Living in Jordan has been a very interesting experience. I expect living in any country where you did not grow up inculturatedis a similarly eye-opening experience. However, Jordan is such a set of contradictions. I find myself wondering, am I the only one who fails to see how anyone can reconcile them. With the drama unfolding in the region, much has been said about Jordan. In the US, as is often the case in this fabulously Muslim-fearing world, the news has focused on alarming demonstrations (far smaller and more peaceful than those back in 2009 over Gaza mind you). I posted previously the wish that Westerners would just call to a halt the scare-tactic laden discussions of my chosen home. However, no one seems to be talking about the challenges facing Jordan’s King.
Jordan is a country with deep divisions. The gulf between East Amman and West Amman is wide. East Amman is the more historic part of Amman. The buildings are often older and the people tend to be more conservative. West Amman is marked by newer buildings, most of it having been constructed in the last 20-30 years. Walking down the streets of the bustling West Amman shopping districts, it is not unusual to find young ladies in outfits that would raise an eyebrow in New York. And the ladies are not foreigners. In a country where some women wear the niqab (the covering that hides everything but the eyes) and others wear shorts, sleeveless tops, and sandals it is hard to see how everyone can come together.
Reading articles like this one, which talks about how many different groups want reform doesn’t help. Let’s have economic reform, some are calling. Let’s have political reform others shout. And yet, notice we don’t see calls for social reform. Somehow people seems to think that by clamoring for the freedom to think, say, and write what they like other freedoms won’t naturally follow. In a country where eating on the streets is illegal during Ramadan (regardless of your religion or interest in observing), let’s have political reform and the freedom to write what we like. Somehow I think that the same people who are clamoring for change really want only the changes they want. They want financial transparency and at the same time a return to less privatization. One step forward, one step back. At the same time, there are many who want real economic reform and further liberalization of the market. How does one reconcile these opposing positions?
The splintering demonstrators of the last month failed to even agree to continue on. The Muslim Brotherhood/IAF and the other opposition groups found their aims and goals too far apart to maintain unity for more than a few weeks. How, then, is the King supposed to take concrete action upon which that all groups can agree? I certainly don’t envy His Majesty this fine line he must tread. People want speedy reform, except that they actually need slow progress. Society will need time to change itself and keep up with the changes in both the political and economic fronts. For free and open elections, you would need a public that sees voting as a civic duty. That is not currently the case. It is also not a fast change to come. When I voted (in the last 2 elections here in Jordan), friends from Jordan were astounded. What?! I, who was not born and raised here, would actually go and vote? But why? You see, that attitude must change before Jordan is ready for free elections that actually represent the people, not a single politically active segment of the people.
I am part of an absolutely wonderful e-group of ladies here in Amman. We are mostly American (with other nationalities mixed in for flavor). And mostly hijabi (not me, of course, but…). Most of the ladies are very observant Muslims. They paint for me a realistic picture of the beauty of Islam. It is a very different picture than I see when I see terrorism in the name of Islam. I am blessed to have this counterpoint. And yet, these ladies have many of the same challenges inside their local families that I am talking about. The gulf between them and their families is not less (and actually in many ways perhaps greater) than that between them and me. So how then do we reconcile this disjointedness? How can the King architect a future that all Jordanians can get behind? I don’t have any answers (a position I hate to be in, mind you), but I think the questions are worth asking. The one thing I do know is that King Abdullah II is an exceptional bright spot in Jordan’s global image. His wife, regardless of what others may think, is opening America’s hearts and minds to Muslims and to Jordan. As the face of Jordan, this couple is an inspiration.
The problem Jordan faces are not simple. In order to solve them, it needs real dialog among people who recognize that they are part of the solution. The King can not architect this on his own. It simply isn’t possible. And, in order to solve these real and difficult issues we must each set aside ourselves and think about what is best for Jordan. Not our tribe, not our family, not our religion. We need to think about what is best for all Jordanians if we are to find a way through these terribly difficult global times. I wish His Majesty the very best of luck and my prayers are most certainly with him. I know that with wisdom and honest openness, Jordan’s path can be a shining example to the entire region.