Zarqawi, Israel, and Freedom of Expression in Jordan
The Jordanian blogosphere has been up in arms over the actions of a few parliamentarians who are members of the Jordanian Islamic Action Front (IAF) party. The four men visited the family of Zarqawi and mourned his death, calling him a "martyr." Since then they have been attacked by many people in Jordan who believe that showing such public support for a known enemy of Jordan, the man who was behind the Nov. 11th terrorist attacks, is disrespectful and even treasonous. The response has been quick, which resulted in the arrest of the 4 MP's for investigation and possibly facing serious charges.
Today, a protest was held in front of that Parliament headquarters to denounce the actions of those MP's. Fellow blogger Roba is angered by the lack of diversity, large turnout, and organization at the protest.
The death of Zarqawi and the recent Israeli attack on a Palestinian beach goers has dominated the headlines in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Many people in the Arab world found it hard to deal with both events. They lashed out against Israel for the recent atrocity, which they believe could only happen with the support of the US. The killing of Zarqawi was hailed by the US as a huge achievement, but many in the Middle East are hesitant to express their support for US actions in Iraq.
While they may agree that Zarqawi is a cold-blooded murderer, they feel that supporting his capture would indicate support for the US occupation and denouncement of any resistance to such occupation. The latter is a sentiment few in the Muslim world want to express. With all the suffering faced by their fellow Iraqis, the US occupation has become the enemy, and resistance to such occupation is sometimes glorified despite reservations about Iraqi civilians being the target of these "resistance movements".
So what does this have to do with the IAF and freedom of expression in Jordan?
I believe that these spiraling events are connected in a complex web in the Arab and Muslim mind, as well as in the actions of the governments of the Middle East.
Jordanian officials have allowed a protest to be held for citizens to express their anger at a certain event, the IAF fiasco. There is no doubt that the Jordanian government benefits from such public sentiments against the largest Islamic party which also happens to be the main opposition party in parliament. Just because the government benefits from this fiasco, however, I am in no way indicating that there is a government *conspiracy* to make the party look bad. The MP's apparently have no PR skills whatsoever, and do not seem to care that their actions reflect on the whole party, whether the latter agrees or not. And that they are representatives of the people, and not just their party, so their actions are always scrutinized.
Nevertheless, the fact that the government has nurtured this public outcry and allowed the protest would seem to be a positive step in regards to freedom of expression and assembly in Jordan...right?
The government reaction to this outcry appears to be exceptional and exclusive in nature. One would imagine that any other public outcry against any other government action would be welcomed as well, but that is truly not the case. One would imagine that the public is always allowed to express concern over members of government who appear to be supporting a known enemy of the state and the people. But again, that is not the case.
In the aftermath of the Amman hotel bombings, for which Zarqawi claimed responsibility, he has surely become a known enemy of the state of Jordan and the people of Jordan (ideally). Coincidentally, the people of Jordan also consider Israel an enemy, despite the fact that the government does not. Jordanians consider Sharon and Olmert enemies, despite the fact that the government provides them with the red carpet treatment and official state visits.
In a democratic environment, the people would be allowed to protest both of their enemies and anyone who supports those enemies. They would be allowed to protest in front of the Israeli embassy without being attacked by dogs, water pumps, and riot police. They would allowed to have a referendum on peace with Israel. Their consideration of Israel as an enemy would be implemented by law, and their representatives would be able to truly express the sentiments of their constituents. Of course I realize that Jordan is not a democracy, but it is considered one of the more open and reform minded countries in the Middle East.
My concern is not that people who attack Zarqawi should also attack Israel. That is their personal choice. I don't want to connect the Palestinian-Israeli issue to every other issue in the Middle East (although I could). I simply want to point out that all these issues which mean so much to people in the Arab and Muslim world are continuously exploited in various ways by individuals officially in power or others who have a significant amount of influence on the population. A citizen feels anger or happiness, but he cannot express those feelings unless the government agrees with him. Otherwise, any such expression will result in repression.
I want Jordanians and all other Arabs and Muslims to be able to protest the actions of government officials who support an individual, or party, or state that most consider their enemy. No exceptions.
[technorati tags: Zarqawi, IAF, Jordan, Israel, terrorism, democracy, freedoms]