Syrian refugee tackles integration with humor on YouTube
Kate Müser, Sertan Sanderson
February 5, 2016
Germany has been trying to explain its culture to incoming refugees, in hopes of integrating them ASAP. Now a Syrian refugee called Firas Alshater is using YouTube to explain Germans to the Germans - in a humorous way.
Firas Alshater is a 24-year-old Syrian with a lip ring, a friendly smile, and a beard. He looks like your typical 20-something Berliner. Back in Syria, he was a politically critical video journalist, but came to Germany two years ago.
Alshater recently launched a YouTube series called "Zukar" - Arabic for sugar - to make a fresh and humorous contribution to the heated integration debate in Germany. While Germans have been scrambling to explain their cultural values to incoming asylum-seekers, Alshater turns the tables and poses the question: Who are these Germans?
In his first video, which has already been viewed through different platforms over 2.5 million times, Alshater tries an experiment he's seen before. He stands blindfolded on Alexanderplatz in downtown Berlin with a cardboard sign that reads: "I'm a Syrian refugee. I trust you - do you trust me? Hug me."
He waits for some time with his arms outstretched before a few free hugs finally come his way - first from a tourist.
"When the Germans start something, they never quit," he concludes. "I learned that Germans need a bit of time, but then they can't be stopped."
The comments beneath the YouTube video were largely supportive and many offered Firas Alshater "digital hugs." One user pointed out, however, that the concept of offering free hugs to strangers comes from the US and isn't so widespread in Germany - though that shouldn't be interpreted as impoliteness.
New video guest-starring cats
In his latest video, Alshater turns his focus as well as his humor to cats, claiming that they take away his job. Referring to cat videos with millions of clicks on YouTube, Alshater amusingly laments that cats don't even have to do anything to get as much attention as they do. He even adds that they are offered asylum wherever they turn up - in an unmistakable reference to the kind of slogans propagated by right wing groupings like PEGIDA.
Whether these movements take any notice of Firas Alshater or not remains unclear, but the Syrian filmmaker seems to want his adversaries to have him on their radar, saying "if you really try hard enough you can get to hate anything" in his video.
Alshater's YouTube channel links to zukar.org, which offers information on various projects for and from refugees, mainly in Berlin.