So, a couple of months ago I put out there the idea that Jordan simply isn’t ready for democracy yet. It is an idea that ruffles some feathers… lots of feathers. I stand by the idea, though. In fact, the unfortunate end to the March 24 demonstrations rather added more evidence to my assertion. Thinking about it, I decided it would be good to explain just why I say that Jordan is not ready for democracy yet. Perhaps it will provide perspective and understanding as to what I mean. Perhaps it will help some, particularly the young folks, take steps to BECOME ready. Because, after all, a unique and functional Middle Eastern-style democracy would be a thing of beauty to behold. So, I will try to express some of the key ideals that are missing that are going to be necessary to find a path to democracy Jordan-style.
Protection of Minorities:
I say this one again. Anyone who has read my past post on this topic knows that I rate this extremely highly. In order for a strong democracy to avoid turning into a autocracy or dictatorship of the strongest faction, protection of the minority needs to become part of the collective psyche. As an example, Iran may have elected Ahmadinejad. However, he quickly moved to establish what is, in effect, a religious dictatorship. There is no protection of the minorities in Iran. Jordan is a nation of minority groups, or at least without majority groups. The Jordanian tribes are a minority, the religious conservatives are a minority group, the unobservant Muslims are a minority group, the Christians are a minority group. In fact, I’m not honestly sure there IS a majority group. Given this, each group needs to begin to understand that minorities are the lifeblood of the nation. This very diversity is what makes Jordan an engaging, welcoming, wonderful place. Rather than playing up divisions and how great our group is, we must pull together and understand that we are ALL Jordan.
Freedom of Opinion and Speech:
In case you’re hiding under a bushel and haven’t seen Nas’ postover at the Black Iris, I recommend you go check it out. He tells about his experience at the Interior Ministry circle reporting on the March 24 protests and talks about his impressions of each of the groups and players in the unfortunate events. One of the things that troubled Nas is the fact that the anti-reform (his term) group refused to allow the pro-reform group to speak their opinion. That simply has to stop. In order to democracy and freedom to flourish, people must be able to have an opinion that differs from the herd. In fact, isn’t that the very definition of freedom. We can no longer believe that our opinion is the only valid one. In the best democracies (and since George W was in office I can no longer classify the American democracy as one), the conversation is more important than the outcome. You should be standing up and giving everything that you are to ensure that the person who represents everything that you hate is able to speak freely. That is what it’s all about. Finding ways to accept the conversation. if someone criticizes your religion, the answer is not calling for their death. The answer is listening to what they have to say, evaluating whether there is a kernel of truth, and determining whether you need to take action. It is isn’t easy. In fact, it’s darn hard. But it’s how a society grows in freedom.
Supporting the Winners in an Honest Election… Even When They Aren’t Your Choice:
I saw this article
in the Jordan Times Friday and found it indicative of one of Jordan’s major issues with democracy and participative elections. Apparently after an election at one of the local universities for student union elections (really?! seriously?!), supporters of unsuccessful candidates began to throw rocks and turned violent. Not content to have only students involved, family members and outsiders came to lend support to the violence. This is after a nine year suspension of elections due to campus violence. Apparently the suspensions did not lead to learning. But, here is the crux. If you have a democracy, you support the winners. You may not love them… you may not even like them. But, of they won in fair elections, you accept their right to serve. You don’t become violent because your candidate didn’t win. If Jordanian youth can not be responsible and respectful in CAMPUS elections, why would we expect that they can in national elections?! And, is this attitude limited to youth? In the last elections we saw candidates that use violence to try and ensure that their candidate won. This behavior is irresponsible and must stop.
Jordan is plagued by divisionism. The Jordanian Jordanians view the Palestinian Jordanians as interlopers, the Palestinian Jordanians view the Jordanian Jordanians as entrenched cronyisticprofiteers. Everyone has some way to show how very different they are from everyone else. You know what, I am an American Christian Jordanian. And you know what I have in common with everyone else in this fair land? I am just as Jordanian as the next person… Really. Hard as it may be to believe. I didn’t grow up here, I don’t have family ties to the region. What I DO have is a heart for Jordan. I have a love for its people and its places. I’m not unusual. I’m Jordanian. Jordan is at its best, it IS its best because it is made of of many, many people from many places. It has Circassians, Armenians, Jordanians, Palestinians, bedu, city-folk, Christians, and Muslims. This very diversity, this very difference is one of the keys to Jordan being Jordan. As much as some reactionaries may long for the distant past when Jordan was a land of one people, I suspect that land never actually existed. I know in Biblical times Jordan was a trade route. Does anyone actually think that no one ever ventured on the trade route, found Jordan to be a wonderful country and stayed? Clearly, Jordan has never been a single group of people. And, that is part of its wonderful strength. For a democracy to work, Jordan needs to accept (please excuse the use of the horrid campaign slogan) that every Jordanian is a Jordanian. All these other divisions are nothing more than white noise. They are meaningless chatter. And the state needs to recognize this in its relationship with its citizens. It should not relate to its citizens as Christian/Muslim and male/female and Jordanian descent/Palestinian descent. It should simply relate to its people as Jordanian. And, except for that small handful of folks living in a camp who may, in fact, long to return to Palestine… it should accept that Jordanians of Palestinian descent are here to stay. They’re not going anywhere. They are, at the end of it all, just Jordanian like everyone else.
The Silent Majority
I actually think that the silent majority isn’t simply silent. It’s actually rather an apathetic majority. And that doesn’t work in a democracy. People have to be willing to have an opinion. And once they have that opinion, they must be willing to put it out there. They shouldn’t be voting based on tribal affiliation, but rather best person for the job. And they can’t simply sit by and let others make decisions for them. Until Jordan has people excited about elections with real candidates and actual parties that have some sort of platform, democracy will be stillborn.
Unlike others, let me say that I don’t find this situation at all grim. I find it very encouraging. After all, if we can identify concrete things that need work, we can put in place a plan to work on them. And, more importantly, if we can build a constructive conversation, we can begin to understand what democracy a la Jordan looks like. Because the one thing I am certain of, Jordan’s democracy can not, must not be a carbon copy of America’s democracy. if it is, then we can anticipate it will fit as well as it does in our nearest neighbor to the East (which is not at all). So, who else is ready to step up and start making a difference in thought, word, and deed? They say jaayeen, I say t3alameen (we are learning? does that even work? no idea but it’s a good slogan, no?)!