[apologies in advance: this post was unavoidably long]
It’s been almost a month since I landed in Amman and one topic seems to dominate many of the discussions I’ve had with friends and family and taxi drivers: fights. Fighting in Jordan to be specific. I think the fight that happened at Yarmouk University was just a few days after I got here and lately I’ve been thinking: why do we as Jordanians love to fight? Why is there so much aggression built up inside of us that when someone pushes our buttons we are quick to issue them a one time warning along the lines of David Banner’s “don’t make me angry…you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” before he turns in to the Hulk moments later; white shirt ripping at the seams, muscles bulging, crazy eyes.
Everyone I meet seems to have a good fight story. Someone they know told them about someone who was in a fight. Stories that often defy reality and dance proudly on the edge of fantasy. Stories that involve the kung-fu stylings of Jackie Chan and the military prowess of Sun Tzu.
For your average male Jordanian, street fights are a right of passage. I don’t know many Jordanian males that have never been in a fight. Because really, in the wise words of Tyler Durden: how much can you possibly know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?
Open the newspaper on any given day and I guarantee you there is a story about a fight. Not murder, not a burglary gone wrong, not a drive by shooting, not spousal abuse, child abuse or domestic abuse. No. Put all of those common acts of violence aside and think of fist on fist street action.
Open the newspaper and you’ll find a story about a man who brings his daughter to the hospital only to be met with a doctor who ignored them who in turn is met with the mad fury of fists from a raging impatient father. Now between you and me the doctor, when quoted, came off as a total prick in the article and if you’ve ever been in a public hospital you’d know he probably had it coming.
You’ll read stories about a guy who was late for an exam only to be refused entry by a professor. You’ll read about how that professor ended up in a hospital bed soon after. I blame Red Bull.
In September of 2006 alone, 9 university campus fights occurred that resulted in 3 expulsions in a single week. A recent study on campus violence conducted in a single university, showed that during the 2005/06 academic year this university had 40 victims of violence.
This same study goes on to say that one of the major reasons for the violence was that students felt a “sense of adventurism and pleasure” as well as a “lack of justice and equality within the university”. Other reasons given include tribal extremism/ties.
With tribal fights we are talking about pride. Some tribes in Jordan are made up of thousands and thousands of members and so on any given campus you’re likely to find a great deal of the same family within the student body. One student might pick a fight with another student and somehow during an exchanging of words the family name is dragged in to it and that takes it to a whole other level. Each student assembles their own private army of tribal members and familiar allies. And at times such conflicts escalate to the point where tribal elders must sort out the mess.
But here’s another quite interesting reason this study came up with. At a recent student conference in Jerash, 48% of students surveyed say they strongly agree that the coed environment is to blame, while 28% agreed with the statement.
By coed we are talking about the mixing of the sexes in which this study indicates is one of the major reasons behind many of these fights involves a girl. Either it’s two guys fighting over a girl, someone defending a girl’s honor or wanting girls to pay attention to them.
Now I believe the majority of our public schools are not coeducational while our universities are. So males who do not know how to interact with females (and vice versa) is very common. And if you think males in Jordan are not prepared to start a fight over a girl just to get her attention then you must be out of your mind.
When it comes to deterrents the study seems to blame the lack of harsh punishments as well as our students having too much free time on their hands. I’m not so sure harsher punishments would solve the problem: probably only make it that more appealing. And I’m not so sure joining the arts and crafts club is going to solve the problem either. But if fights are going to happen and punishments are going to be dealt out then these students should be taken to clean up the streets. At least that’s a punishment that would embarrass them while allow the community to benefit from them.
Beyond the bloody boxing rings of Jordanian universities, people seem to be fighting everywhere.
Our Members of Parliament set a fine example only days after the controversial student clashes at Yarmouk University, when they fought it out bare knuckle boxing style right there on the floor of the Lower House of Parliament. The politicians way of getting his point across, you know, the civil way. Glasses flew across the room before the beating turned toward the media crew filming what was b-roll classic footage in the making. Jordanian press protested the attack by joining together and refusing to publish anything happening in Parliament all the while killing their reputations in the next days’ paper, until an official apology was issued.
