I have to start by saying this video is a fantastic communication product. Aired as part of a news program, it’s designed to stubbornly drive home a single message, and attempts to grind it in to the public consciousness: Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine. If you stand back and watch this through a zoomed out lens, it’s like the King is giving an interactive presentation, and at minute three he actually does. Speaking about his rejection of the alternative homeland – the legendary plan to transfer remaining Palestinians in to Jordan – the King, in fairly informal language, provides us with evidence of his uniformity on the issue: a string of his comments on the alternative homeland from the past decade or so.
The video exposes us to what the King likely genuinely believes regarding this issue. It is obviously one he finds annoying and bordering on the absurd, as he demonstrates. Many have commented on the shift in tone, and that too is fairly apparent throughout. But aside from the aesthetics, I wanted to dig a bit deeper in to what the King is actually saying rather than just how he’s saying it.
He comments about how seasonal this issue is, and he’s right about that. Like clockwork, we’ve come to rely on it rearing its head almost every year in recent times. He comments about Jordan’s proactive role in the peace process as necessary, and he’s right about that too. He says we have much more important issues to deal with, and that also is (partially) true. He mentions the existence of a “group” of people that are responsible for fueling this issue, and subsequently social discord.
And this is the part I found most interesting. Not the discovery of a group of “responsible parties”, but rather the King’s framing of the issue as a matter of sedition. That term itself – fitna – isn’t a casual one to throw around, as any Jordanian journalist that has seen the inside of a courtroom will tell you.
However, the reason the King describes this issue as fueling social discord indicates that there is naturally a social dimension that is at odds with the concept of the alternative homeland – a dimension that is threatening enough that it warrants annual royal intervention. It suggests that the very notion of the alternative homeland aggravates us some how on a societal level. The natural question to ask here is: why? Why are we aggravated? What makes us so uncomfortable with the idea? The answers are usually alluded to but never really addressed head on.
It probably needs no pointing out, but there is no unified interpretation of what an alternative Palestinian homeland in Jordan actually means. Every side has their agenda, and subsequently, their interpretation. The Jordanian right tends to subscribe to interpretations from the Israeli right, which are usually absolutist and therefore somewhat illusionary in nature. It’s an extremist interpretation that suggests we would wake up one day to find a new flag, new national anthem and new leadership. Meanwhile, the more nuanced interpretations sound too conspiratorial. The alternative homeland is usually painted as a phased plan, agreed upon behind closed doors, and involves a gradual demographic encroachment on Jordanian soil, the expansion of the occupation in the West Bank, followed by neoliberal economic policies that seek to remake the Jordanian identity as an effectively neutralized global and capitalist identity.
And that, I suppose, is the magic word yet again. Identity. That’s really what makes us uncomfortable; that’s where the social discord lies, that’s the elephant in the room. The alternative homeland is merely a thorn in its side. There is an entire population out there that drops all logic to the floor when the issue of an alternative homeland arises, and becomes emotionally driven. It’s because the issue provokes the question of identity: they are thinking about what the establishment of an alternative homeland on Jordanian soil would mean for them and their collective. Where do they fit in the scheme? Are the old social contracts invalidated? What new social realities will they face in an alternative homeland? All the while, Fragmented and subjective narratives of 1970 history – a past attempt to create an alternative homeland – streams through the mind like a film reel.
In the video, the King suggests (11:20) that Jordanian citizens silence one another should the topic of an alternative homeland ever be brought up in everyday conversation. Playing to cultural norms, he strategically shrouds the issue in shame, rendering it shameful to even discuss. But the problem with this approach is that it builds on a continued policy of sweeping the biggest societal issue under the rug, or perhaps in our case, throwing the rug on top of the elephant and hoping no one notices. Our inability to reconcile who we are as Jordanians fuels our inability to trust one another, which means conspiracies like the alternative homeland will continue to circulate whether the list of names the King has are published or not next year.
The strategy of silence is largely responsible for allowing the issue of national identity to fester, and manifest in different shapes and forms, the alternative homeland being only one of them. The Arab Spring has pushed this unstable identity in to more hostile waters, providing an open invitation for different parties to manipulate the issue for an assortment of reasons.
But the agenda of those who fan the flames isn’t very relevant to me so much as the fact that there are flames there to fan in the first place. “Responsible parties” are not “creating” social discord – a word that gives the impression something is being manufactured – instead, they are pressing on open wounds already there. And these are wounds that have been poked by different actors for different purposes, including the state. So, it’s quite possible that one can shame certain “responsible parties” from poking the wound and aggravating society, but the wound remains the same.
The King was right when he said the Arab Spring presented an opportunity for Jordan. My personal fear is that failing to address this wound is perhaps the biggest opportunity we’re missing.