Francesca Scalinci holds a PhD in Anglo-American and Postcolonial Studies from the University Ca’ Foscari of Venice. Her research was mainly focused on the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. As a human rights activist, she has been following Syrian events since 2013, taking part in many campaigns in support of freedom and justice for Syrians. She is also a poet and many of her poems deal with the themes of exile and diaspora and testify to her great love for Syria and the Syrian people.
Scalinci, mother to four beautiful children, writes in both English and Italian and is also the author of two short stories for children, one of which focus on children’s rights.
She is also proficient in speaking and writing Arabic which has been extremely helpful in her activism for Syria.
As a regular contributor to SYRIAWISE since its inception, Francesca shares, in this interview, with our readers more about herself and why she is so passionate about Syria.
We know you have always been a humanitarian but how was it that you got so deeply involved in supporting the Syrian people’s fight for freedom, dignity, and justice?
I was struck by their [Syrians’] graceful hospitality and by their incredible ability to face difficultiesFrancesca Scalinci
Thanks to my studies, which 9 years ago were specifically focused on the Mediterranean, I was already following what was happening in North Africa and the Levant. At that time, however, I started following the humanitarian work of one of the first Italian organizations dealing with Syrians. It is through them that I got to know my “first” Syrian family, which arrived in Italy in 2014. I’ve been a lot in the Middle East but never to Syria and that was my first contact with the amazing Syrian people. I was struck by their graceful hospitality and by their incredible ability to face difficulties. From then on, everything became in a way more personal and I felt the need to enquire more deeply into the Syrian issue.
Francesca, you have strong connections and channels with many free Syrians and activists all over the world. How were you able to gain their trust?
It took years to create and strengthen some of these connections. Because of their history, Syrians, understandably, don’t trust easily. I think that it helped a lot to put myself out there with my real name and face, to show people that I was a real person with real life. Also, I’ve done my best to study a little bit of Arabic and understand Syrian culture and way of thinking, in order to put myself in Syrians’ shoes and try to look at matters from their point of view, when possible.
You acquired a PhD in Post-Colonial Studies; do you believe that being a post-colonial state had anything to do with the situation in Syria?
Yes, definitely. This is of course a very important and complex question that would require a long answer. Anyway, it is undeniable that, culturally and politically, the pan-Arabist movement, which led for example to the birth of the Baath party in Syria and Iraq, was inherently anticolonial and set to undermine colonial power. Unfortunately, from a political point of view, it became the ground for postcolonial authoritarianism in many countries, Syria included.
Do your children understand why you are so vocal about the Syrian crisis and does anyone else in your family share in your activism?
It’s not always been easy for my children to understand my involvement in the Syrian issue. Although I always try to put my family first, from a very young age they had to cope with me dealing with ‘heavy’ topics. I believe they have sometimes wished they had a more conventional mother. Despite them not taking part in my activism, I’m realizing that, especially in my eldest children, my commitment to Syria and Syrians might have helped them develop a peculiar sense of justice and a love for freedom. I let them be free to form their ideas and choose their struggles, although I’ve set a red line: never to contradict me on Syria inside my house.
I made a choice. I am not better than the Syrians who have been brutally tortured and murdered in the appalling silence of the worldFrancesca Scalinci
Not everyone in Italy is sympathetic to the Syrian revolutionaries, as an activist in Italy have you ever been threatened because of your activism?
As I said in the beginning, I made a specific choice to use my real name, and my face and be very open about who I am. So, I was aware of the possible consequences of this choice. Yes, a few years ago I received several threats — addressed to me and my family — from what appeared to be European Assadists belonging to the far right (mainly Italian and Austrian). To be sincere, I don’t pay too much attention to these things and I’m not afraid, because I think that dogs that bark don’t bite. Of course, I try to protect my family but, as far as I’m concerned, I made a choice. I am not better than the Syrians who have been brutally tortured and murdered in the appalling silence of the world.
I will visit it [SYRia] only after the fall of this murderous regime and when my dear friends who haven’t seen their families for years will be able to go in safetyFrancesca Scalinci
You once engaged in a hunger strike for a week in solidarity with Idlib, do you think it was effective in any way?
The hunger strike was a very significant and formative experience for me personally. Honestly, I don’t think it was influential from a political and humanitarian point of view, meaning that I don’t think decisions regarding Syria were taken on that premise. It is not our fault; it actually takes a lot of favorable conditions for a hunger strike to be really effective. Yet, it was a way to show a part of the world and, why not, the Syrian regime as well, that there are people, both Syrians and non-Syrians, that really care and are ready to pay personally for this cause.
Regarding your dream to visit Syria that you share with many free Syrians, where would you want to go first?
I would certainly go to northern Syria. I am always so immensely grateful for the love and respect I receive from people there, despite me being far, culturally, and geographically. I think I would start with Binnish and Jisr al Shughour. As far as the rest of the country is concerned, I will visit it only after the fall of this murderous regime and when my dear friends who haven’t seen their families for years will be able to go in safety.
the real asset and richness of Syria are Syrians themselvesFrancesca Scalinci
What do you expect for Syria in the future?
If I have to stick to reality, the situation is very difficult and it’s hard to stay hopeful about the future of the country itself. However, the real asset and richness of Syria are Syrians themselves. Syrians usually have high standards for everything and tend to be so hard on themselves but they are amazing, hard-working people, who are capable of rebuilding and recreating life everywhere and transforming mud into gold. There is now a generation of Syrians in exile that is studying and achieving great goals. I like to think they’re the ones who will rebuild the country and make it bloom.