Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Type of Honor Crimes That Goes Unreported

There is a subtler aspect of our Jordanian notion of honor, through which it proves yet another time how distorted it is, and through which also, and most importantly, it seems to be seeking an extension in its operating brief to include fraying the very fabric of the society itself beyond that which it is most notorious for; namely, wrecking havoc on personal and familial spheres.

It seems that gender based susceptibility to "desecrating one's own family's honor" is not the only bias. Faith, apparently, is also a major deciding factor in how prone a person is to committing such "desecrating conducts" as well as how much they can be "insensitive to them". This aspect revealed itself clearly, and in its most abhorrent form, when I heard some saying things like "she is feigning chastity when she is a [Christian surname]? She is a Christian!". In other cases I heard some recasting this, which seems to stand as an invariable fact in these ignorant heads, in the less pungent terms of personal liberty, terms, nevertheless, that are still suffused with negative connotations for the vast majority of Jordanians.

I perceive this to be an undercurrent flowing in the society, and not merely a few isolated cases. From hearing women correlating bare shoulders with an increased probability in the girl "flaunting" them being a Christine, to a school teacher whom I vividly recall describing the mixed sex Church organized Christian youth excursions as orgy parties, never mind the fact that he was lecturing a coed class, to some other related incidents the frequency of which precludes anomaly as an explanation, I think calling this an undercurrent is justified.

This does not imply an impending religious strife in Jordan, for none exists, or looms in the horizon for that matter, nor does it negate the state of our society as an epitome of coexistence. But this is to spotlight an unfavorable tendency that might amount from its current latent state to become a generator of some sort of unrest when the social structures shift in favor of a malignant fissiparousness, and there is much to learn from the contemporary history of Mount Lebanon in this regard.

Numerous sects and faiths had abutted harmoniously on the slopes of this mountain for many centuries, but all of this was set asunder overnight as a ferocious civil war ensued. A chance, it is likely, had presented itself for some pernicious undercurrents to surface and intensify, and history took a violent course, regardless of how peaceful it was hitherto. This is not limited to Lebanon. Such patterns can be discerned to varying degrees wherever you look at in history, with a rate of recurrence that tempts one to view peaceful periods as nothing more than times when conflicts are simply not feasible. But despite the stench of nihilism that this view reeks of, I believe it goads us to work as hard as we can on quashing any such undercurrents and tendencies when we are allotted the time and chance to.

On another level I also reckon that the tendency to debase the different other, who shares the same space in a given context, using the most circulated social currency of value, this being honor in Jordan, is a universal phenomenon. It might be a consequence of a default reflection that we are born with as humans, acquiring its content as we grow, and it seems that our society constantly fails at educating or eliminating it. On a second thought, it is nurtured and heavily drawn upon in the construction of other biases. In times of growing hostility against Iran in Jordan, for instance, you are likely to come across someone falsely, yet boldly claiming that for a Shi'ite it is of a great honor to give any of his female relatives as a concubine for a visiting Mullah.

There is also another rich and telling fold in all of this. In a conservative society where any form of sexual expression is heavily repressed, save for inadequate few, people will still find ways to go around such circumscriptions, and do so by means that are detrimental to the well-being of the society. Contempt of the different becomes prurient, and the hatred and violence it begets will be all the more so, if allowed the needed space to grow. The aforementioned teacher description is obviously an interplay of hidden desires and a rooted false sense of the inferiority of a certain other. If not rooted, then at least it came in handy for a convoluted and mischievous expression or venting of fantasies. Ironically, this repression purports, brazenly, to be protecting us from the decadence it induces in the first place.

Personally, I think that any effective way to obviate the unfriendly consequences that this social phenomenon might surprise Jordan with in the future, should incorporate putting an end to many of the social sensibilities, which are besetting any action aiming at social change; just like a field of mines, each waiting to be stepped on, no matter how lightly, to explode and cripple the efforts. In this particular case, this may translate to discussing such aspects of our society openly, and introducing courses and classes that provide a neutral point of view on the different cultural constituents of it, away from the ones threatening, with a god's raging fire, those who don't abide by their notions. This is directed to Jordanians from all stripes without discriminating.


  1. Wow, Haitham, this was worth a triple read to get fully.

    As a Christian, having walked into this honor thing unaware initially then with growign awareness, I can attest to it. Having been used to freedom of religion in the US, and even being a part of a majority who are at least 'by name' Christian, to be a minority here, without the rights I am used to, is a frightening thing.

    To identify yourself as a Christian means you are immoral, especially if a foreign Christian. The things I have heard, and continue to hear people say in Arabic when they don't think I understand, are not even printable. The fact my 12 year old son, and a friend's prepubescent daughter, had to have AIDS tests for iqaama, was most telling (thankfully, the gov has stopped that practice)

    One magazine I used to write for has a habit of including a thought in most articles on relationships: that it is only Christians that are standing in the way of relationships in Jordan. Because they are so picky about not letting their girls marry Muslims.

    As if the shoe were not on the other foot. Girls who do are applauded for 'what they have given up for love'. But they would sooner kill their own daughters for such an act of love.

    The fact is, Christians are deceived and inferior, and many are happy for the day when they will be gone to other countries and absorbed into Islam. One Jordanian Christian friend said his children will be the last generation to grow up here. The writing is on the wall.

    I should probably stop here. But I thank you for noticing, Haitham, and writign about it.

  2. One last thought. A Jordanian Muslim writer was telling me about his Armenian Christian grandmother. She used to talk about the massacre in Armenia. How once loving Muslim neighbors changed in a day and slaughtered their Christian neighbors.

    She said, five years ago now, before the current undertones emerged, that she saw the same roots of prejudice in Jordan that they saw back then. It's not fear-mongering, it's reality.

  3. Will, aunt, I don't think that expressing opinions, no matter how controversial they might be perceived can be anything less than salubrious. Calling them fear mongering or treason will change nothing about that fact.

    I am not glad watching the Christine population steadily diminishing in Jordan. If we don't change our ostrich like approach to problems to a more proactive one soon, I think Jordan will be losing a lot. It is only a matter of time.

    I wish none of this happens though. But there is more to a better future than wishing, and it seems that we have more troubles than we can afford at the moment.

    Maintaining some optimism still helps though :)

  4. Haithan, I am thankful for Muslims like you. Because there are more troubles, the focus will be elsewhere as things heat up. This is what happened in Egypt, other problems and the ostrich-effect, and soon people are being killed off, forced to convert, etc.

    We have a fb group of people selling used things, so many are Christian families leaving. I never realized the magnitude until I saw how many are listed there. So many quietly pursuing citizenship elsewhere.

    YET, optimistically speaking, MANY are staying, fully engaged, fully committed to loving Jordan no matter what, and stayin for the long haul.

  5. Aunt, just one thing to correct here. I come from a Muslim background. My stance is agnosticism. But this is not to say that there are no considerate Muslims in Jordan.

    And yes, some of my Christian friends keep reproaching me whenever I say that my kids will never be raised in Jordan if the society does not progress well enough by the time they are born. So optimism in this case is not delusional.