Disclaimer: I want to emphasize that this post is an opinion and it is not one based on religious doctrine. It is based on political and social elements. I know it’s Ramadan, but I implore you to avoid quoting me the entire Quran just to prove a point or as a way of insisting that your opinion is fact.
One of the co-owners of the famous west Ammani spot, Books@Cafe, published an opinion piece on 7iber recently, which I’m sure many of you have read already. It was regarding the abrupt closure of his place during Ramadan for certain violations, of which the most notable is the serving of alcohol in the daytime. Perhaps a government official will respond to the incident with their own take, but for now, it remains a single person’s point of view.
Reading through the ongoing and seemingly never-ending debate taking place on 7iber, I have yet to formulate an appropriate opinion on the matter; only fragments of one of which I will share here as to not affect the flow of that debate.
I understand both points of view. I understand the one that says there should be freedom of religion and people should be allowed to eat and drink whenever they like. I also understand the one that says it’s Ramadan and people need to respect the will of the majority, especially if it’s only one month of the year. I even understand the point of view that this is not in fact a religious argument but a political one.
And it is this latter view that I see to be the most pertinent.
Religious points of view are volatile and you can’t create a moderate and just system based on volatile elements. In other words, you can never please everyone (hence my tendency to avoid religious topics here). So what you have left is politics; a justice system.
If we’re looking to create a moderate system then the only thing to do, from a political point of view, is to issue special licenses for so-called “tourist”-destination spots to remain open during Ramadan. As far as I know, I believe this is the case. There are many places serving food and alcohol in and outside Amman’s hotels. Thus, perhaps what’s required here is a bit of regulation to ensure that there is a smooth process and that incidents like that of Books@Cafe do not happen.
That really seems like the only way to do it. Many might not agree with it, but if we’re looking to create a country where everyone is respected for their beliefs and their choices, then that’s the only way to go. It’s not a matter of the majority versus the minority or even their numbers. It’s not about raising your hand; laws don’t work that way. It’s about being fair, being just and being balanced.
The expectation that anyone not fasting – for whatever their reasons, for whatever their choices, for whatever their background – should have common, public services closed to them during Ramadan isn’t realistic.
The problem is that despite the existance of such a system, enforcement is the problem. A full-licensed place should not be subject to unreasonable scrutiny by law enforcement if they are operating legally, under government-endorsement. This is the main problem with the system, and the one that I believe (as far as we know) Books@Cafe was subject to. I’m not one for greater bureaucracy, but this kind of system probably requires a regulatory board or commission that oversees the enforcement, and if store-owners see it fit to complain and demand their legal rights as guaranteed them by an approved license to operate, then they can, and the case can be reviewed immediately.
But as of right now: there is just, confusion:
The regulations, which were published in the local media days before the start of Ramadan, ban restaurants and coffee shops from offering their usual services during the day in Ramadan â€¦
â€¦ Although Zuâ€™bi said these regulation are applicable to all food outlets, regardless of their classification, several restaurants still open during the day, it is noted.
A restaurant keeper in Jabal Luweibdeh said his outlet is qualified by the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, which means the restaurant can do business as usual in Ramadan.
â€œWe are a three-star restaurant and we open from 9:00am till after midnight,â€ the restaurant manager told The Jordan Times yesterday adding that â€œon many days, customers need to make advance reservationsâ€.
This would have been legal last year when the Interior Ministry allowed three-star restaurants to serve tourists during Ramadan days.
But Zuâ€™bi said: â€œWe have nothing to do with Tourism Ministry rankings. We have instructions and we are enforcing them with no exception.â€ Yet he acknowledged that police cannot raid hotels to check that the law is respected in the restaurants. [source]
As for the more public-related tendencies such as being able to eat, drink and smoke in public during Ramadan: this is more tricky territory.
Let’s admit one thing first. The people who have the biggest problem with the status-quo are non-practicing Muslims. They make up the bulk of the customer-base. In my experience, and I emphasize the word “my” for good measure, Jordanian Christians, foreigners and tourists alike have a whole lot more respect for practicing-Muslims than the non-practicing population of this religion does. And again, I emphasize that this conclusion is based on my experience. I should also emphasize that I do believe everyone is free to make their own choices with regards to practicing or not practicing.
Secondly, this whole debate reminds me all the more of why I need to get the hell out of West Amman and live in the suburbs, or on a farm. I am utterly disheartened by the supposed social discourse that this incident has generated.
The cultural bubble is thickening and the gap between rich and poor has grown so wide that I truly believe many of the residents of West Amman are utterly oblivious to the realities of this country. And that is truly, truly saddening.
The realities that the majority of this country is culturally conservative and, comparitvely, religiously moderate, and the very notion of western ideals being shoved down their throats will tend to cause the very opposite of the initial intent: everyone just resorts back to the safe ground of a more conservative atmosphere. We’ve seen that loud and clear in the post-9/11 world, where American policies in the region to “fight extremism” have only made our people resort back to extremism. That’s where the protection is.
There is poverty, there is corruption, there are human rights violations, and there is wastefulness. There are honest-to-God people who live lives where everyday is another struggle, another battle to put food on their table. And they are many. These are our realities. These are our truths.
Yet, it has taken the closure of Books@Cafe for young, West Ammani Jordanians to call for an international press conference to voice their opinions on corruption, lawlessness, democracy, reform and human rights in Jordan?
Is this what it takes to cause the most influential demographic in the country to become that proactive? To become that engaged?
Heck, after reading those comments I was truly scared that the police might shut down Blue Fig and the state would have to declare martial law.
Anyways, I was pretty disappointed at the reaction. Not because I don’t think this is an important issue, that is, if it’s framed within the larger context as I attempted to do earlier on in this post. But while I always enjoy seeing any debate blossom part of me was thinking how sad it is to see that such a story received so much attention from the one group of people that I believe can shine the brightest spotlight on the issues relative to our generation; to our realities.
Instead, the real issues are missed and this demographic only validates its own stereotype: that of an immature congregation of wasted talent that is completely out of touch with mainstream Jordan.