Migrant Lives

In Syria, Casualties Of War Include Loss Of Place

Countless displaced by the war in Syria include those forced to move from one part of the country to another. Misery tends to follow.

A man walks past a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Latakia
A man walks past a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Latakia
Alia Ahmad

LATAKIA — "I hope to God we'll go back to Aleppo," 13-year-old Muhammad writes whenever he has a chance to express his longing for his hometown. "I didn't imagine we weren't going back to Aleppo when we left it two years ago. I was very happy there, and now I pray to God to go back there."

Muhammad was displaced with his family of seven after his father, a policeman, was murdered by unknown assailants in the al-Bab area of Aleppo. Muhammad didn't return to school after that. He now lives in Latakia, where he sometimes works in the fish market or in a supermarket where his brother is employed as a delivery boy.

"We didn't bring our school papers with us, and when my mother took us to register in school, the principal said we must take a level-determination test set by the Ministry of Education," he says. "But we didn't go because we needed to work to help our family — the rents are high and everything's expensive, and my father's pension salary doesn't cover enough."

He has a difficult relationship with some of the local kids, boys his age who tease and taunt him. "Some of them don't like me. We fight with them sometimes, me and my brother, and they call me al-Halabi "from Aleppo" as if it's an offense! So what if I'm from Aleppo. Isn't that in Syria too?"

He shakes his head with great resentment and continues, "But there are also nice kids, and they play with us, but not always because we're mostly working."

Abdul Rahman, 56, is the owner of the supermarket in Latakia where Muhammad and his brother work. "I'm actually against child labor and I don't need workers in my shop, but their family is very poor," Rahman says. "They rent a room in our neighborhood, and their mother begged me to help them work in a safe place. I understand their circumstances as displaced people, and I'm doing this only as humanitarian help."

Displacement in itself is a problem, but many others stem from that, says Nisreen, a 42-year-old Latakia social worker. Communities often reject refugees, she says. "The displaced are generally poor, and they move to live in poor places, too, so each party blames the other for any problem that happens."

Samer, a 55-year-old Latakia teacher, sees a social and cultural divide marking the local dynamic. "There are many aspects to the relationship between the displaced community and the environment of Latakia, the most important of which are the differences in lifestyles and traditions between the displaced communities coming from the very conservative societies of Aleppo, Idlib or Homs, and the community of Latakia, which is considered to be somewhat more liberal," he says.

In Latakia — Photo: Yazan Badran

Cultural differences

"There's also a very important point that we must not ignore — and it's that many of the people of Latakia and the coast, and their sons, were killed in places such as Aleppo, Idlib and other internal areas," Samer says. "This makes these displaced people guilty in the minds of many, as they believe them to be the relatives of those who joined the Islamist groups and caused them to lose their sons."

This is evident for Nadia, a 51-year-old nurse in Jabla. "I won't lie, I can't deal with any of the displaced people coming from Aleppo without thinking that their relative could be the one who killed my brother, who died in Aleppo," she says. "And I don't think it's fair to put the son of a martyr, who sacrificed his life, in school next to the son of the armed man fighting against our government and our army. I know it's wrong to generalize, but ... I won't rent my house to any of them."

Om Adnan, 45, was displaced from the Homs countryside three years ago and now lives in Saqubein with her family of five since the death of her son in the army. "We're all Syrians, and this is a plague on all of us," she says. "I miss my big house, and it makes me so sad to think that everything I made in my life was either stolen or burned."

As she wipes away her tears, she continues, "But most importantly, my kids are fine here. They have friends in school and in college, unlike some of our relatives who considered us traitors because my son didn't escape his military service and stayed in the army until he died."

Bashir, a 34-year-old tailor, came with his small family from Idlib to Latakia. "I understood the rejection of the displaced by some of the people of Latakia at the beginning, because many of them don't respect the privacy of the society here," he says. "Some of the teenage boys who came with their families from conservative areas, they harassed the girls here rudely, but they weren't respectable in their own homes in the first place. If one wants to live peacefully and with dignity, then one must respect others. I have a lot of customers from the people of Latakia, and they all treat me with respect and kindness. I wish I could go back home and to my old life, but this is what I have right now."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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