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On the 30th June 2021, I chaired a session entitled “Identities in the Muslim Diaspora” for the 17th EACLALS Triennial Conference at Cardiff University 28th-30th June 2021. The session included presentations by PhD researchers from UK universities at different stages of their research. In line with the conference’s theme of Transcultural Mo(ve)ments, the papers topics ranged from Palestinian diaspora fiction, the cultural productions of “Home” in contemporary diasporic fiction and the concept of third-spacing in the narratives of the female Arab-American writers. Despite the uniqueness of the approaches to the fictional texts the researchers analysed, they all hit upon themes relating to cultural dislocation, diasporic experiences, and the clashes of the encounter between the Western and Eastern worlds. In their analyses, the presenters examined how the authors/characters’ ethnic, bi-cultural and individual identities, in the texts they analyse, are shaped by political, ethnic, cultural and gendered factors.

These topics raised a question about the role of fiction writers as historians and in our case, at the Refugee Wales Project, as oral historians who respond to and who present a record to the future generations about a history of displacement and violence that led to issues of belonging, identity, race, memory, and trauma. I was particularly interested in two papers: Haleema Alaydi’s “Rethinking Palestinian Diaspora Fiction” and Anas Alhaisony’s “Forging British Asian Identites: Interrogating Cultural Productions of Home” as I found them closely related to our approach at the Refugee Wales Project.                                      

Having lived in the refugee camps in Jordan as a Palestinian refugee, Haleema Alaydiexamines the role fiction plays in producing new understandings of the Palestinian’s refugee identity and of shifting the refugee narrative from the trauma story to that of strength and resilience. These questions resonate with the issues we, in the Refugee Wales Project, are trying to respond to as they have been emerging from our interviews with both the Syrian and the Sri Lankan refugees. Haleema’s previous position as a Palestinian refugee and her current research on Palestinian fiction, amid a critical period in Palestine’s political history resembles my previous situation as a PhD researcher of the Iraqi Fiction of War in the aftermath of the US occupation to Iraq. Also Haleema’s involvement with interviewing refugees, as part of her research, is similar to mine, as a previous asylum seeker myself now interviewing Syrian refugees for the Refugee Wales Project. This synergy brings about questions that concern empathy and the subjective/objective position of the researcher in dealing with the research subjects who are witnessing an ongoing political upheaval back home. 

I was also interested in Anas Alhaisony’s examination of Susheila Nasta’s definition of home not as that ‘where one belongs [to], but [as] the place where one starts from’ (2002). This concept of home made me reflect on the way Khalid, one of my Syrian interviewees, refers to his new life and that of his family in Wales as: “This is our society now” (Refugee Wales Interview, 2021). The idea of “home as the place where one starts from” brings a series of related ideas in terms of the “two-way approach to integration” which, Noor, another Syrian participant suggested while reflecting on her experience of resettlement in Cardiff in 2016 (Refugee Wales Interview, 2021).  I believe that such an approach would facilitate resettlement and makes refugees feel more welcomed, accepted, and less isolated and would pave the way for Wales to be a true Nation of Sanctuary.

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