Tuesday, October 14, 2014

They are Jordanians Before Being Christians!

A few years ago I wrote an article about how Muslims in Jordan have some unjustified demeaning views of their Christian compatriots. Lately however, I started thinking that the recent events in Iraq's Mosul might have tilted the scales in favor of an overall sense of unity and compassion between the followers of either religion in the country, but boy was I wrong?

It happened about a few weeks ago. I was with a group of friends discussing the authorities' decision to shut down a certain cake shop in Amman a couple of months before, due to some health concerns. I was in favor of the decision while they were not. Feeling we have reached a deadlock, I made it clear that I was boycotting the shop anyway because the owners refuse to print Christian symbols on their cakes. I thought I was playing my ace there, but I could not have been any wronger. It was as if I pressed a finger against an old festering wound, and the most nauseating of odors whiffed out.

In an auto-pilot-like response, my friends lashed out against me justifying the owners decision with all sorts of lame reasons and non-consequential analogies. For instance one of them likened the cake shop of concern to a boutique that sells only trousers, and the Christians who ask for a cake with a crucified Jesus to a shopper who wants to buy a shirt. According to this logic, the boutique's owner is not under any legal obligation to provide the shopper with anything other than trousers! Often times, one can tolerate high levels of stupidity, but when it is deliberate, we perceive it as a personal insult, all the more so when it serves as a base to something hateful like religious bigotry.

So at that point I got loud, and my face wore a menacing expression akin to that on the countenance of a Maori performing a Haka. "Dude", I said as my eyes widened and forehead stretched like never before, "if the owner refused to make a cake with a symbol that represents Chechens, would that still be right?". Anticipating my intents, he replied "No, but then that is a different matter". I quickly pointed out that the Jordanian constitution states explicitly that there should be no discrimination between the citizens of the country based on race, language or religion. He backed off, but was it because I was sporting an aggressive face or because he started realizing he was wrong? Not before long, I found it was neither. He was just thinking of a more "logical" reply than what he had managed to deliver so far. What was his reply? Well, according to him, Christians in Jordan should see how privileged they are compared to the their counterparts in Iraq and Syria, and for that alone they should be thankful!

It dawned on me then that many Muslims in Jordan don't think of a Christian Jordanian as a Jordanian, but, first and foremost, as a Christian. This entails that they are nothing more than guests in the country, and they should be wise enough not to test the limits of the tolerance of their Muslim hosts. Since then, my discussions with few other Muslim Jordanians served only to corroborate this conclusion. For instance, I was astonished that a couple of friends who are pursuing PhDs in Europe are in favor of imposing religious taxes on Arab Christians. After all, they - my friends that is - are paying a significant portion of their income in taxes under the European law! Mind you, these guys had to exhibit no ordinary amount of logical reasoning capabilities and levels of education in order for them to gain admission to their respective universities. Yet, they had no problem with wishfully-thinking that Jizyah was no different than a tax paid in Europe!

I mentioned above that these people were acting in an auto-pilot-like fashion. I could tell that they were simply living up to decades of Islamic education that made them look down on anyone who doesn't comply with their religious views. That of course does not absolve them from bigotry. After all, many young Jordanians who were subject to the very same education broke free from such teachings, and not only that, but turned against them.

Still though, I guess a remedy of the situation should include some serious concessions from the side of the Islamists in Jordan in this regard. That, I am afraid, will not come about willingly from their side. Instead, their grip on the educational institution in the country should be forcefully broken. This will take more than lame conferences  and festivals that celebrate a thinning coexistence between the various religious denominations in Jordan. It will call for persistence, consolidation and coordination, and no small measure of rage to put the bigots to shame.