So 62 years ago, Jordan was granted independence and became the little Kingdom we all know it as today. It has, without a doubt, come a long way in 62 years. However, while I may have a record of being the first to laud the progress I perceive to be positive, I also tend to take the position of being critical of the lack of progress on other fronts. And so today, on Independence Day, I am still in search of my own independence; my independence from the state. For my words and my thoughts, and the words and thoughts of my peers, my family and friends, are all entwined in an entanglement of state-induced regulations.
I am still in search of my own independence and it comes in the form of an independent media. I am still in search of independent thought and criticism. I am still in search of accountability, of transparency and the mechanisms needed to tackle the pertinent issues this country faces today, here at the dawn of the 21st century. I am in search of all these things while knowing they do not exist due to an occupation of the country’s media. The 61st year in the life of Jordan as an independent Kingdom, has seen a regression in progress when it comes to media and that, by default, has meant opening the door to more corruption, to more wasta, to more nepotism, to more state policies that do not take into consideration the need for public debate. And everyone is silent about it. The media itself has done little by way of putting up a fight, satisfied with surrendering to the whims of the state. Everyone is taking the position that nothing disastrous has come of it, when in reality, the effects will ripple down the line for years to come.
To most people, a free and independent media is such an abstract concept of little concern, that few are willing to recognize its foundational importance. It is not only essential, it is a prerequisite to progress of any sort. And I mean real progress. Not progress in the form of skyscrapers and real-estate projects. I am referring to progress in political, economic, social, cultural and all other types of reforms as outlined in the vision of the King, yet rarely implemented effectively by the government.
There needs to be a realization that without that independent media, none of these things can be fulfilled. Absolutely none of them. At least not in the way we need them to work. For how can you have an appointed government and an elected legislature that cannot be held accountable for their words, let alone their actions, without a free and independent media?
Where are our true opinion-makers that have the ability to shape the debate with a single column? Where is the sense of investigative journalism that reveals the things that hide beneath the surface? The absence of such voices is indicative of the absence of the proper platforms to voice opinions, to frame the right stories and make sure they get heard. Writers and members of the media, and in fact citizens, are still scared. And they have reason to be. People are still called, are still threatened and are still jailed for voicing public opinion. Whether it happens less often than it did is besides the point; the point is that it still happens, and as long as it exists, so will that fear.
The country gained its freedom in 1946, yet the people are far from free. Where is our once-upon-a-time promised “freedom square”? Where is our ability to assemble without state interference, without going 20 rounds with various public institutions just to get a license of assembly, only to be turned down inevitably by the mukhabarat who feel more than 20 people in a room discussing something of importance is really just too much of a fire hazard. The country gained its freedom in 1946, yet 62 years later and the people are not free; not really free. Not free to express themselves without fear; not free to speak their minds without fear. It is an occupation.
Secondly…and on another note…
There was some criticism about Israel celebrating its own independence a few days ago, in the midst of another occupied reality: an occupied Palestine. While I agree with this criticism, I find myself revisiting it today, upon ourselves as more than just another neighbour. It is a tough pill to swallow when it comes to celebrating a day of independence, when next door our brothers and sisters are still suffering from a long and perilous road towards that very goal. On my key chain is a hand woven shape of historic Palestine and it breaks my heart to know that now, the West Bank is just a cluster of islands divided by walls, checkpoints and settlements that weave through the territories like a snake. To say nothing of Gaza. It seems every city in Palestine will be vying for its own independence very soon with no larger solution to the larger problem in sight. It is a bitter pill to swallow. And while there is little any of us can do when it comes to helping our brethren achieve that same independence, I think the least one can do on a day that calls for the celebration of our own nation’s independence, is remembering those who unfortunately haven’t yet achieved such a day.
So on this day, of all days, I want to genuinely congratulate Jordan, my nation and my land, on its Independence Day, and hope that one day, some day, perhaps some day soon, we, as a people, will be granted our own independence (from the state), and we can finally speak the words and express the thoughts that are truly and genuinely…independent.