The Islamic Action front has issued a new document
outlining their view of reform in Jordan. As with any new packaging, it is always prudent for the consumer to look for fundamental changes in the product. This is what I was looking for in reading this statement. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it seems that little has changed.
I must note that there is a lot of change in the tone used to put the message through. The IAF (particularly in the fourth section), states that Islam is a religion of moderation and tolerance. We knew that, and it is good that the IAF is recognizing it as well. They go on to state other virtues which they attribute to Islam, and therefore themselves: justice, cooperation, Human dignity, dialog, and vitality. The old refrain that that Islam is applicable in any place and at any time is also suggested, although there is a hint of a nod towards reinterpreting the text in modern context. The IAF still wants to impose Sharia
and build an Islamic (theocratic?) society.
The forth section also emphasizes somewhat acceptance of democratic rules, and thus welcomes diversity in the political society. While this might seem somewhat obvious, as anybody who runs for public office must accept the rules of the game, it is good for the IAF to try to alleviate fears that it is using the democratic system to take power once and for all. I note that all references to democracy are always followed by the term Shura
(advice). I find this troubling. They accept democracy if they like the results, but if they don't; they can do what they want anyway, since shura
is non-binding. I think that playing with words doesn't help the case, but reveals the intent.
There is a notable emphasis on Arabism in the statement. Anybody familiar with the discourse of political Islam might find this surprising. I did. Traditionally, the discourses of the Islamists tried to emphasize the Islamic nation and deemphasize the Arab nation. The document does not really try to talk about the Jordanian nation very much. No surprise here. The document tries to finesse this by stating that there is no conflict of interest between the Jordanian ideal and the Arab and Islamic ideal. Granted, this might be true 99% of the time. Where do they stand in the 1% of occasions where critical decisions need to be made? I think that the answer is clear.
The document (in the sixth section, point 2) wants all laws to be in line with Sharia
. This is no departure from the past and doesn't help in trying to convey a more moderate stance. Point 7 suggest sthat the government should bear sole responsibility for running the country's affairs. I think that they mean that the role of the king should be curtailed, which would require a constitutional amendment. Other points emphasis equality between all. I am not sure who is against that, but I will give my read on what the IAF is trying to achieve politically at the end of the post.
The eighth section talks about Human rights. An interesting point is that the government should provide employment opportunities for all. Hmm. I will compare this with their ideas about the economy later. Another Human right emphasized is the right to proselytize. I suppose that that does not include Christian missionaries rights to work freely. I seem to remember that such efforts in the past have been frowned upon by the Islamic movement. I think that they are only talking about their own rights. Another right the freedom to "order righteousness and disallow the forbidden" (Al Amr Bil Ma'rouf wa al Nahy 'an al Munkar
). This can be interpreted in different ways. The literal meaning is benign. The applied meaning, used in theocracies such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Muqtada Sadr's southern Iraq, suggests the establishment of official or unofficial ethics police to enforce "morality". This, of course, is quite a different concept from Human rights. Moreover, it is a frightening thought. The fact that what is meant is not clear is another example of word play that should do nothing to ease the mind of the more secularly oriented people.
The ideas for economic reform are listed in section 9. The ideas include capitalistic approaches, such as encouraging investment through lower taxes and tariffs (point 9), mixed with more socialist ideas involving expansion of the public sector, stopping privatization and creating jobs for everybody. There are also old pipe dreams of establishing an "Islamic" economy which eliminates all forms of trade which are considered un Islamic. In essence, this means the elimination of the banking system and insurance companies. Social spending by private organizations should be encouraged to alleviate poverty and unemployment, according to the document. It is well known that much of the support received by the IAF is from the poor who benefit most from the charities that are administered by IAF affiliated organizations. Some people would call it buying votes.
As for women's rights, there is a long list of what are considered to be women's right's in Islam. There is no mention of anti-woman stances taken by IAF deputies in the parliament in the last few years. These have included the maintaining continued tacit approval for so-called honor killings through the allowance of using this excuse as an extenuating circumstance. Another example is the overturning the law which allows women to initiate a divorce. In both issues, the IAF took an anti-woman stance, despite the fact that both stances are arguably unislamic. So there you go. There is no mention of these issues in the document, suggesting that the IAF will continue to pander to the basest elements in its constituency.
The closing sections speak in generalities about national unity, Palestine, Iraq, and Islamic/Arab unity. There are no real surprises here, as they are still against peace with Israel, and the US occupation of Iraq, and for national unity and Islamic/Arab unity.
So, in essence the paper includes interesting shifts in nuance, with a lot of emphasis on inclusion. This is coupled with word play, always following democracy with Shura
, without indicating what this is supposed to mean. The old totalitarian core is still there, insisting on imposing sharia
, with all of it's social and economic and educational components.
There is an effort to reach out to the pan Arabist constituency which is probably disillusioned with its own weak parties. I doubt that this will work, since there is nothing to suggest that the IAF has changed its strident face and really decided to join the modern era. The IAF will continue to be the party of the poor and disenfranchised, particularly with Jordanians of Palestinian origin. The emphasis on equality and national unity is a nod to this constituency. Our educational system continues to indoctrinate our students towards believing that if we can somehow recreate the society of the seventh century, we will be on our way to Andalusia. It is too bad that people continue to be so gullible.