In light of Parliament being back in (extraordinary) session for the next few weeks, with one of the first bills out of the gate to be discussed is an amendment to the Public Gathering Law, which more or less inhibits Jordanians from public gatherings, I thought it would be timely to discuss this issue that’s been on my mind for some time. A great deal of restrictions to freedoms in countries such as Jordan revolve around fairly archaic measures. Typically it comes in the guise of a rejection of a license to hold a public gathering, or in the form of mukhabarat involvement, riot police, and if it gets bad, the army. Usually, the latter two are outmatched by the efficiency of the former two in restricting and limiting our freedoms.
This of course creates a gloomy atmosphere for mobilization, and very few organizations in the country, aside from the Muslim Brotherhood and their political arm – the Islamic Action Front – have been anywhere near good at it.
Yet in the face of all these archaic and draconian state measures to control mobilization and gatherings, there are new and modern tools that the state has not, and will unlikely be unable to, control: the virtual world.
The virtual world is opening the door for youth mobilization. People with an idea simply start a group on facebook and within a matter of hours there is the potential for hundreds to join in. Blogs are another gather point, blog about Palestine day was a very recent initiative that saw to that, as well as Earth Day, and other similar initiatives.
So I wonder, will we, as jordanians, start to need a license for mobilizing online? What happens when the technology is used not only to mobilize youth for an online initiative, but to use that online initiative to mobilize youth on the ground and in the real world?
A few weeks ago I saw a Facebook group that was intended to gather young Jordanians for a freeze flash mob. For those who need the explanation: a freeze flash mob is when a large group of people who typically don’t know each other, are suddenly “instructed” to mobilize at a certain public location such as a park or a mall, and simply freeze for a minute or two, and then disperse. These types of “mobs” are usually done in the form of pranks, typically because police are unable to beat technology. Cell phones are usually used for these purposes and large groups are mobilized in a matter of hours, sometimes just the night before.
In any case, this flash mob was organized to be on May 15th and I was flying that day, however, it turns out that it didn’t take place for some reason, and I think the group has even been deleted, but I’m not entirely sure about that. It was organized as a prank yet I found myself slapping my forehead while surfing the group. Since coming to the country I had wanted to organize something like this and for the longest time it slipped my mind.
See, it would’ve been great to organize it on May 15th for political purposes instead of just a prank but I’m guessing the organizer(s) didn’t realize that this was the day of the 60th Nakba, and that Jordan had banned public gatherings for the day. The Islamists even staged an in-house protest. So a freeze flash mob would’ve been the perfect example on such a day how the state is really unable to stop the next generation of mobilizing and gathering in public, given that it’s the information age.
The same argument can be made regarding the limiting of all freedoms, for how can one “stop the presses” when it comes to the Internet. This hasn’t stopped the state from trying in this past year, but it will never work. You close down one blog, one news site, and 10 others pop up. You ban one IP, they move to a whole other country, which isn’t too far fetched considering that a considerable amount of our youth resides outside Jordan, myself included when I first started this blog.
The virtual world is the field of weeds when it comes to freedom. The state can pull out the weed but it will only grow back and in multiples. Mobilization of the next generation, and this generation, cannot be stopped, at least not with archaic ways.
But it will be interesting to watch this state, and others around the world, make the attempt.