Some argue that Europe has been draining other cultures of their resources for many centuries, and has a moral obligation open up and start behaving differently. ”I believe in multicultural societies, as we say – the more flowers, the better“, says Timea Szabo, a Hungarian MP. One of those flowers is a Syrian musician Mohammad Abu Hajar who had to leave home in 2012, but through his music tries to eliminate stereotypes, expose injustice and inspire others to create a tolerant world accepting differences. He holds on to music as a means of adapting and integrating in a new country while maintaining his cultural heritage.
Mohammad Abu Hajar is a rapsinger from Syria, based in Berlin. He left after being arrested and spending time in jail multiple times for his political activism. At first, he went to Italy where he did his Master studies in Political Economics at the Univerzita La Sapienza and wrote a dissertation thesis on the topic of The Economic Effect Of Migration. Since July 2014, however, his new home is Berlin where he continues to express himself through music. He is one of 20507 Syrians whose asylum in Germany was recognized in 2014.
Watch infographics on Syrian Asylum Seekers In Germany, 2014
Why did you move to Germany?
I wanted to have a life. In Italy, everything was difficult and complicated. I had some contacts in Berlin, so I thought it would be easier for me to start there.
How long did it take you to get accepted in Germany?
I had a recommendation letter from the Reporters Without Borders and it took the institutions 2 months to recognise it.
Do you sing in German?
No, my German is still too weak. But when I was in Italy, I did some freestyle in Italian. Once I improve my German, I think, I would be able to deliver the message in easier way. For now, I insist to have subtitles to all my songs. Even during the concerts, there is always a projector showing the lyrics in English.
What does music mean to you?
I grew up with music. When I was 5, I started taking piano lessons and was doing classical music until I came across rap. When I heard the Arabic rap, I decided to switch. It is now 11 years that I have been working on my rap music and I love it. I love to express myself through rap, but at the same time I am connected to it in such a way that I have a hard time expressing. I don’t know a real medium of expression besides rap.
Did you grow up mostly with local music or the international music too?
I was playing piano, so it was mostly classical music. But also I worked with a local school band, where I did some oriental stuff. I tried other instruments such as a keyboard or an accordion. In general, though, my background is oriental.
Do you listen to more German music now?
I mostly listen to Arabic music, but my taste in music definitely changed since I moved to Europe. Especially, after I moved to Berlin. Berlin is a great music city. I started incorporating other elements and I am accepted, diversity overall is more welcomed here. I also started listening to European music when I met musicians here. In Syria I had no clue about them.
Do you still sing traditional songs?
Ohh…If only you could hear what we are doing now! I am using the oriental motives in my rap songs for the first time. During the the last 3 months, I always include at least 1 oriental song in the concert using a darbuka [a musical instrument].
How does the German audience perceive your music?
I think they receive it really well. I have 1 concert a week and people are interested in a collaboration with me. Also, the reason why I sing has a deeper meaning now. When I see that people accept the way I chose to express myself, I put more creative messages in the lyrics. I sing about weapons, people being killed, military conflicts and refugees. I use music to deliver my thoughts and my audience accepts it.
How big is your audience?
It was bigger in Syria, for sure. In Syria, there were around 5000 people attending my concerts. Now, I have more people coming every week and they know the songs already. They try to sing the lyrics even though they don´t know the language. Music is a language that we all understand. Through music we all communicate our concerns and beliefs.
Did music get you through some difficult times too?
Sure, I will tell you a funny story. Back in Syria, during the first night in jail me and my friend told each other that they are trying to break our world and humiliate us. The only way to show resistance was by singing, I had a virtual piano that I drew on a piece of paper and played on it. The time in jail was my worst experience, but because of music I remember only the good things. Without music, it would have been much worse for me. Music saved me. And now music helps me to get over the exile. In Germany, I’m in a music paradise where I have better equipment and opportunities and mainly say freely what I want.
Does music help you to integrate in the society?
Currently, I am working on a new music project with Germans and Italians in Berlin. Two weeks ago, I was recording a song and there was a guy who couldn’t speak English and I can’t speak German well, but we managed to communicate nevertheless. Music helps me to integrate. It is such a nice experience to overcome the linguistic differences by doing music together.
Do you plan to stay in Germany?
My wish is to go back to Syria, to my project and to my audience there. Even if I want to do music here I still feel a little bit awkward, I am in a waiting mode. My aim and my main wish in life is to go back to Syria.
Music is a refuge platform for the most of us. Mohammad uses music as a tool of expression that can help alter the perception of traumatic experiences, even create something beautiful out of it. Inner struggles can be transformed into a piece of art and heal both the creator and the recipient. Since the beginning of time, humans have been surrounding themselves with art in all its forms. Art speaks to us and we speak through art. To Mohammad, music provides a sense of comfort, well-being and a sense of home when he misses it the most.
More info about Mohammad and his music here.
Report by Julie Mahlerova (Czech Republic), Nina Đuranović and Milena Kovacevic (Montenegro)
“I think it’s a problem that people link Islam to terrorism and that’s not fair. I’m also afraid of those people, who are bad to others,” says Habiba (name changed) who is working at “Orange Kebab” in Budapest. She is a mother of two children and has been living in Hungary for most of her life. After terrorist attack in Paris she feels that the attitude towards Muslim community has changed.
