This is my Syrian passport. To me, it represents the most significant milestone in my life: Leaving home behind and immigrating to Canada; It represents opportunity and the future.
Leaving home behind wasn’t easy, and although I had my immediate family along with me, my full family extends to aunts, uncles, cousins, and nephews. At the time, I was uncertain if I would ever see them again. In the past few years, that certainly became clearer.
In all likelihood, I will never see them again. Even if they do survive the war.
Perched on a rock a young man views the landscape of Damascus, ignorant to what the future holds for this historic city. Syria today is dark and lost, the serene emotions of this picture may never be felt again. But as the young man symbolizes, there is hope for the future. — Hashem Rifai
The news media keeps referring to this small Syrian booklet of mine as a “Passport to terror”, especially in the light of the recent horrific attacks on Paris, as well as those in Bahrain, and other attacks that came before.
The word “Syria” is becoming a synonym for fear, terror, and atrocity, at least that’s the message you get from the media. That region of the world which was once referenced as the “Cradle of Civilization” is now the “Cradle of Terror”.
To millions around the world, many of which who are have now taken refuge in a foreign land, it means something else entirely: Home.
I am Canadian. Toronto is my home, where I have built a life, a family, and community of friends and relationships. This is where I belong. I am also Syrian, and Damascus is my home as well, it’s where I grew up, learned about the world, and made everlasting friendships that shaped me and my world, before taking that next big step in my life’s journey.
Both of my homes represent peace, love and compassion. Nothing the news media says, or a small group of people driven by an ideology of hate can ever do to change that.
Palestinians trapped in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus queue for food parcels. Credit: UNRWA
I left Syria by choice, seeking an opportunity to build a better life. People fleeing Syria today did not have the luxury of such a choice. They are faced with only two choices: War, which for many, means a certain death by Daesh, or escape, which means leaving home behind and braving the land and sea for a chance at life. Not a better life. Just simply, life.
For those around the world turning your backs on Syrian refugees in fear of what their identity might bring, remember the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt:
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.
Don’t give in to fear, don’t let Daesh win.
As for me, this is how I choose to remember Damascus: a surreal landscape of urban architecture mixed with historic landmarks, a sea of satellite dishes across rooftops, pigeons and doves flying, in peace.
Art by: Michael Gage