After pouring my heart in to what was likely the longest post I’ve ever written, I cannot help but follow up the events of March 25th with my take on its aftermath. Now that a few days have passed, one is able to get a better view of the emerging landscape, especially with the veil of smoke beginning to clear. To start, I should probably answer the question I have been asked for the past few days by nearly everyone I talk to: what happens next?
It was my initial thinking that the events of March 25th would quickly fade and become a distant ghost in our collective memory. We do that often. We move on too quickly and forget to learn from this ongoing history we create. However, things here do not seem to be going in that direction. Believe me, I would love to sit here and paint a beautiful portrait for you all, but things need to be said; the cards need to be laid out on the table. We need to acknowledge certain things if there is any hope in moving forward, and I can assume that if you’re a free-thinking Jordanian who is reading this, you’re probably interested in seeing this country move forward. Where one stands on March 25 is irrelevant to this conversation, which is about the outcome of that event.
To begin with, the country is quickly becoming polarized. I do not remember it being this polarized in my lifetime. Despite calls for “national unity” from the state, including HM King Abdullah, this “national unity” is coming about in the most polarized and dangerous of fashions. A few weeks ago, those of us who live here saw this polarization slowly coming about when in the midst of calls for reforms from one constituency we saw another emerging through a manifestation of so-called loyalty declarations. Tribes and families declaring loyalty to the King in a published letter, while other celebrated his birthday weeks after it had taken place. I warned then that this would lead to an eventual break in society; a break that pitted brother against brother, citizen against citizen, one group against another. The emerging groups are those who seem to be pro-reform, and those who are anti-reform, or at least anti the pro-reformers. These labels came about organically and as a result of thrusting loyalty in to the equation where it played absolutely no role. Suddenly, anyone speaking about reforms has had their loyalty questioned.
Suddenly, the issue was no longer about reform. It became about loyalty. A line was being drawn in the sand, creating a split in the society and forcing people to choose. A red herring if I’ve ever seen one. These loyalty events were not only permitted by the state, they seemed to be encouraged on various fronts. Public officials attended birthday parties for the King held by tribes, while banners, signs and posters that were breaking the most simple laws governing public spaces were widely permitted, or, at the very least, overlooked. It is the same red herring that turned conversations regarding last Friday’s events in to a “for” or “against” the March24 shabab. That diversion has helped fuel another outcome of the event: an emerging sense of justification for the attack on peaceful protesters by violent official and societal forces.
As the days and weeks passed, this schism was becoming more apparent and with the loyalty question being thrown in the mix, stereotypes were cast on the two parties. Those that declared loyalty to the King were considered to be tribal Jordanians of Jordanian origin, while those calling for reform were said to be mostly Islamists, were Jordanians of Palestinian origin, and thus “naturally” had no sense of loyalty to, or allegiance for the King. The conversation became binary. Not about “for” or “against” reform, but “for” or “against” the King. To be “for” reform became to be anti-Monarch; and to be pro-Monarch was to be anti-reform.
You are with us, or against us.
And with this build up came the March 24th group that saw it being attacked by police, riot police and people I can describe as nothing short of being simply criminals. I realize that some reading this support those people and likely condone their actions, but in my book, any citizen who raises a finger against another citizen is a criminal committing a criminal act. By law.
What has emerged in the aftermath is a strong wind of enforced nationalism sweeping through the country. I use the word “enforced” here because of the way this nationalism is coming about. It is similar to those who drew a line in the sand weeks ago and forced people to take a side. Today, many are reacting to the events of March 25th as if it were an attempt to overthrow the King by Islamists and brainwashed youth all of whom were controlled by “foreign forces” and were squashed, prompting us all to put on red and white kuffieyas, attach flags to all our cars, plaster patriotic slogans in support of the King, and so on and so forth. All of this is happening at a rapid rate. It is spiraling. You can buy a flag at nearly every intersection, and you’ll even find them at the cash registers of supermarkets. Al Ghad plastered “sponsored” photos of the King all over four pages of its newspaper on Sunday. Motorcades of cars, many from outside Amman, drove though the capital’s streets honking horns, waving flags, shooting guns in the air, playing patriotic music, bringing traffic to a halt, and even wielding swords and knives. On the capital’s main traffic circles I watched two nights ago as such a scene played out in front of a dozen policemen who stood watching citizens shooting guns like crazed cowboys in the night air. Normally, an unbelievable scene. But after Friday’s events, the bar of expectations has been lowered. Nothing is surprising.
We don’t see this kind of “nationalism” on Independence day.
We are all left wondering if any of these demonstrations of loyalty serve either the King, the reform process, or even the country at large. My answer is an unequivocal no.
Nevertheless, everything is being framed as Jordanians vs. Palestinian. Brother is being pitted against brother, and there is a force behind it. I am not one for conspiracy theories but after Friday’s events, I am forced to question everything. I try to read the landscape as I see it, and do my best (for my own sake) to place things in their rightful context. But something is seriously wrong in our country these days.
