration between each other and integration of economic, political and security plans towards the opening of the borders between each other. Although the European Union faces many challenges and obstacles nowadays, but the voices that call for European unity excess the voices of some radical movements in many European societies.

On the other side, the peoples of Eastern Mediterranean region have not been able to reconcile with each other and respect one another’s identity despite many historical and cultural ties. Many examples confirm this reality such as of Arabs’ denial of Kurdish identity, and Turks’ denial of the Armenian genocide and the Kurds’ rights, Armenian’ breaking the dialogue with Turks, and Kurds’ fanaticism of Kurdish nationalism and many more. Therefore, the situation of the peoples of this region is still in a state of deterioration and they have not been able to find solutions to their intractable problems and have reached the stage of confrontation and fighting among themselves.

It should also be noted that the talk about identity has taken a big place in the writings of some thinkers who have life experience in two different worlds and cultures. For instance, Edward Said spoke about the contradiction of identity in his book “out of place”, Amin Maalouf spoke about the confusion in belonging and identity formation in his book “Deadly Identities” and many other intellectuals of oriental origin who lived for a long time outside the place where they were born expressed their contradictory feelings when they were asked about their identities.

All these comparisons highlight the importance of clearly defining the concept of identity among the peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean and their understanding of identity is an essential entry point for practical solutions that impose the values of peace and social justice among all peoples of the region. As mutual dialogue about the formulation of a social contract is an urgent need in an area with a complex identity as a result of a mixture of different civilizations and races, the peace will not be achieved if the peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean do not reconcile each other for the future of the region and accept their differences by re-reading the past in all its aspects – language, religion and heritage, as wall as by building new generations that respect the difference of opinion and believe in the liberation of thought

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