The No-Halloween-For-You conversation has been interesting to watch online in the past 24 hours. It tests a lot of assumptions, and speaks to the larger societal contradictions, ironies and catch-22s that we as Jordanians have been smothered by in recent years. Here are a few random thoughts on the matter:
– On one side of things, there’s hypocrisy – and plenty of it. The Ministry of Interior declares Halloween in violation of our “moral values” and our “traditions”. Night clubs and prostitution thrive, bars and alcohol thrive; but Halloween is deemed to contradict our moral values. This is to say nothing of the government getting involved in the most absurd things at a time and place where one would safely assume there to be bigger priorities.
These terms have been thrown around quite a bit recently, and from various sides, not just the conservative and/or Islamist side. I’ve seen people throw those words around when they react negatively to something local media has published that they don’t agree with – if they can’t counter it, they’ll simply say it opposes our “moral values and traditions”. Because it’s new; because it’s different; because it’s viewed as dangerous to the status quo. Conservatives come in various forms in this country: they could be religious, they could be tribal, and they can also be the conservative elite that has fought to preserve the status quo since the Arab Spring erupted in 2011. This is the same group that will cry “Freedom!” when Halloween parties are canceled, but have no problem seeing journalists go to jail for something they wrote, especially if they don’t agree with them. There are plenty of examples, but suffice to say, there’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around and it begs to be pointed out like the emperor with no clothes.
– Digging deeper, we obviously have a state that is keen on appeasing conservative forces whenever it’s up against the wall. This is nothing new and we’ve seen it before, and we’ve seen it repeated. But it’s also worth noting that seeing the government – and the larger apparatus that makes up the state – as this monolithic group of secular forces on par with the monarchy can be detrimental. Jordanian society, as a whole, has grown more conservative and/or religious in recent years, and there’s a whole spectrum of reasons why that is. What I’m arguing here is that, at the end of the day, despite all the “apple juice” drinking officials at the top of this pyramid scheme, the composition of the state, which employs over 40% of the working population, is largely conservative in nature. Their opposition to secular/liberal/western activities (whatever label the reader is comfortable with attaching) always find ways of manifesting – from the government bureaucrat sitting behind his/her desk, to dealing with the police – they will come at you with a certain mindset. From making it difficult to renew a license for a restaurant, to closing down cafes during Ramadan. Et cetera.
– Lastly, this conversation doesn’t really expand beyond the west Ammani bubble (let’s be honest about that), and I don’t say this to slap around this segment of society (although some times it does seem to beg for it), but rather to emphasize that where these conversations get stuck is telling of a larger problem. Halloween parties are for an elite segment of this society, and that segment does have a tendency to forget that there is a bigger Jordan that exists beyond the comparatively affluent geographical bubble it resides in. Does this mean this bubble must be subject to an antagonistic government that uses it as a convenient scapegoat to appease conservative forces whenever it needs to? No. Does this mean this bubble shouldn’t enjoy the privileges it can afford. No. People should be allowed to exercise free will. But it’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority of the population barely has access to some* basic resources, let alone access to parties or various other cultural activities that take place within the confines of west Amman.
This is largely why few are going to rally to support the activities of the privileged, especially when it is the elite class that has worked quite tirelessly in carving out these privileges and to some extent, ensuring that “the other” has limited access to them. Put aside the geography, and put aside the high pricing, but look to the unspoken policies and the messaging communicated to the people. From malls or restaurants or even at times the casual public space where security guards are positioned at entrances to throw up a palm and insist on “coubles only”, or the more PR-correct term, “families only”. To the luxurious St. Regis hotel being built on the fifth circle that is enveloped in signs reading “privilege of access”, while billboards elsewhere tell us that the new and shiny Abdali boulevard with all its glass towers and unaffordable luxury high-rises is now the “new” downtown.
There is a language being communicated, and since Amman isn’t fully quarantined with checkpoints to keep certain people out, or even hovering above the masses like a scene out of Elysium – everyday people interact with these messages, every, day.
It’s tough to draw conclusions, and I draw none here. The ironies, the contradictions, the catch-22s…all these things seem to intertwine and get so entangled that when they are tested, it feels like you’re being pulled apart in different directions. The sane mind that tries to see these events as bigger than what they are; that tries to make sense of them by factoring in all the angles (or as many as possible) – this mind is mentally tortured.
And if you really want to get all twisted up inside, simply add the following ingredients to the mix: Israeli occupation and the bombing of Gaza to the stone age; Syrian refugees flowing across our borders and in to desert camps, etc. Part of you will champion free choice, another part of you might say a party could be in bad taste. Another part might think the timing’s off. Another part might wonder when there’s ever been a good time to party in the past century. Another part could be thinking a sense of normalcy and even cheerfulness is in order. But another part might wonder if normalcy can ever teeter dangerously on aloofness, or societal detachment. And yet another part will wonder whether the government should be intervening at all in the cultural or personal activities its citizenry engages in. The twists and turns are endless.
So as I see it: the human side of being a Jordanian citizen in this day and age, is to be pulled in all these various contradictory directions, and to never be certain what is truly right and wrong. This could be the curse of the moderate, or this could simply be what it means to be human: to cherish complete freedom but to recognize the shortcomings it has to offer.
Regardless of the contradictions: what I do know is there needs to be a force pushing back.
Regardless of what the larger agenda is, simply relenting to conservative forces means this country goes no where but in one direction – and it’s a direction I would personally deem to be as unfavorable, to say the least. There’s a need for a clash between these two opposing forces – the kind that yields a critical discussion or even a great debate. Whether this manifests as physical protest, or better yet utilizing the Internet as a platform, producing much-needed culture-jamming, or finding ways to bypass the system – or all of the above, and then some. Simply put, anything short of this is just another lost opportunity to gain momentum, to even out the playing field, to fuel a movement. Anything short of this is simply one side clobbering the other until they all just give up and decide to move to Dubai.