Jordan · media · travel

Jordan reflections

Friends of mine have been curious to know what the people are like here and the political issues (besides the amazing food and stunning natural beauty, see video by my very talented friend The Graphical Baker ^).  I’ve been wary because  I don’t want to make generalisations. So disclaimer- here are some observations based on my limited experience and interactions here.

Money /The Government/Wasda

There’s a huge divide here between those who have means (who live in West Amman) and those that don’t (generally East Amman). It came to a head when the Mercedes- driving son of a minister went on a tirade on facebook about his argument with a Kia driver, raging against the ‘backward xxxxs’ in Jordan. A local I met recently, Ali*, told me this was particularly galling because most people in Amman drive cheap Kia cars. Everything is expensive here, due to import taxes. I was flabbergasted to see a toaster with a tag of 25 JD ($AUS37) at the local shopping centre. I’m told the minimum wage with tips will get you around 250 JD a month, which is roughly half the weekly rent for a roomy apartment in central Amman. High employment combined with the rising cost of living and the perception of widespread nepotism and corruption has created a powder keg of discontent.

For young middle-class educated Jordanians, the aspiration seems to be to go abroad. Ali, a languages student who speaks Russian and Spanish, wants to work as a diplomat but says nepotism means plum postings are generally reserved for the connected elite. There’s even a term for it: ‘wasda’.

Rabia*, a young teaching student at Jordan university, says it’s so bad you’ll have guys who will not turn up to class all semester, but will show up at the end to  be ‘passed’. I asked how that works for professions where you could actually kill someone, and she said in med school you have some professors who will tell the class straight up, there’s no ‘wasda’ here, so don’t even try.

While Jordanians I spoke to are not entirely happy with the status quo, they are grateful for stability and safety in a region where Jordan seems to be the only safe harbour. They are wary of the unrest revolution in nearby countries has created. One of my teachers said that whilst we’re not entirely happy, we don’t know what the alternative would be. Ali says Jordanians don’t want a revolution but they want change. Any discussion of the ruling Royal family is done in hushed tones and in private.

Palestine

In a country where most people are of Palestinian background, the conflict with Israel is central. It’s the recurring issue in personal stories and in the news. Pretty much everyone has a story of being denied entry into Israel (especially young men), of a grandparent losing everything and migrating but dreaming of being able to visit again. Many won’t recognize Israel as a country and say Palestine instead. There’s a perception that US is not an unbiased mediator. It’s the cause of a lot of anger and disbelief and there is pessimism there will ever be a real solution to the conflict.

Refugees

Syrian refugees at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Picture: UNHCR/ Jared Kohler
Syrian refugees at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Picture: UNHCR/ Jared Kohler, Flickr

A lot of NGO workers I’ve met here are working on building camp infrastructure for the thousands of Syrian refugees flooding in over the border. A conversation between two Jordanians I met reminded me of the debate around asylum seekers in Australia.

A: It’s costing us a lot of money.

M: The UN is paying for everything. I’m really worried about the camps. I heard people are dying there.

A: The problem is people coming here without passports and papers. You can’t have open borders.

A: I feel sorry for them. They’re fleeing for their lives, they might not all have papers.

M: Also Syrians are willing to work for less than Jordanians creating problems for locals.

A: They contribute. I feel sorry for them.

M: So do I. I hate the situation not the people.

The difference of course is that M has loads of Syrian friends and a great deal of sympathy for the plight of those fleeing, generally reflected in the public mood towards refugees with numerous fundraisers and events dedicated to Syria (in Australia, the right-wing view features mostly hatred, hysteria and racism). I think the fact that Syrians, like Jordanians, are Arab Muslims, probably makes a big difference.

Gender/Religion

Jordan is generally a conservative country but I think liberal by standards in the region. A local tour I went on (where we were the only foreigners) and a group of artsy liberal Jordanian students I met recently seemed like hanging out with a group of 20-somethings back in Australia, down to justifying my abstention from alcohol (which is freely available). The men love to dance, openly hug and kiss each other and seem really to know how to have a good time (that was just on the tour bus). Most women wear hijabs with fashionable western clothing but many don’t. You can walk around safely pretty much anytime of the day or night, and will not be bothered except for the occasional hooligan, though I have heard of foreign looking women being hassled. Like Pakistan it feels like you have a divide between two groups -those who are liberal and irreligious, mix freely and party and those who are religious and conservative. But I think there is hope for that rare breed- the religious liberal – bucking tradition but staying true to their Islamic roots. One of my teachers is a single hijabi and practicing Muslim who works, lives out of home and travels abroad despite societal and family disapproval.  It will be interesting to see if it is people like this, who can successfully reconcile tradition and modernity within themselves, can pave a navigation of those forces within society.

*Names have been changed.

harassment · media · violence

Female journalists threatened on the job: report

If you’re a woman, you’ve worried about being stranded or stuck somewhere where your safety is at risk. What if it was your job to venture into the world’s most dangerous areas?

Check out my interview with International News Safety Institute (INSI) director Hannah Storm on new research on abuse and harassment female media workers experience at work across the world.

