Marwa al-Sabouni is a Syrian architect who watched her home city of Homs destroyed during the Syrian conflict between 2011 and 2014. Out of that experience, she penned an intensely moving and haunting account of what the idea of home means. She writes of how the dwellings we live in are intimately connected with our own sense of self:
‘Our homes don’t just contain our life earnings, they stand for what we are. To destroy one’s home should be taken as an equal crime to destroying one’s soul.’
It’s a statement that echoes the biblical vision of every person able to ‘live in safety, under their own vine and under their own fig tree.’ Yet it’s also a sentence that also haunts me whenever I go near Grenfell Tower or spend time with its survivors. It should also resonate with the hearts of Conservative politicians, as they promote the benefits of home ownership, expressing themes such as the importance of place, personal responsibility and individual enterprise.
We are fascinated by Homes under the Hammer, Location, Location, Location or numerous other TV programmes that focus on the process of choosing and then building a home. Our homes matter to us. It also matters that we feel safe in them. We put down roots in a place because we were somehow made to do so. The threat of our homes being destroyed, even if we were to survive, is a threat to our sense of belonging in the world.
For many years, Conservative governments in particular have focused on home ownership as a key foundation stone of our economy and building strong communities. The link between freedom and personal property is well established in conservative political philosophy.