Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Identities

An interview with Adnan Abu Odeh aired by Al Jazeerah has been a source of much commentary. Two aspects of the interview have created controversy. The first is related to Abu Odeh’s historical narrative of his role as a key policy maker during the reign of the late king Hussein. The second is his advocacy of what he calls the rights of Jordanians of Palestinian origin.

Many commentators dismiss what Abu Odeh has to say on the grounds that he is a political opportunist who was an integral part of the regime, and is now lashing out to bring himself back to the limelight. Yasser Abu Hillaleh calls him out on some statements of fact that may be misleading or inaccurate. While the case for hypocrisy is obviously easy to make, I think that the message needs to be addressed in a more substantive manner.

The core of Abu Odeh’s message is that Jordanians of Palestinian origin are marginalized in the political system and are underrepresented in key sectors, most notably the security services and in key government posts. He points to the electoral law that under represents urban over rural areas, which ultimately leads to the under representation of Jordanians of Palestinian origin. This, he claims, is evidence of deliberate marginalization of this group.

While I am not always particularly fond of what Nahid Hattar has to say, I think that he hit the nail on the head when discussing this issue. The thrust of Hattar’s argument is that the question is posed in a dangerous way. What is the point of turning the Jordanians of Palestinian roots into an ethnic sect, demanding proportional representation based on their supposed proportion as a sect? Doesn’t this undermine their identities as Jordanians? Does the deliberate attempt to magnify their proportion help their case or that of the Palestinian cause?

In fact, I don’t see Jordanians of Palestinian as a sect. There are no ethnic or religious differences between the two groups, and any sense of identity is purely a personal opinion or sense of belonging. Many Jordanians (particularly the older generation) feel that they are Palestinian, and many of their children and grandchildren have never known any home besides Jordan, and have a sense of belonging to this country that may exceed that of a Jordanian with an East Bank heritage. Why should such people be labeled as Palestinian?

Despite this, there is still an obvious failure at many levels to forge an inclusive Jordanian identity. There are historical residues from the 1970 purge of Palestinian organizations from the country, and grievances involving exclusion from the security services and (perhaps) the government as well as counter grievances related to exclusion from the private sector and academia, sectors where Jordanians from the west of the river were the first to dominate. These are grievances that reflect historical events, and continue to cast shadows on how the two groups sometimes view each other. It is not obvious why it would be difficult to sort out these problems, and build a system based on merit rather than the homes of grandparents.

It is important to point out that many people in rural Jordan feel as marginalized from the power structure of the country as anybody else. Many large tribes, villages and even small towns have never been represented in the authority structure of the country, either as ministers or even a tier lower than a minister. While east Jordanians may be over represented in the political structure, the distribution of this representation is not necessarily fair. Certain tribes and families have always been better represented than others. It is not obvious that the problem is East versus Palestinian Jordanians. Rather, the hereditary nature of distribution of public offices seems to be the main source of complaint.

I am sure that rural areas in the north and the south of the country would gladly trade their overrepresentation in the parliament with better wealth and infrastructure distribution in the country. Many of these areas have severe poverty levels and an obvious lack of economic opportunities, in contrast to urban areas where the situation is notably more comfortable. Since the issue of fairness is being raised, well, let everything be put on the table. I find it amusing that underrepresentation in the security services is viewed as a sign of discrimination. In most countries, it is the more socially and economically disadvantaged people who are the ones who choose to join the army.

But the more fundamental question is not the presence of grievances. It is a question of identity. Is any real or perceived grievance enough for a person to shed their feeling of belonging? Conversely, can a sense of belonging and loyalty be bought? Abu Odeh and his likes are living proof that they can not. Many of the current system’s failures stem from the assumption that they can.

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28 Comments:

At 1:57 AM, Anonymous hamede said...

It appears that abu 3oda is not part of the solution since he fail to recognize the problem thus contributing to it,un identified sources mean nothing there,s no substance in his story it,s flimsy story,if a turtle loses his shell is it naked or homeless.
pollitcs is not bad profession,if you succeed there are many rewards,if you disgrace you,r self you can always write a book.
I,m sick and tired of a bunch of despicable who will not debate real policy who won,t take responsibility for their own mistakes,abu 3oda need to stop insulting our intelligent.
He forgat the use to call him the king lighter.

 
At 2:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so what's your point? that we should stay the course of the status quo because there are poeple like abu 3odeh who are now disloyal because they said something publically all of us know already? Are you saying when a "minority" complains about discrimination that it's disloyal and as a result forfeits its political rights? So this is the put up or shut up system?

and does our dislike for Abu 3odeh and his types enough reason to cast doubt on millions of jordanians of palestinian origin? or is this unjust status quo a permenent sentence for the 70s trouble? even the lebanese who fought a vicious civil war more recently than jordan's have managed to protect each groups' political representation. if you refuse to see the jo-pals as a sect why treat them as such? the systematic marginalization is not a product of random events.

