Monday, April 25, 2011

Sowing the Seeds of Pluralism in Jordan

Among the various voices I came across about the preparedness, or lack of it, of Jordan to join the league of democratic nations, there was this one somewhat valid opinion, which claims that Jordanians should first learn how to be democratic before asking for democracy.

Propounding a solution in such an abstract and condescending form is not good enough; one can expect more, and I find the use of “learn” unsuitable, if not absurd, in such a context. It can spur a lengthy debate over the nature of democracy:

How can a person learn to be democratic? Is the idea of teachable democracy principles valid and compatible with the notion of freedom? If yes, does the awareness of such principles lead, inevitably, to practicing democracy? If these principles exist, are they particular or universal?...

We can ask many more questions, but let’s stop here. The point is that the idea of teaching democracy needs to address some serious shortcomings and caveats in its logical structure before it can be taken seriously as a solution for its supporters’ initial concern about Jordan. Nevertheless, I reckon that the idea of satisfying certain prerequisites before democracy can sprout in Jordan, was failed and buried deep down within this view by an improper use of words.

I will take this idea one step further, add to it a bit and say that the appreciation for pluralism is what matters, and not democracy, for the latter is a mere application of the former to the political realm, or at least, to some extent. But the road to appreciating the plural can be quite tricky, especially in a region where demonizing the other has been sanctioned and practiced for centenaries, and is still being, though at escalated rates.

There is something else that worries me in this regard. We have a lot of work to do in order to catch up with the rest of the world on too many levels (e.g. economic, technological…etc), and I am afraid that this will somehow lead us to downplay the importance of other human endeavors (e.g. arts) noncontributing to this materialistic growth, but which are nevertheless needed for a proper social change and growth.

One also have to consider the Jordanian system of education which segregates science, literature and arts, feeding in the process an already existing tendency in the society to stigmatize anyone with a literary bent, and producing graduates holding degrees in philistinism and parochial thinking! A setback, if you consider the high quality education provided by the schools of the Levant during the late nineteenth century.

There are reasons to show some optimism, still. Any keen observer of the Ammani scene must have noticed the recent increase in the number of organized forums and events springing around (or may be their presence was brought to our awareness through the “power” of social media?) which target the layman in a multitude of topics. Technology related events attract the largest audience, even though I doubt the heterogeneity of the attendees’ backgrounds. Science, philosophy and arts events, on the other hand, attract meager audiences, who are highly homogeneous in their interests as well.

Hence a logical next step would be holding forums and events with pluralistic themes, where art intermingles with science, and philosophers perplex technologists with their impenetrable questions. If this could not provide a good starting point for nurturing and sustaining an appreciation for pluralism within the society, it might attract more tourists, at least!