Letter on Justice Liberty and Freedom in Jordan from Father Firas Aridah
In recent months the words reform and corruption have flooded news circuits and airwaves as catch lines justifying change in the Arab World. Today I want to move away from those catch phrases to say something which is not being said – something which needs to be said as Christians from Jordan to move away from catch lines and to start reading between the lines.
How about the terms Liberty, Justice and Freedom? In thinking about these words Liberty, Justice and Freedom in my context, as a Jordanian Priest who is serving in Palestine – I thought to myself, I have written much, talked often and have made my voice heard about the injustice, lack of freedom and liberty which is lived in the Occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and how little I had talked about Liberty, Justice and Freedom in the context of Jordan and her monarch King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein. I thought that this might be important to address in the light of current trend in the Middle East as it moves towards a democratically elected government in the Muslim Brotherhood which has since won over the majority of the popular vote in Tunisia and Egypt.
The Arab Spring has turned out to be a cry in the Arab Countries for the virtues necessary in free and independent societies where governments no longer represent only the elites of society but rather where the leaders are normal everyday people. But in the midst of the political unrest which has resulted in the ousting of these elitist leaders not only in Tunisia and Egypt but also Libya and Yemen – civil unrest has spread (and continues to do so) across the entire region: namely, Bahrain and Syria with major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco since 2010. In all of these locations, international media outlets have been very speculative of what lies ahead for the Christian populations in these countries. Largely these outlets have created a picture that the Christian populations were and are against the outcomes of these revolutions. One such digest reports that Christian Populations: “prefer ‘a brutal dictator (in Assad) who guarantees the rights of religious minorities to the uncertain future that Assad’s departure might bring’”. This voice of wanting to protect the status quo has drastically hurt one of the largest and oldest Christian Populations in the area – that of Iraq. Officially the Church has been loud and clear on its support for change in countries where the leading regimes have gone astray from what is good for the people, as Patriarch Fouad Twal has said: “The Arab Revolution was a reawakening of consciences for democracy, peace and social justice. Muslims and Christians took to the street side by side. The Arab Spring has generated real enthusiasm and great expectation”. These demonstrations have brought about results – results which the west has been uncomfortable about because of those who have gained control and yet at the same time results which have brought the focus back onto Liberty, Justice and Freedom.
In Jordan however, we have somewhat of a different scenario. For there, unlike Syria, Egypt, Yemen, the government has been elected since the monarchy has been put in place. And it has been Jordan and its King who have fostered religious liberty, freedom and justice in the midst of a situation which could be significantly different if left to the opposition. This became most evident at the last pilgrimage of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Land in 2009 when opposition to the visit arose: “Whoever is welcoming this transgressive liar and dignifies him and honors him and overlooks his offensives toward the prophet of Islam and toward his religion, then it is impossible for him to be a person from the Muslim community of Muhammad by any means” as Abu-Mohammed al-Maqdisi said before the arrival of the pontiff to Jordan. Standing against such comments His Majesty welcomed the Pope saying that His Holiness was the guest of all Jordanians not only the Christian community. And at his visit the Pope said of the King that he is a leader in “promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam”
And so now in the current context we must consider what the situation is on the ground. The reality is that as most of the developed world continues to struggle in the midst of the worldwide economic crisis, Jordanians are feeling the pinch. Inflation and unemployment have increased markedly and people are having a hard time just to get by. Yet remarkably it has not been the economic instability which has driven people to the streets in 2011 and 2012 – rather it has been the catch phrases of “corruption” and cries for political reform which have dominated the scenes. In response to these cries His Majesty has taken an active approach with the people of Jordan promising them not only reform and representation but more over liberty, justice and freedom. Not to mention government subsidy and support during the difficult economy. He has stood with government employees (which represent the largest segment of the working class) and even with those in the private sector (entrepreneurs, small businesses and multinational corporations). In fact, in the midst of the economic difficulty Jordan has been able to continue investing in its people and even those guests visiting the country.
The truth is this when the late King Hussein passed away he left an inheritance to his son King Abdullah – that inheritance was not a kingdom it was an ability; an ability like no other to be able to connect to the most valuable resource in Jordan – its people. This inheritance has moved His Majesty not only to promise and provide reform and the prosecution of corruption but more importantly a promise to take to the streets along with the people if what they want from a government is not provided to them by those who are charged with leading the people. This is something not even the Muslim Brotherhood would be willing to promise – let alone do until stability and growth reign in the country with the smallest amount of means in the region yet with the greatest amount of promise.
As Christians we have to focus not only on the fact that we are a minority, nor that like everyone else we are suffering a tough economy, nor on protecting the status quo – rather being able to dream as Jordanians and to lead in our region in Liberty, Justice and Freedom. We must not fall into the trap which other have succumb to, we must not follow the catch phrases and we must not fall into the pit of agendas. Agendas are not our game – a society which benefits the marginalized, the poor and the uneducated is. There is one way that we can accomplish this, one way which has been true to our values and to our culture, one way which has not veered off towards extremism nor materialism. That way is the way of our King, that way is the way of Liberty, Justice and Freedom which in Jordan are spelled HASHEMITE.