In Middle Eastern society, migration is often seen as the act of moving away from one’s home towards what is foreign. That is only naturally so, given the brain drain that our region has been suffering from for decades. However, this definition may be problematic as it requires one to define what is home.
If home is defined as the place where one is born, then Lebanon is not my home. If home is defined as the place where one spends the first fifteen years of their life, then Lebanon is not my home either. However, I do undoubtedly identify Lebanon to be my home. Thus, am I a migrant? I did migrate away from the place I lived for the majority of my life, not towards the foreign, but towards home. As such, I deem the identity of being a migrant as something heavy. Home is a personal identity, beyond papers and labels. In turn, whether definitions come through blood, family, or personal conviction, the act of migration is fluid since it entails the transformation of identity.
Another major point that comes to mind is that the line between displacement and voluntary migration is only becoming blurrier in our current age. To be displaced is to be forced away from your home, while migration is often observed as a more voluntary action. However, when a population cannot live a content life at home, is its exodus not a form of displacement? With the situation in Lebanon becoming more unstable, the incandescent desire to leave is spreading faster than a virus. In fact, those who wish to stay are looked at with mocking, puzzled eyes. This leads me to ask the question: At what point does migration become displacement?
Though I may not have the answer to this, I know that we will always tend to describe our migration as voluntary rather than forced. As the act of seeking refuge away from instability has become stigmatized, the forcibly displaced are xenophobically deemed as undignified aliens. Lebanon stands at the center: a rather unwelcoming refuge to the displaced Syrians and, simultaneously, home to millions of migrants who leave it in search of stability and basic living. When we close our doors to those who are escaping instability, we are shutting our mind to the fact that we are also the ones being displaced. A form of cognitive dissonance is born.
We ask: to leave or not to leave? We do not ask: is staying even an option if we wish to live happily? Dilemmas are created out of this dissonance, where we think that our migration is voluntary. When we do not see the crushing force displacing us, we hold ourselves accountable for abandoning our country. To you who is facing this dilemma I say: you are not a speck in a collective, but an individual in his whole.
On a personal level, recognizing my individual needs and desires has allowed me to come to terms with migration, detaching it from society’s sulkiness and embracing the hidden beauty of unapologetic, constant change. With my surroundings continually reshaped – whether intentionally or unintentionally – I have entirely endless grounds upon which new identities are explored and constructed.