Independence… What Does It Mean and Is Jordan Really Independent?

In honor of Jordan’s Independence Day today, I wanted to think for a few minutes about independence.  We celebrate it in most countries that were originally colonized.  It is widely (and wildly) celebrated in both of my homes, Jordan and the US.  Seeing it in two places gives you interesting perspective into similarities and differences.  It’s interesting that no matter how many years later, the celebration continues.

You might think that there would be less rabid feelings about independence when the people you gained independence from were your cousins.  After all, America fought for independence from Britain.  At the time, the prominent families in America were nearly all prominent British families.  These were our brothers, our cousins, our people.  In Jordan, it was clear who the colonizers were.  The people with blond hair and blue eyes were probably here as part of the colonial empire.  But, America’s euphoria at Independence Day is no less than Jordan’s.  Or perhaps I should say no more.

Today I used the holiday to take a small break.   I had lunch with work friends whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.  We worked together some time ago (many of you may recall my post on the topic of the fine company).  We enjoyed catching up.  Two of the gals have babies, one has gone on to a stellar career with an international company’s Jordan office.  Each has grown.  After lunch, I had to take the girlBeans to rehearse for their upcoming performance.  Coming home, we passed the King Hussein Park.  We were fortunate in being able to get to the far left lane of the street passing it as the revelers have 2 of the 3 lanes blocked on the road.  There are copious amounts of police officers in place to inspect vehicles causing a back-up for quite some distance.

In addition to the big gathering, the fighter jets fly in formation about the country (some long-time readers may recall my confusion and alarm at this our first year in Jordan).  It’s a lot like a Blue Angels show.  Very impressive to see and hear.  And large crowds gather to celebrate the independence of the country.  Flag sellers replace flower and junk-toy peddlers on the street corners.  In all, it is clear that people are gathering to have a great time.

So, what does it all mean?  Why do we get so excited about independence?  Well, I’ve got some ideas about that.

  1. Togetherness: Independence Day reminds everyone of the fact this is one country.  It isn’t Jordanian Jordanians vs. Palestinian Jordanians.  It isn’t Christians vs. Muslims.  It is all of us together.  Everyone celebrates the country that has captured our hearts today.
  2. Uniqueness: This day is about celebrating what makes Jordan special.  It’s not a day to compare ourselves to others.  It’s a day to see that we are special for who and what we are, as Jordanians.
  3. Separateness:  Rather than looking at global inclusiveness or even pan-Arabism, today is a day that we celebrate just being us.  We are alone and stand on our own.  Somehow, in this high desert people managed to carve out a life.  Even today, we make the experience of living in Jordan our own.  This is our country.
There is, though, one thing that worries me about Jordan and its independence.  That thing?  Well, it’s Jordan’s dependence.  Jordan depends so much on outside entities that in some areas, it has forgotten how to stand on its own.  In many areas, I’m not sure Jordanians even want to stand on their own.  I see Jordanian businesses looking for “free” services and “free” money.  Everyone’s hand is out looking for whatever they can get from the West.  NGOs depend on outside donation ahead of (and instead of) local donation.  People in Jordan have begun to take it for granted that the world should give them things.  

We should be ashamed to expect.  We should be ashamed that the average American spends more on building Jordan that the wealthy Jordanian.  We should be ashamed that we value “free” from outside more than paid expertise from inside.  We should be worried that one day soon we will forget how to be independent.  I’m worried about that.  I’m worried that we’re crossing that boundary today.  I sincerely hope that we have not reached a point of no return, but fear we have.  So, I call on all Jordanians, each of us here and abroad.  Stand up and say, I don’t need hand-outs, I’ll be building my community myself.  Get involved.  Find ways to make a difference on your own.  Don’t look around for money from outside.  Dig in, give your time, raise your funds.  Basically, remember what it is that you fought for.  You wanted independence, so claim it, own it, live it…
Happy Independence Day!
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6 thoughts on “Independence… What Does It Mean and Is Jordan Really Independent?

