Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Are we ready for freedom of speech?

The provocative proposal by the Bakhit government to establish a "freedom square" in Amman has mostly been met with scorn. Shaker Nabulsi writes in Elaph that the whole idea is a joke, that the idea of democracy in Jordan is a joke and that the government should work towards freeing other aspects of journalism in the country. He questions whether issues such as the changing of the constitution or accusing high officials of wrongdoing or corruption would be allowed in such a square.

Firas questions whether society is ready to deal with unorthodox ideas such as questioning the existence of God or having somebody claim that he is a prophet. He believes that such a square would become a focal point for Islamic militants, beggars and people recently released from jail.

It has been estimated that 24 laws would need to be changed in order to implement this idea. This in itself would seem to be a major barrier towards such a project.

So, in essence the government is saying that they want to go forward with a project which would certainly raise the level of freedom and debate in the country. On the other side, people are saying that this is just a ploy, and that the government and the people are not ready for such a project.

It is sad that people are reacting this way to the idea. In Arabic, we say (Laheq il ayyar la bab il dar), meaning "follow the name-caller to the door of the house". The saying means that even if somebody is insincere about a certain (attractive) proposal, you should follow up on it to the end. The fact that people are negative about this idea says something about the credibility of the government.

Being contrarian in nature, I would hope that people would rethink this issue. After all, it is the PRIME MINISTER who is saying he wants this to happen. Why not embrace the idea? Why not demand that this promise be fulfilled? Why are we so timid and negative about such a bold proposal? Even if the project is not as attractive and successful as Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, it would be a giant step that could always be modified and tuned. Even if the only thing we get out of the project is changing legislation that limits free speech, we will still be much better off.

The government is demanding more freedom, and the people are saying that it can't/shouldn't be done. Only in Jordan.

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12 Comments:

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Khalaf. I hope that your post succeeds in elevating the level of discussion on this issue. I am surprised by the number of negative reactions to the idea. I do recognize that years of oppressive measures have produced a culture of negativity and a distrust of government, but it seems to me that there is a momentum towards change--why not go with it and see where it leads... I also realize that freedom cannot be restricted to a geographical area, but the very concept of freedom square may create a ripple effect in society. Especially if it means changing certain outdated and oppressive laws currently on the books.
Your Anon Admirer

 
At 6:19 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hello Anon: Thanks for getting me to think about this.

Best wishes.

 
At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Dana said...

Dear Khalaf,

I am not sure if people are saying no to freedom by saying that this idea is ridiculous. Cause it absolutely is. If we need a square to claim freedom, we certainly are in more trouble than we thought.

Since the Prime Minister is so kind to change laws in order to leave this so-called square as his lasting legacy, perhaps it is high time he tries to change laws that seriously impinge on the freedoms of persons in Jordan. My point is that it is not a square that we need; it is actual reforms of constitutions and ways of governance (which he proposing to do via the square, I know).

Moreover, imagine how easy it would become – were this pathetic exercise in “freedom” to materialize – to label, capture, persecute (and prosecute) those who exercise their freedoms by, for example, speaking against the current regime.

Also, what happens outside of the square? Can people speak freely in other areas as well? Or must we enter the square in order to begin to speak and hear one another?

And in the sake of silliness, I ask the following questions: Why a square? Why not a circle (god knows the country is full of those)? Why not a freaking triangle?

If freedom needs to be contained in some kind of structure in Amman (which leads me to my next set of inane questions: Why in Amman? Why not in Maan? Why not in Irbid? Why not in Zarqa?), then let us at least begin to think of this structure in more creative and imaginative ways.

Just some thoughts.

Dana

 
At 9:15 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hello Dana: Just because the idea is far fetched doesn't mean that it should be rejected on principle. Of course, it would be a sham if it were to become a tool to capture opponents. The legal framework should be established to prevent this from happening.

The idea is bolder than anybody has ever proposed. Why not seize it and see where it takes us?

 
At 10:31 PM, Blogger rami said...

of course we are ready for freedom of speech...

give everyone the right to acquire knowledge about everything, and the right to express themselves about everything, it will create a mess, but the mess will sort itself out, like it did in many countries!

Enough blaming the government, it is the lack of civil action, the lack of understanding of the importance of these concepts, that are preventing such freedoms from taking place. Freedom is something people call for, and people get, never a gift from any government.

Ive written extensively about this in my blog.

