What I always found to be interesting is when Emad Hajjaj remodels an old caricature to reflect a more updated take on it. A real fan will experience a sense of deja vu and today’s caricature is particularly intriguing as it takes on an issue that I am developing a personal taste for: political participation of young Jordanians.
Abu-Mahjoob offers his son sage advice on his first day of university, essentially encouraging him to participate in university politics, join political parties, elections and criticism of the government. He is after all as Abu-Mahjoob points out, still young and besides, the government has been inviting people to join parties. BUT Abu-Mahjoob is quick to add that if his son tells anyone that Abu-Mahjoob is his father or that he even knows him, he’ll report him (to the authorities).
Now this is Hajjaj’s earlier take on the issue, as published only four years earlier, in October of 2002.
On the contrary, Abu-Mahjoob warns his son not to join any organization or political party and not to participate in any elections or rallies (amongst other things). And with all those at-the-university-gates warnings delivered Abu-Mahjoob concludes by wishing his son a fruitful university career, filled with experiences, participation and challenges.
This isn’t the first time Hajjaj has commented on politics and our youth, but both caricatures serve as a potent social message, emphasizing the underlying fear of the people that political participation today, despite all the ‘encouragement’ and campaigning of the government in the past few years, is something that is still suspect; still to be feared.
Keeping in mind that all things are relative, this assumption is in part true.
The government has been pushing for people to become more politically active yet has sent little to no signals to indicate the existence of the most essential variable in the equation: trust.
People stopped trusting their government a long time ago and the government stopped trusting the people. This is some what true for most countries around the world. However given the fact that this government has indicated its desire to see an increase in political participation, a bridge of trust must be built in order for the people to cross. And of all the people who are suspicious of the motives of our government, the youth would top the list. That’s a pretty large chunk of people when you consider about 60% of our population is under the age of 25.
If the government is actually serious about raising a generation of politically active Jordanians, the largest such generation in its modern history, then laying the groundworks for trust is key. Whether through government grants for those seeking to establish and fund youth organizations of a political nature, or by increasing freedom of speech, every move is one that the youth is watching, discussing and drawing conclusions about. If journalists 20 or 30 years older than the average Jordanian youth can suddenly speak freely in a newspaper article without fear of incarceration or censorship, then this establishes a new model for those of us under 25 to consider. If the exact opposite is happening then that too will come with its own perceptions to consider.
That being said, freedom of speech has no doubt increased in the country; a simple comparison to the state of affairs in 1986 or even 1996 will allow one to draw a similar conclusion. However freedom of speech has entered the territory of the 21st century where the advent of the information age has made all freedoms, particularly those pertaining to speech, completely and absolutely relative. Satellites, cell phones, the Internet, computers, 24 hour news networks and technology in general has all made information accessible to even the most stranded people in Jordan. Tech savvy youth are to be found in all corners of the kingdom and with that technology comes access to an infinite amount of information. When one factors this in, freedom of speech becomes more relative to its new surroundings.
In the ideal situation I would like to see an increase in political participation coming from my generation coupled with strong indications from the government that establishes a reliable level of trust in the country; preferably in the form of increased freedoms. But since situations of this nature tend to be far from idealistic, I would like to see my generation pushing the folds of freedom more and more in spite of government inaction. I say this because there tends to be a sense of reluctant laziness abound emanating from those my age who feel they can’t change anything so they might as well give up on trying. A society that pushes the fold in turn pushes the political situation to adjust itself. If there is demand, supply will be forced to catch up.