Our own freedom of Press.
And it’s not just with guys; back in high school the ratio of so-called cat fights were much much higher than those between males. Much older women have also been known to slap, kick, bite and pull each others hair out. It is not as uncommon as we’d like to think.
A friend of mine pointed out that when we went to the Olympics all the medals Jordanians won were for sports such as kick boxing, taekwando and wrestling. Think about it.
And you have to love how fights go down in Jordan. If you’re a Jordanian male reading this you probably know what I’m talking about. Someone gives someone a dirty look, person A asks person B what the hell he’s looking at. Next thing you know person A is dialing his cell phone for back up and so is person B. Now things are getting frantic and back up hasn’t arrived. Both persons need to buy some time for their crew to assemble so they throw around some trash talk. An hour later 100 people are meeting for the first time, fist to face. Even the people defending person A and person B don’t know who those people are exactly or what the problem is. More importantly they don’t care. It’s a chance to fight. So who you choose to associate yourself with, your circle of friends and aquantenices, might help you survive.
Our own Freedom of Association.
Sometimes, in the absence of back up, persons A and B will arrange a time and date and even a place to host the event. It gives the fight a sense of order while allowing both fighters to assemble their crew.
Our own Freedom of Assembly.
Everyone has a good fight story to tell. It’s a conversation centerpiece for the average Jo. It’s like telling the latest joke: “hey did you hear the one about…”. And the stories are always good. We love them like Arnold Schwarzenegger action flicks: we have no idea what the story is about or what the hell’s going on but there are people flying across the screen every 2 minutes and that’s enough to keep us happy.
Yes, the stories are always the makings of a great tragedy or comedy, depending on how you look at them. The hero and the villain. The army and fists for weapons. And of course the back story of why and how it all went down. We tell them as young children, as teenagers and yes, as very old men supported by canes and stubble beards. Our fathers and uncles. Our friends, our teachers. Our taxi drivers and our neighbors. Every one of them a storyteller. All of them members of a culture that is the personification of Fight Club where the rule is to always talk about Fight Club.
I have my own personal horror stories of fights realized and the happily unfulfilled kind.
We just love to fight and I don’t know why. I don’t know why fighting is always the first resort to conflict resolution in Jordan. No matter how large or small or significant or trivial the problem is; it will lead to the meeting of fists. Living in the west it seems everyone is afraid to fight and will do anything to avoid one. Perhaps, as Tyler Durden would surely point out, they’re afraid of what they might find out about themselves. In any case, conflict resolution in Jordan has no diplomacy to it. We don’t talk it out, we fight it out.
Our own Freedom of Speech.
And no it’s not MTV or music or movies or a violent media. The people who love to fight the most in Jordan have limited or no access to any of those things. There is a culture of fighting. I would not say a culture of violence. The number of murders or other such violent crimes are pretty low for Jordan. But people love their street fights.
Maybe it’s a cathartic exercise. Maybe it’s healthy. Maybe our fists are the only devices we have that allow us to communicate and articulate how we feel and what we think.
Our own Freedom of Expression.
Maybe it should be encouraged but facilitated. Controlled. Open up a Fight Club franchise on every university campus, in every local neighborhood basement, even in the Lower House of parliament.
Let men conduct their own lessons in humility.
It seems every nation that has ever had a turning point in its history towards greatness seems to have done so through a transition of violence. Maybe our own little fight clubs are a way to do that within a framework that does not resort to anarchy. Fights give males a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, a sense of awareness of who they are and what they are capable of.
Maybe it’s the only way to resolve anything, I mean really really resolve anything. Even the greatest democracies on the planet have historically invested heavily in the ability to fight and to kill, primarily others. All revolutions have been bloody and in 100 years the Lebanese, Palestinians and Iraqis will shrug off their own civil wars as a glorious turning point in their histories just like the Americans or the French.
Maybe this will be the start of our own little revolution. The foundation of our own freedoms.
By the people, for the people.
One fist at a time.