Maher, 28, a businessman from Homs, left Syria in 2015

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What makes you proud to be Syrian?

For me, being Syrian is an honor in itself. Syria is a traditional society with a long cultural history and Syrians have a taste for traditional arts and craft. We have contributed much to Arabic Literature and have a proud tradition of oral and written poetry. There is much else that makes me proud, such as the various religious festivals we celebrate, our TV dramas, the architecture, our cuisine and our sports men and women.

Syria is a secular country. Can you explain what this means to a non-Syrian?

Syria was the only country in the Arab region that had 25 different sects. I believe it was the first secular country in the Middle East. The process of secularization in Syria began
under the French Mandate in the 1920s and continued under different governments. The constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression to the various communities that include many Christian denominations. Political forms of Islam are not tolerated by the government. Syrian law is primarily based on civil law.

Till now my country is losing its youth and is bleeding because of the Arab Spring.

What does the concept of personal freedom mean to you?

For me, what is needed to feel personal freedom is something essential inside me that allows me to behave, think, act, work and live freely. This thing is called self-confidence.

What about political freedom?

About political freedom, this is to have the right to express freely my opinion about a party or the work of the government. It Is to be able to join a specific party I support whose ideas I support. Political freedom means there are opportunities for everyone to work for the country and the society.

What have you learnt about life, people and yourself since the start of the crisis?

I have learnt many things about life, such as our life is priceless but we can lose it because of the beliefs and faults of others. About people, people in my country have been divided into many groups and each group tries the best to remove the other ones from existence. About myself I’ve learnt that forgiveness is a gift I can give to myself. Patience, faith, hope and love are what can make miracles happen.

people in my country have been divided into many groups

In a very short time, the war destroyed my country and destroyed some evidence of its civilization and history. Five years of war has killed happiness and displaced children. In Syria, there is no childhood any more.

If there were such a thing as Utopia on earth, what form would it take, do you think?

I think Utopia is an ideal place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects. On earth Utopia means, in my opinion, that people can live without life’s problems such as wars, poverty, and crime … For Syrians today, this would seem like a Utopia: a heaven on earth.

What can fill you with despair?

A lot of things fill me with despair, such as the days my country spends in fighting and people still killing each other. When we live without laws to respect and prevent this kind of life, then the civil life turns into a bloody life.

What can give you hope?

Love and honesty between humans still gives me hope that there will be a return to peace.

How do you find the courage to go on and stay sane in the face of great hardship and pain?

Courage comes from inside the heart and mind. It enables us to go and face life. The determination to stay alive is the source of courage to face the pain. Nothing can shake my
faith because I believe in God and I have a big faith in a better future and in a better life.

Can you talk about the freedoms women have enjoyed in Syria?

Women in Syria are more respected and have more rights than women in any other Arab country. Women are usually well educated. They had the freedom to choose a suitable career. They make up a significant percentage of the work force. Most teachers are women. Other common occupations for women are doctors, nurses, workers in clothing factories, and engineers. Also some of them take part in political life and have become government ministers.

How can political problems, such as corruption and nepotism, best be tackled?

Freedom of information and pluralism in the media are essential preconditions for making public opinion fully aware of the serious threat posed by corruption and ensuring that political corruption can be exposed by journalists in a climate of freedom and independence.
About nepotism, is to fix the work environment and no one should be allowed to replace who has a high degrees of educations with those who are relatives.

What is your image of a new Syria?

the culture of murder and killing has to be replaced by a culture that emphasizes learning and studying

I’ve got a beautiful image of a new Syria, but to create a beautiful new Syria several steps would have to be followed. First initiate a major re-structuring of the economy to raise productivity. Then improve the universal healthcare. Then grant scholarships to the most gifted students to study at overseas universities so they can then return to Syria to be sailors to lead the ship to the right port. Finally, the culture of murder and killing has to be replaced by a culture that emphasizes learning and studying, and a culture that ensures people respect each other and there is social justice for everyone.

From ‘Beloved Syria – Considering Syrian Perspectives’, Sept – Oct 2016 Edition

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