This Post was originally written for Global Voices
Nowadays, it’s not strange to bump into a Syrian in every corner of the globe. This doesn’t only take into account the forced refugees from Syria’s war but the generations of families of Syrian descent, whose grandparents left Syria decades ago.
Dozens of international campaigns have focused on the suffering of Syrians over the previous five years of brutal war, which has claimed the lives of about a quarter of a million people and left millions homeless, marching to Europe, knocking on humanity’s doors.
In response to years of mainstream media coverage showcasing the suffering of Syrians and portraying them as starving and needy people who want pity, the #IamSyrian campaign aims to show the real mettle of Syrians. Following New Year’s attacks in Germany, in which Arab refugees, among them Syrian, were accused of terrorism and harassment, Texas-based Syrian artist Moustafa Jacob, decided to take the lead and change the discourse of the conversation. His goal was to highlight Syrians who have contributed to culture and humanity in different areas.
Among the factors that joined to launch his #IamSyrian campaign were the impressions media was posting about Syrian refugees in Europe and Islam-phobia propaganda pumped by the far-right-wing national parties as well as the fifth anniversary of Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad which continued peacefully during the ceasefire agreed in February 2016.
Jacob used the Oscars event to kick off his campaign. He explains on Facebook:
بمناسبة قدوم الأوسكار, وبعد الهجمة الإعلامية على اللاجئيين السوريين واتهامهم بالهمجية والتخلف, أحببت أن أقوم بتصميم مجموعة من البوسترات عن بعض مشاهير أمريكا ذوي الأصول السورية.
والحملة بعنوان (I am Syrian)
Famous Faces of Syrian Ancestry
Thanks for the Oscars event and after the media attacks on Syrian refugees accusing them of barbarism, I designed a set of posters for some American celebrities of Syrian origin.
#IamSyrian took an international turn when celebrities and artists around the world began adopting its slogan, among them the World Food Program organization @WFP, celebrities like Brazilian football player KaKa, British-Iranian singer Sami Yusuf, and Egyptian actress Hind Sabri.
— World Food Programme (@WFP) March 15, 2016
Putting a human face on Syrians is not new. In October 2015, photographer and art director Isabel Martinez, recruited top models to appear in a powerful short film posted on Instagram on her account @IsabelitaVirtual, in which models from around the world proclaim: “I am Syrian”:
To drive his point home, Jacob shares the names of people of Syrian descent who have left a global footprint and international impact. The aim is to keep Syrians proud of what their fellow compatriots have achieved.
Among the Syrian figures posted on Jacob’s Facebook Page are:
- Professor Shadia Habbal, Chair professor of space physics at the University of Wales
- Professor Hunein Maassab, who spent 40 years of hard work to succeed finally in providing the flu vaccine for mankind
- Professor Dina Katabi, Director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Wireless Center
- Famous musician Malek Jandali, which awarded the title of a recent US government The Great Immigrant
- Omar Hamoui, Founder and Managing Director of the Company (AdMob)
- Global filmmaker Moustapha Akkad, the owner of the famous Halloween series in Hollywood
- Astronaut Mohammed Faris, or (Arabs’ Armstrong) as described by the British newspaper The Guardian
- Cartoonist Ali Farzat, who was awarded the famous Sakrov Peace Prize in 2011