 
At 3:55 AM, Anonymous hamede said...

Anonymous.
Idon,t see a lot of positive things coming from this,i see it as a counter productive mission,now after abu 3oda left the office and his dream of becoming pm vanish he start criticizing jordan alot of speeches and comment how bad he been treated,thats make him HYPOCRITE.

 
At 6:32 AM, Anonymous el. said...

I identify myself as a Palestinian-Jordanian. This shouldn't undermine my loyality to Jordan as you said it is the only home I know. And I do not identify myself as such because I want to help or disregard the Palestinian cause, it's just that this is the identity I was born into and grew up with. And when my government is filled with powerful Jordanian tribes, that is alienating. Just as (for example) some government being completely full of 40 year old white hetero males can be alienating to a whole list of groups.

I don't really have a solution to this problem, but the problem is there. If we are all going to be Jordan, than all of us should be included in Jordan!

 
At 7:05 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hamede: I agree that Abu Odeh is not part of the solution. This doesn't mean that what he says isn't similar to what many other people are saying in private.

Anon: The Jordanian-Palestinians are not a sect. The Lebanon analogy is not useful, and is not needed. People should be able to have oportunities to participate in politics and in the work force (including the security) based on merit. The formula is not so complicated.

El: The government contains people from strong (trans) Jordanian tribes as well as people originally from Palestine, Syria, Kurdistan and Iran. To portray the government as being "filled with powerful Jordanian tribes" is not truly honest. Calling for sect-like quota sharing is not the answer. Calling for full rights as individuals (rather than as sects) is what is needed.

 
At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

here is a summary of the positions from the official side and those who want the status quo to stay:

- Abu 3awad is an opportunist so lets attack him and end the discussion about the marginalization of Jordanians with roots west of the Jordan river. Subject closed.

- national unity is holy and anything that threatens it is evil. no more discussion about marginalization of Jordanians with roots west of the Jordan river. Subject closed.

- the systematic marginalization is driven by higher goals such as defending the "cause" and protecting the right of return. subject closed.

- we must not treat Jordanians with roots west of the Jordan river as a separate ethnicity and a sect. subject closed.

And so it's obvious there is a deeply troubling culture of exploitation not necessarily indigenous to Jordan but part and parcel of modern Arab culture throughout the Arab world whereby the parasites in power will seek whatever excuses to continue to suck the blood out of those not in power under whatever absurd and outrageous pretexts they can come up with.

It happened in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Sudan, Jordan,...and regardless of the advertised political agenda of the elite (socialist, islamist/ashraaf, nationalist) they all screw their people in the same manner, and regardless of the revolutions which brought them to power (socialist, Arab revolt, anti-colonialist, pro-colonialist) they all revert to blood-sucking parasites. Screw all the ruling Arab elites. We need a cultural revolution that wipes the slate clean from the dirt and the filth which continues to fule civil strife and retard the progress of the Arabs.

You all want anything but fairness and justice, anything but doing the right thing, even if it meant inviting foreign interventions and instability. what a backward Arab "elite" you are all unfit to rule. bring back the ottomans, or may be the Persians will do a better job than the arab elite. fungus needs to be scrubbed

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

What is your point? Arab elites are all parasites and need to expunged; case closed? I am sorry to let you know that every society has elites, and by definition they live better lives than everybody else and fight to hold their privaliges. It is Human nature.

As for a cultural revolution, good luck with that. You might want to read up on Mao Tse Tung's cultural revolution. The results were less that inspiring.

Not that I can be considered one of the elites, although I can dream.

 
At 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you say Mao Tse Tung's cultural revolution. The results were less that inspiring.

I beg to differ. in a decade or so, china is set to compete with the US to dominate global economy and become a super power not to mess with.

dude, i don't mind the political status quo if we have a government that can sustain an economic growith like china. BUT IN THW ARAB WORLD WE HAVE NOTHING...NO GROWTH (BUT OIL INDUSTRY) NO DIGNITY, LOTS OF REPRESSION, PLENTY OF CORRUPTION. FUCK THAT. I WILL TAKE CHINA, IRAN, OR INDIA'S TROUBLE AND SUCCESS OVER THE TOTAL FAILURE OF ARAB REGIMES AND ELITE.

 
At 2:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"every society has elites, and by definition they live better lives than everybody else and fight to hold their privaliges. It is Human nature."

wow...a neo-liberal has just spoken words of wisdom: fuck the people...it's human nature.

the Talented Mr. Khalaf just ligitimized corruption and repression, bacuse it's human nature.

