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In a forgotten wedge of southeastern Europe, icy water slid towards the Adriatic in the evening glow. Fresh, it jogged past heady orthodox churches and wry government buildings, venerable mosques and well-worn pubs. Swift, it conversed with the sea, silent flow met by crashing waves. Nearby, a group of brazen young men stand oriented to the sunset. Their words are alien to all but themselves, belonging to an orphan tongue. The wedge, the canal, the city, the tongue: My wedge, my canal, my city, my tongue. My country is Albania, but what is Albania to you?
Many draw the conclusion that Albania is European, but many would disagree. To Franz Joseph I, the Middle East started in the Balkans, separating Albania from the other nations of the Old Continent. Historically, Champs-Élysées and Paris (which according to Edward VIII, was the only France that mattered) have seen Balkans as a bunch of oriental troublemakers. Even within her borders there is contention. Some will wholeheartedly disagree, and others will vigorously nod. So, where does Albania stand? And thus, where do I stand? Am I a European? A Balkanik? Or am I an oriental?
To Americans I am European, but many in Europe would squirm at that thought. “Easy,” one might suggest, “you are Albanian.” But, what about my Greek Romaniote Jewish grandmother? Does that make me partly Greek, and therefore partly European? What of my grandma’s Jewish identity runs in my veins? Am I partly Jewish, and does that blood confer ethnicity or religion? Either way, it just complicates my identity.
I come from a family where different religions eat at the same table and sleep under the same roof. My grandmother was partly Jewish, but also partly Greek Sunni Muslim. My grandfather was a Bektashi (a Sufi sect where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam melt in one religious ingot). My other grandparents are Albanian Orthodox. My mother belongs to the Orthodox affiliation, while my father is a proletariat atheist. As for proletarians, for decades my family has produced only that. My grandfather (a carpenter) would half-jokingly and half-seriously say, “The highest member of our family [class-wise] has been a chauffeur.”
If all these family ties were not tangled enough, ways even more labyrinthine joined my life five years ago, when first I stepped into the US as an exchange student in Iowa. Long story short, I now have two families, and I consider both Albania and Iowa home. However, here, in the US, I am, and always will be, the Albanian (rightly so), but, whenever I go to Albania, I am… the American. Too foreign for here, too foreign for Albania, never enough for both. Where, then, do I belong?
Politically, to my conservative friends I am Bernie Marx, while my liberal fellows call me a conservative. Where do I stand? I like to align myself with the remnants of the left (never to be confused with liberalism), particularly the social democrats. Many friends of mine see the latter as the worst enemy and the false friend of the people. But after all, so did Lenin.
So what am I? A sphinx? A Minotaur? A rootless being? I consider myself rooted in various divergent, yet complementary identities. I have come to prefer the margins. The dwelling where nations, states, countries, loyalties, commitments, ideologies, and sentiments somehow coexist, in spite of their apparent incongruencies. The edge is the place where metropolitanism and multiculturalism are ordinary lifestyles and not excluding identities. Reader: I am an outsider.
In this brave new world of ours, identity and communitarian solipsism signify what one is not, rather than what one is. Hence, exclusion of a group fortifies itself as the key survival of another one. People ought to choose one, and only one, identity. One shall be only Italian, American, Chinese, or Russian. Pick only one front: feminism, communism, jingoism, nationalism, neo-liberalism, conservatism. We ground ourselves in one trench and from there open fire to the others. Just like that, the lights go out. Ahimè!
I suspect we are sailing on troubled waters. Globalization and its creature- a rapidly and radically changing world- have made many people feel uncomfortable, unstable, unsecured, threatened, and ignored. Therefore, many tend to look at the past with great fondness, for in the past boundaries were clear, and a strong axis around which the world rotated reigned supreme.
Unlike many of my liberal peers, I think I can empathize (or at least I hope so) with those who feel that way. I do not see such sentiments as unintelligible; I just don’t share them. Nevertheless, tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner, is a dangerous maxim which one should never cherish. We are witnessing the rise of “identities” as malicious cards to exclude other people’s rights. Rabble-rouser will benefit from and steer these intolerant approaches. In this world of ours where, “fair is foul and foul is fair,” we shall miss the uprooted, the “aliens”, the outsiders.