When I was 12, my father told me that I was a fly and that the West was a heated light bulb. He told me that the sparkling object from a distance would burn me alive if I ever went there. I was a rebel. I never listened. I installed a VPN software to access social media. I learned English on my own. I spent most of the following 15 years trying to come to the West.
I came with a visa in 2015.
Here I am, in the heart of Western Germany, burning daily. I’m burning alive, just like my father predicted.
My father was both right and wrong. He accurately described the hell-like West. He failed, however, to acknowledge that we, the Levant folks, are very much Western.
I started burning long before I came to Europe. In 2012, I had to flee my town in Eastern Ghouta, where my family name made me a target. I had managed to live for a year in Jordan between 2012 and 2013. It was hell there too. I love Jordan, with all my heart, but it is the second cruelest places that I’ve ever been to.
Lebanon is the cruelest place of all.
I returned to war-torn Syria in September 2013, mainly because I had become suicidal in Irbid. Irbid, for those who don’t know it, is a Jordanian city where it’s hard to trust a soul. Until 2015, I had to accept to live under bombardment in Damascus because there had been no safe place elsewhere. 2014 was a year of peace, candles, red wine, and mortar attacks. It was a place to be safe but also not to be. The daily struggle had little to do with avoiding death. It was more about holding on to the reasons to stay alive.
The red wine made life easier.
In 2015, my father was more than happy to see me fly to Austria. Two years later, he made sure my little brother moved to Russia. In the end, he wanted us to come to the heated light source, because we were burning anyway. So, here we are.
I have been living in central Europe for 4 years so far. I’ve tasted new forms of burns that have little to do with war, violence, backwardness or anything that one would associate with the eastern Mediterranean. Here, I’ve felt the worst kind of oppression – a silent one. The powerful are entitled to crush the powerless. The powerless feel that they have no right to rebel. Society is entirely based on a giant pyramid scheme. Those on the top stay on the top. Those on the bottom feel like a failure. They don’t rebel. They don’t set themselves on fire and start an Arab Spring. They don’t become terrorists. They don’t go all Samson and tear down the cold Straße-der-Menschenrechte columns of Nuremberg.
Instead, they blame themselves for the failure. Sometimes, they even commit suicide. They depart in silence, without saying they got hurt. They leave a note apologizing for taking part in our lives.
One lesson I learned from the mountains of Steiermark is that the bright sun there often sets too young. What a waste!
In the Levant, we loved, and we lived in fear of getting caught. Sometimes that meant death. A killer was to be killed, by law, unless he was killing for “honor”. Until a few years ago, an “honor killer” was sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison. Syria’s Al-Assad decided that the law had to “no longer protect honor killers”. In 2011, he raised the sentence to a maximum of seven years. After those years, though, the murderer would still come out of college as a hero.
There is not much honor killing here, in central Europe. There’s no need for it. I have so many friends who’ve confessed not having sex for six months, a year – even three years. The youth are almost completely desexualized. They’re pandas, and some do even look white with black eye-margins. They have no passion for love or war. They have no passion for life.
They suck, and so do I. We each suck in a different way.
Whether it’s central Europe or the Levant, it’s a single corrupted West that won’t quit. It’s made up of a ‘Canon’ shaped by the Antiquity and the Abrahamic discourse. It’s hard to tell whether the two work together, or struggle against each other. It’s hard to tell whether we suffer because of God, or that we need God because we suffer. Whatever the case, we’re all Westerners and we all burn. In the center we burn in silence. On the margins we scream. We shout ‘Allahu Akbar’: God is greater. It’s the one God of Moses and Muhammad. Between the two, we’ve agreed to put Jesus on the cross. That’s what it takes to purify us from our sins – and desires.
Still, we fight over the one God we have because that’s all that we have.
We fight for hegemony, for monopoly – for monogamy.
We’re a crumbling civilization – sometimes an empire – that refuses to die.
We just burn and we do so on purpose.
Yet, it hurts.