Khalaf, How come a western education always brings progress to other countrie's elites but in the arab world it just teaches them a few facny words to use when arguing in favor of backwardness and repression. how come you the arab elite are immune to noble ideals such as equality, freedoms, and justice?

 
At 2:57 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Your words: Khalaf, How come a western education always brings progress to other countrie's elites but in the arab world it just teaches them a few facny words to use when arguing in favor of backwardness and repression. how come you the arab elite are immune to noble ideals such as equality, freedoms, and justice?

My words (on this post): It is not obvious why it would be difficult to sort out these problems, and build a system based on merit rather than the homes of grandparents.

Also: It is not obvious that the problem is East versus Palestinian Jordanians. Rather, the hereditary nature of distribution of public offices seems to be the main source of complaint.

Also: [can a sense of belonging and loyalty be bought?][Many of the current system’s failures stem from the assumption that they can].

Either I don't understand the fancy words that I am using, or you have a problem in reading comprehension.

 
At 3:04 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

BTW: The current Chinese government ( since the jailing of the Gang of Four over in 1976) has disavowed the cultural revolution and it is viewed as gross mistake.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gang_of_Four_(China)

 
At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

of course they have disavowed it, but it saved China from the corrupt elite (who resemble our own). if Mao did not go that route, china would have been like the arab world, many divided states that are impotent, corrupt, waring, and open to contant foreign interventions and vulnrable to theft of natural resources.

 
At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Hamzeh N. said...

Man, compare what Saleh Al Qallab had to say to what Nahid Hattar or Yasir Abu Hlala said about the subject.

Al-Rai is going down man.

 
At 6:31 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hamzeh: An interesting point. Sad, when you come to think about it.

 
At 9:57 PM, Anonymous el. said...

I can't believe someone is saying that China is better off than we are when it actually is one of the few places that I feel is more repressive, opporessive than Jordan. Their Internet censorship standards shows this well enough. Give me the mukhabarat over the Chinese government, even on its worst days. And as for Western education bringing progress to every other country's elites except Arab.. here's a fancy Western word for that: Rhetoric. Here is the fancy word in a sentence: Rhetorical claims sound hardly educated by any standard, Western or not!

 
At 11:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

el. said...all you have to do is read the corruption reports, human deveopment reports, and human rights reports and you will have all the stats that you need. your refusal to accept my statement shows your ignorance of these studies and your shallowness which driven by self-preservation since the only people who will defend the status quo are those who benefit from. And if you even ask me to post links those studies I will tell you to go shove it.

 
At 4:23 AM, Anonymous el. said...

Okay, if you can't cite references, I will still humour you anyway:

How about I throw out a name or two of Arab elites who received Western education, and non-Arab elites who received Western education to prove my point, and then you do the same to prove your point, and we'll take turns? I say we limit it to the span of the past 100 years? okay here it goes:

1. Edward Said
2. Samir Amin
--
1. John Mugabi
2. Adolf Hitler

okay you're turn.

 
At 5:09 AM, Anonymous el. said...

And by the way, my impression from watching the mainstream media is that equating Arabs or the Arab World to backwardness and repression IS the status quo... worldwide.

 
At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Samer said...

I have to say: good job, nice entry.

"Why should such people be labeled as Palestinian?"
Why should Circasians be labeled Circassian? And Armenians Armenian? And Palestines should swallow it and say they're Jordanian? Is it unacceptable to be proud of your origin while loving this land and it's people? I'm sorry that I can't bring myself to say I'm Jordanian, but I love Jordan and it's people; It is my home.

"Is any real or perceived grievance enough for a person to shed their feeling of belonging?"
Real grievances and at times frequent. I will not say 'shed', but pretty damn close to that. I've grown up to belong to Jordan, but some incidents really tested this feeling of belonging. But, it wouldn't be an intelligent reaction to judge the whole by what the naughty few do. After all, Prophet Mohammad -asaw- refered to this matter as 'natina' (it smells).

 
At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Batir said...