Based on CIA World Fact book there are 49 907 people who practice Islam living in Hungary. That is 0.5% from the whole population. Most of them are located in Budapest, where you can find four mosques, according to iszlam.com.
“I know only about the Budapest mosque, I haven’t seen any others. Muslims are not involved in our politics at all. I think that most of the Muslims don’t really practice their religion as it is written in Koran. That’s why you can’t recognize them,” says Tímea Szabó, a Hungarian left wing MP.
After attacks in Paris, Hungary has been putting questions about the country’s security on weekly agenda and checking whether the anti-terrorism and national security organizations are making enough effort to protect the country. The Prime Minister of Hungary recently expressed the idea that not every migrant is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a migrant.
“It’s a very dangerous rhetoric to use in public. Our party is trying to fight that, but it’s very difficult because media is mostly dominated by the government. Unfortunately, the state propaganda is working”, explains Tímea Szabó.
Paris made everyone cautious
“I blame media for the bad attitude that we receive, because every day you can hear about Muslims doing this and that. Obviously people get affected and afterwards they say that they saw that on TV, so that must be true. Unfortunately, media says that terrorism is Islam. I believe that majority of Muslim people want peace and good life,” says Akhmed (name changed), who works at the kebab shop.
Akhmed hasn’t experienced direct violence in Hungary. He tells that the situation in Germany is much more serious: “Last week I was in Germany, and it was disturbing how much attention I had. It wasn’t like that before Paris attacks. Even the police was acting strange. No one has ever checked my passport so carefully, but now I was travelling through Austria to Germany and they didn’t want to let me through. The police said that I might be a refugee, and that they can’t just let me go. I had my passport with me and other documents. They wasted a lot of my time just because of this.”
A Turkish student who is currently living in Budapest agrees that the attitude towards Muslims has changed: “After Paris attacks I didn’t want to turn on the Internet or watch television. I think this is a power game, but I don’t really know what it is about and who are the players.” He admits that the media is provoking people to think badly about Muslims and to connect their religion with terrorism.
Muslims are giving jobs to Hungarians
Even though people who practice Islam have experienced attacks through media. And most of them disagree that Hungarians are the ones to blame. None of our interviewees have experienced personal insult.
“Muslims are doing quite well here, because they’re educated. Usually they are shop owners. They have regular income, so they’re not relying on state”, Aron Demeter explains that there are very few cases when Muslim rights are being attacked, “There are no clashes between the Hungarian and the Muslim community.”
Back in the Kebab shop Akhmed agrees that he can feel safe in Hungary: “Many have good business here, in Budapest. I have a friend who is a shop owner and also a Muslim. He has 40 shops in Budapest and another business, where he works together with more than 2000 Hungarian people. He’s giving jobs to Hungarian people.”
Report by Anna Urde (Latvia) and Violeta Mihailova (Moldova)
Four years of brutal conflict have plunged Syrians into the dark and many live without any electricity, which then led them to flee out of Syria, hoping to find light at the end of the tunnel. And the contrast between Syria in 2011 and today is visible from space. Since March 2011, 83% of the lights in Syria have gone out, based on satellite images analysed by scientists at Wuhan University in China.
In a press conference held earlier on this year, the project lead researcher Xi Li, stated that the research confirms the fear of the Syrian inhabitants.
Taken from 500 miles above the earth, these images help us understand the suffering and fear experienced by ordinary Syrians every day, as their country is destroyed around them, he said in the press statement.
Also 97% of the lights has gone out in Aleppo, the largest city in Syria. The streets, homes, schools and hospitals has been plunged and gradually extinguishing hope. The provinces of Damascus and Quneitra is the exeptions where the decline in light as been between 35 and 47%.
Have you ever imagine?
During the training Diversity Voices in Budapest 2015, organized by European Youth Press, we switched off the light for participants, in order to capture their reaction when they find themselves plunged into darkness. Although it did not affect everyone in the same way, some found it difficult to continue working in the dark and wanted to resolve the problem.
It is certain that humanity is dependent on electricity, as it provides us with the power to do almost everything that we want , but what can one do when electricity is not present?
If you just watched this video it means that you have some source of energy. Most probably you just watched this video on your laptop or desktop computer plugged into a socket and you didn’t even bother what it would feel like if you were unable to read this article just because you do not have any electricity to do so. I bet you also have your mobile phone charging at the moment or you’re planning to do so because your battery is going down and you just feel helpless without it so you just plug it in knowing that it would charge.
And regardless of where you are around the world, you might be feeling hot or cold, so you just need to switch on your fan or heater, just to feel comfortable, just because you have electricity. And I bet you could really make some coffee or just heat some food in the microwave and sit comfortably in front of your TV or laptop. Sure, you need electricity to do that.
What would you do if the the privilige of having lights on was taken away from you? Just by a quick glance and you would notice how much we are dependent on electricity and we could only imagine what life really feels like when you lack it.
Short facts to know about electricity in Syria
- 83% of lights went off across Syria since March 2011.
- 97% of lights went off in Aleppo, northern Syria largest city
- 35% of lights went off in the Governorate of Damascus, the second-largest city of Syria after Aleppo.
- Over 200 000 people killed since 2011
- 9 out of 22 million people have fled their homes
Source: The movement #WithSyria
Report by Jessica Camilleri (Malta), Hovnan Baghdasaryan (Armenia), Sandra Rönnsved (Sweden) and Milica Ciric (Serbia)