The reform conversation is dying. The conversation on the street has now shifted to Jordanian-Palestinian identity. It has become binary and centered on the events of March 25, and specifically the misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the events by both the state and some of the people. By framing the March24 group as being Islamists, the government succeeded in convincing many that these people came with an agenda bent on overthrowing the monarchy; and of course, as the cliche stereotype goes, the only people who are Islamists and/or are interested in overthrowing the monarchy are of Palestinian origin.
Online, Facebook groups for “Pure Jordanians” for “100% Jordanians only” are propping up with thousands of people joining, while what appear to me to be newly created Facebook accounts have been leaving hundreds of racist comments all over the network. The same can be said of comments left on blogs, websites, and news sites. Seemingly endless calls in support of all the “brave Jordanians” who “cleansed” the Interior Circle from the “insurgents”, the “Islamists” and the “Palestinians”.
Today, there is fear and concern. Most of the people I speak to or interact with on a day-to-day basis are in my age group, and no one feels safe or stable. Fear is being induced. We are told that the country itself is now considered a “red line”, creating an environment where we are made to fear even being critical of its policies lest we be seen as traitors.
Vague statements like this one are made by the Prime Minister:
…Bakhit reiterated Jordan’s stand on the Middle East conflict. He stressed that Jordan, “with all its components” will confront any plans to compromise the Palestinian people’s legitimate right of return, warning against “following slogans meant to take the reform process off course through raising issues that cause sedition and cross red lines”. The statement was made in an apparent reference to a perception some self-described loyalists reportedly have that those who call for political reform are after establishing a substitute homeland for the Palestinians in Jordan, a matter which serves the goals of right-wing groups in Israel.
The prime minister accused “enemies that have always wanted to transfer regional conflicts… to this part of the Arab world of attempting to liquidate the Palestinian cause”. He did not elaborate. [source]
Fear, fear, and more fear. I feel it being pumped in to the atmosphere. I feel it transforming the way we, as Jordanians, deal and speak with each other. Dialog and the middle ground is being abandoned. Aggression is being silently promoted by the state, despite their declarations for peaceful dialog. I see this in videos of protesters being beaten by police, riot police and criminals that joined forces; and I see this before my eyes when young men drive through the streets of the capital shooting guns or waving swords right before the watchful eyes of the unmoved police. In public conversations, there is a constituency that approves. It believes those that were hurt on March 24th deserved to be. To me this is an indication of the kind of fear that is alive and well in Jordan these days. Those that condone the violence or were participants of it are just as much caught up in that cycle of fear of “the other”, and it is likely what drives and fuels the violent inclinations.
The seeds of social division are being sown, and the outcome will not only kill the reform process, but widen the ethnic divides within this society. We are told to unite by the state, but their idea of national unity seems to be under a banner that is exclusive. It is the same banner held up by those who were keen on throwing stones and beating fellow citizens with sticks. The same banner that seems supported by a state that will not apologize for its actions, and a social apparatus that is keen on justifying or condoning the actions of many. Now, even those who are pro-Monarchy are forced to fall in line with such banners in order to avoid being called traitors, or simply, not loyal enough.
So, to those of you reading this who are Jordanian, who care about this country, I say only this:
It is our responsibility to bring this national discord to an end. No one else is going to do it but ourselves and on a very, very personal level.
I refuse to have my loyalty questioned. In fact, I refuse the whole loyalty issue. It is irrelevant. I refuse anyone who tries to shove it down my throat. I refuse the state’s attempts to make anyone who is not offering declarations of support, loyalty and allegiance to the King out to be disloyal. I refuse to be tainted or painted. I refuse to carry the reform badge like it was a scarlet letter. And to any of you reading this: do not buy in to the sedition game. Do not buy in to any game that seeks to label people based on their origin. Whether it is being orchestrated by specific forces, or evolving as a natural outcome of the regional mood’s impact on Jordan – it’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that it exists and it is growing, and every time we buy into it we are allowing it to grow. It will take us down a dark path that will end with bloodshed, and worse, a national discord so bad that it will turn off the light at the end of the tunnel.
We must stand up and put an end to it, because no one else will. Forget about leaders, governments or any political apparatus that are reactive instead of proactive. Look to yourself and to those closest to you for leadership. Stomp your foot down when you are face to face with something or someone forcing you to choose sides. Forcing the loyalty issue down your throats. Forcing you to take a loyalty test. If ten people read this and can enforce that kind of sentiment on 10 other people, then that’s all it takes. Do not buy in to the conspiracies, do not buy in to the red herrings and all the issues that are thrown at us to distract us as if we were wild dogs being tossed a piece of meat. Focus on the only thing that matters. Reform and change.
Ignore everything else.
Question everything else.