I have wrote about this subject in Addustour today and the post is also on my Arabic blog http://www.jordanwatch.net/arabic/archive/2006/11/112866.html
But I would like to emphasise three main points:
1- Identity can be both cultural and political: Cultural identity should be always free and contained in a pluralistic system where each citizens can perform his cultural identity and express its features. Political identity should be linked to citizenship which includes rights and duties. The only duty is to belive that Jordan IS YOUR COUNTRY. Abu 3deh's biggest mistake was describing Jordan as a "temporary home" amd this is not accepted by a person who has gained such from the state.
2- I agree with the need for more representations of Jordanians of palestinian origins in public institutions and parliament, and taht can be coupled with more empowerment of east Jordanians in private sector.
3- There is no systemantic marginalization against Palestinians. Basem Awadallah, Khalid Shaheen and khalil Attiya are nothing ut marginalized and the real marginalization in Jordan is against poor people whether living in Shuna, Ma'an, Wehdat or Irbid.
What we need is a national programme for social justice for all Jordanians not based on sectarian approaches and not lead by corrupt public elite figures like Abu 3odeh.

 
At 2:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khalaf, indicting Abu odeh is infantile to say the least. You probably right that he is very eager to get back to the center of attention, however he could not achieve his goal without the government silly appraoch to exagerate his remarks by brining him in front of the legal system.

 
At 2:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that I agreed with what he said!

 
At 5:56 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Samer: While I can understand that some people can not bring themselves to accept the label "Jordanian", I don't understand or accept that such individuals would want to be involved in the politics of a country that they do not feel identity with.

I can assure you that experiences and feelings of injustice and discrimination cut in both directions.

Batir: I agree with all of your points.

Issam: I agree that this would be stupid. So, what's new?

 
At 8:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't see the interview with Abu Odeh on al-Jazeera, but I spoke with him about a year ago and what he said was actually quite critical of Palestinian Jordanians.

His point about Palestinian Jordanians was that they have a guest mentality, and that they won't get their full rights until they stand up for them. He said this "guest mentality" was greatly reinforced by the influx of Palestinians from Kuwait after the first Gulf war. It was, he said, the biggest challenge facing Palestinian Jordanians.

He also talked about how in the 50's and early 60's Jordan followed policies of integration, but with the rise of the Palestinian national movement, the Jordanian state increasingly resorted to policies of exclusion, and defining a Jordanian identity in opposition to a Palestinian identity. The civil war greatly accelerated and exacerbated this trend, according to Abu Odeh.

And frankly, I've heard many Jordanians say terrible things about Palestinian Jordanians. There is real tension and prosecuting Abu Odeh isn't going to make it go away. All it does is reinforce the percieved grievences of both sides.

Either way, if the reaction to his comments show anything, they show that this is a very real issue. And I think when states overreact to such things, like Jordan is doing, it really only shows exactly how severe a problem they want to claim doesn't exist, really is.

And finally, as a white American, I can tell you it is very easy for a member of a dominant community to ignore or belittle the claims of discrimination of a minority. You don't understand discrimination until you experience it in all its subtle and not so subtle forms.

 
At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Samer said...

Khalaf,
I was strictly speaking of my perspective. You might have talked about Abu Odeh, but you asked broader questions in the end, which I quoted and answered.

"I can assure you that experiences and feelings of injustice and discrimination cut in both directions."
I'm well aware of that. And to me it's not about this side or that. Whatever 'direction' is cut, it's still 'natina'. My identity is independent of what sides might be. It's just my identity and I cherish it.

 
At 9:24 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Anon: Many Jordanian-Palestinians don't really want to be integrated. Many from both banks think that the west is eager to integrate them as a way of solving some of Israel's problems.

In the end, as I said in the post, the feeling of identity is something that is personal. It is not a question of how may government positions are awarded to each group. Insisting on lumping Palestinan Jordanians into a sect will reinforce the psycological barriers between the groups. Everybody should be able to compete for any position or opportunity based on merit. This is how integration and a joint identity will be forged over the long run.

Samer: Your identity is your identity. How can that be taken away? Many Palestinian Jordanians feel that way, and choose to refrain from involvement in Jordanian politics. Frankly, this is an honest and internally consistent approach.

 
At 9:48 AM, Anonymous Markus said...

I’m going to try to stay away from the intricacies of what Odeh said, I would just like to touch on one point, its really not a matter of choice whether we want to lump the Pali-Jordies into a group, ethnicity, identity or not, this is the fruit of labor of a historic process, whether artificial or not. I experienced this first hand when I came to Jordan, I have never lived in Jordan prior to this experience, so I felt and still do feel neutral when it comes to associating myself with the west siders vs. the east siders (2 faces to the same coin in my opinion) What matters here is not how many ministers or government officials are originally Palestinians, the real problem is that there is genuine animosity between the two groups, the jokes, the black remarks, the attitudes, the underhanded questions, judging someone simply by his address or his family name, are all dark realities in Jordanian society. These attitudes are there independently of the social divide that is also ripping society apart.

 
At 8:50 PM, Blogger Chris said...

You mentioned that Audeh had commented on Black September. Could you explain what he said? I am writing about that episode right now.

 

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