Report raises concerns for safety of female media workers

Members of Assam Photojournalists Association stage a silent protest in front of Guwahati Press Club. Credit: TwoCircles.Net via Flickr.
Members of India’s Assam Photojournalists Association stage a silent protest in front of Guwahati Press Club on Saturday after the gang-rape of a female photojournalist in Mumbai. Credit: TwoCircles via Flickr.

Continue reading “Female journalists threatened on the job: report”

feminism · human rights · injustice · interview · islamic law · media · muslim women · politics · religion

Heroes and heretics

Islamic scholar Amina Wadud has been branded both a heroine and a  heretic.

Heroine for her academic framework for Muslims in legal and policy reform  around the world; heretic for leading a mixed gender prayer in New York in 2005  which made worldwide headlines.

The prayer session propelled the 58-year-old African American into celebrity  Muslim reformer status, a position the theologian does not seem entirely  comfortable with.

“I try to keep my sense of humour about it,” she said, speaking in Sydney  after engagements in Melbourne and Canberra.

“I didn’t play into it. I didn’t stoke the sensationalism of it.

“The time was a little bit comical but I could not live along those lines. I  like the basic parts of my life where you have anonymity.”

Asked if the controversy had obscured her long-time activism and scholarship  on Islam and gender issues, she said: “I regret things being obscured for any  reason. But I do not regret the prayer if that is reason why people obscure  things. People have not been pleased with my work for a long time. So the prayer  is just a ruse … and … excuse for not listening to what you have to say.”

Dr Wadud is the author of several books, including Quran and Women:  Re-reading the sacred text from a woman’s perspective and Inside Gender  Jihad: Women’s reform in Islam.

Her central thesis is that for centuries Islam has been interpreted by male  scholars which has obscured its essentially egalitarian ethos. This ethos, Dr  Wadud says, has inspired her reform work particularly around Islamic family  law.

While her religious detractors accuse her of heresy, other criticisms of Dr  Wadud involve the charge that she feeds into the never-ending contestation of  religious texts which has no purpose in the modern era within a secular  framework. However, her books have worked as a framework for Muslim activists,  particularly through lobby groups and her organisation, Sisters in Islam in  Malaysia.

One of Dr Wadud’s central ideas is that as a believer she accepts the  divinity of the Qur’an, however, its readings must always be open to scrutiny  and re-evaluation. This is particularly important if laws are to be based on its  precepts and have impact in the real world on women’s lives.

Born in the American South, in Maryland in 1952, to a Methodist preacher  father, Dr Wadud converted to Islam at university at the age of 20 after a brief  stint as a practicing Buddhist.

“I was a practicing Buddhist for a year,” she said.

“I came across Islam and it grew exponentially and I came to an understanding  of the universe that worked for me.”

The liberation theology of the black leaders of the civil rights movement and  her own upbringing also influenced her.

“My family situation was one where the relationship between social injustice  and faith was explicit. You do not oppress. Oppression is against God’s will,” she said.

“I grew up in the era of black consciousness. I lived in a transformative  time as a young person- you could hear and feel you had a certain sense of  social responsibility – a mandate to fight to remove injustice as it was being  established in the context of our lives as African Americans.

“I was brought up in the revolutionary spirit of justice and it was common  sense to transfer that in terms of Islam and gender justice.”

Dr Wadud, a devout and thoughtful woman, finds much of the hype around her  work distasteful, so much so that at one point she eschewed the label ‘feminist’  altogether.

“There are obviously large sectors of non-Muslim and Muslim population who  think Islamic feminism is an oxymoron,” she said.

“I am less concerned now about whether or not I make everyone comfortable in  terms of the self designation (of being feminist) than at another point.”

She said the term ‘feminism’ often led people to dismiss her work.

” … I feel a little bit more comfortable in my own skin being able to say  feminist. At another point [I would avoid the label] in order to avoid the  politics of the discussion and to avoid the marginalisation of my work into  those politics,” Dr Wadud said.

This perceived incompatibility is incongruous with her own study of Islamic  thought and philosophical thinking.

“They are limiting feminism from its own intellectual and political history,”  she said. “They are also limiting Islam from its own egalitarian  trajectory.”

Dr Wadud has found crowd hostility toward her more pointed in Sydney than  Melbourne, where the largely Muslim audience seemed much more engaged.

Her lecture this week at the University of Technology, Sydney, involved  several heated exchanges with young men.

“Some people in the Australian audiences, they come because they’ve heard  there is something wrong or bad or evil about me,” she said.

“They come because they will set me straight. When they get here and I don’t  say anything outrageous for them to pick up on – they make up stuff.”

Dr Wadud finds arguments with those who have not even read her ideas tiring  and is now focussed on reaching out to those who have.

“In the past I felt a much greater responsibility to be understood by as many  people as possible,” she said.

“You spent all your time trying to convert people who are absolutely  unconvinced about where you’re going.

“Then there are some people who are trying to understand certain things and  have a nominal level of agreement and maybe want to go further and engage with  your ideas. That’s a more interesting level to engage.”

There have been rumours of death threats, but Dr Wadud is quick to clear the  air.

“I never received any death threats,” she laughs.

“There was this thing where people got into saying I had death threats.  But  I never had anyone actually threaten me.”

From SMH