 
At 10:40 PM, Blogger Hatem Abunimeh said...

Mr. Nabulsi's vitriolic criticism and virulent attack against the proposed freedom square idea is reprehensible. It exceeds all the norms set forth by any objective Journalism; and moreover it borders conspicuous incitement.

He talks about the futility of the government at a time when he himself started gnawing backwards and worked his way toward the starting point. In other words he rendered his judgment from the very first sentence.

Freedom park is just a concept at this point in time, it may or may never see the light, when the prime minister spoke about it he was merely throwing some ideas out there to see what kind of reaction will he be getting.

It was sort of like trial balloon, it doesn't deserve all of the long list of condemnations and the harbinger of an apocalypse that is about to take place as a result of this concept.

Mr. Nabulsi is savvy enough to realize that over ninety percent of what people say never see the day light and expires upon the expiration of that particular business day.

The national Agenda is a classic example of what I'm talking about here, look how much work was put into it and how much hoopla was surrounding the day of its completion, yet, we have yet to hear any of its articles not only implemented but rather published in the local papers for review and evaluation.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is : Don't take everything at a face value, it takes long time for any type of change to take place. Social, political, and economic matters are very vital to be tampered with in a hasty way.

Look how many session the Parliament held in order for it to consider abolishing the article about honor crimes, so far all of the efforts have been unsuccessful and all of the previous tries were unsuccessful.

It reminds of the equal rights amendment that was discussed and repeatedly brought up for vote in the chambers of the United States congress, and despite all of the repeated efforts the amendment was defeated and it was forgotten and finally thrown in the ash bin of history.

So let us wait and see how this concept will develop before we render a final judgment on it before it goes through the litmus test.

 
At 2:33 AM, Blogger Hamzeh N. said...

I think this square idea is very good simply because it actually helps expose any shortcomings in our government when it comes to allowing freedom of speech.

Since this is gaining so much attention in the street, any failures of the project will get just as much (if not bigger) attention. The thing that will put more pressure in the direction of solving the problem of free speech in Jordan.

So even if I think it's gonna fail miserably, I say let them do it, let them fail.

 
At 8:38 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Rami: Totally agree.
Hatem: I agree, except to say that people should be more pro active, and not simply wait for the government to follow through. Bakhit said he would do it. Lets pressure him to follow through.
Hamzeh: We agree. Even trying and failing would be better than not trying at all.

 
At 4:50 PM, Blogger Firas said...

I think it's nothing but show biz!
It's just for photo shots and TV reports!

Freedom of speech won't be achieved through this square!Most poeple are already saying it's there so the security forces could know who are the trouble makers,big mouth people!

In our schools we are not taught to have the freedom to speak!It's always "Uskot ya walad 3eeb te7ki heek ma3 el akbar meenak!" "Kid, don't talk like that to the elder".

Seriously,people are afraid to speak! You have to build a strong foundation!Then such things would be healthy!

We saw Tujan Faisal, who I presonally think is nuts...but she spoke freely, and we saw the outcome!

Trust me,it will be another Thaqfeh street....
Stop blowing our money...
Gal Freedom Gal

 
At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Abdelstar alslimat said...

Yes we are.

 
At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have decided to come back and throw in my cents’ worth. I have to say up front that I am not Jordanian, but I am an Arab living in Toronto with both a professional and personal interest in these issues. So you can feel free to tell me to f*** off at anytime. Although I understand the skepticism with which the government’s proposition is being met, I also believe that a door has been open to a unique opportunity. The idea of a “freedom square” may not be the ideal one, but aren’t some people losing sight of the fact there is a proposal on the table dealing with free speech, democratic participation and the strengthening of civil society? And doesn’t that indicate a readiness on the part of government to at least listen.

I am of the opinion that change does not and should not happen from the top down, and democracy cannot be handed down from the government to the people. But if people do not want to get involved in influencing change, then governments will act alone.

 
At 12:38 AM, Blogger moi said...

I think the reason why people are attacking this idea is because it belittles the Jordanian people. Does the government really think that it can continue to introduce superficial measures that seek to shut people up for a little while? I agree with those who call for a more fundamental approach to ensuring freedom of speech. There is no way we can compare such a "square" with that in Beirut or London because both countries enjoy much more freedoms than Jordanians do. It is not a rejection of the idea of the square itself, but a rejection of any superficial moves that give the impression that the government really wants people to speak their mind. You're giving the government too much credit here.

 

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