  1. I don’t pretend to know what would make things get better but the way it is right now and perhaps for many years to come is hopless case (please see Naseem’s post about independence day). I think that part of the problem is Jordanian people jealousy from the Kuwaiti, Saudi and Gulf people- with respect to their wealth and why is it not shared with their brothers in Jordan. It gives the people of Jordan a sense of frustration and apathy. Why them not us! Moreover, it is a jealousy from the Israeli people and their military strength. The Jordanian people wonder: How come the Israelis are so strong militarily and we are not? How come they are so strong economically and we are not.?! We have the oil wealth , we can buy military hardware and spread it throughout the Middle East to deter the Israelis with it but we are not. That is my view regarding the external reasons, as far as the internal reasons, the Black Iris (Naseem) has done a marvelous job in addressing that issue in a very succinct fashion. When will things get better? I have no idea but I get the feeling that it will get much worse before it will get better. People are now gambling on the joining of the gulf cooperative council to add some flavor to the existing misery, I personally don’t think so because even if Jordan joines it will be a limited union based on cultural and few other aspects but not the way people are envisioning things to be all pollyanish and so on. I hope that I’m wrong but I really don’t see Jordan flourshing for many years to come.

    • Max, thanks for providing perspective. I hopped over to read Nas’ post (good to see he’s blogging again). He always has interesting insight. Clearly I take a more positive view of the world than he does. The culture here is very much about looking at others and comparing to others. The behavior is taught at the earliest of ages. How do we fix it? We break the cycle. Critics continue to argue that the approach of changing the young takes a long time. In fact, any alsting change takes a long time. As for seeing Jordan flourish, I agree that is some time in the future. After all, Jordan needs to understand what it is and what it is not (the new Dubai, a competitor for Indian companies in call centers, etc.) before it can make true strides. I expect it also needs some blue ocean thinking abut what it COULD be. I would not be the kind of person to do that sort of thinking. But surely there are some out there who can. The GCC is, in reality, a non-event as far as making a concrete difference in Jordan’s future. But what is a concrete difference, and I don’t hear from Nas, is changing the viewpoint of the youth. Personally, I do my thought leadership and giveback among the youth of Jordan. I don’t spend time trying to change adult minds, I spend time introducing young minds to new ways of thinking. In fact, I think our biggest bang fo the buck is changing the minds of those 20 and 30 somethings who have not yet but will soon start families. Those who will son be (or just started) raising children. Those are the mindsets that will make a difference… Thanks for joining the conversation.

  2. Arabs and Jordanians learn early on that applying oneself and working hard get you nowhere in the Arab World. You have to leave the region to advance in life and career. As for the oil, it belongs to the Arab World, not just a few Arab families but that is the Divide and Conquer principle that was put forth by Sykes/Picot with the collaboration of a few soon to be gulf emirates and principalities. Lastly, the Israelis are all for one, one for all. They talk the talk and walk the walk. Arabs just talk.

    • Joe, unfortunately, I don’t disagree with you that hard work does not bring desired results much of the time here. You may indeed need to leave the region (as I mentioned in a previous post) to be appreciated and have the chance to develop professionally. But you may also find ways to build the region. And, honestly, if everyone leaves then what have you got left? I know that returning to Jordan is often the hardest thing that Jordanians do. We made that choice and it is much harder for El 3atal than for me. In part, that is because I can find my own bubble, as Nas suggests. The one area that I differ from him is that I intentionally include in that bubble spending time with and trying to build new thoughts and ideas among young people in Jordan. As for oil, it is a political reality that is not likely change… ever. So, Jordan needs to buck up, determine who it is and wants to be, and move on. Enough worrying about what Dubai has or Saudi has or… let’s figure out what we have and how we can make it great. From there, we can achieve great things. I know that I paint a rosy picture of the hard work ahead, but I live in Jordan by choice. I want to see it become a better place. I want to see it become the Jordan I know it can be… for my kids’ sake.

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