Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A new and improved IAF

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.



At 11:15 PM, Blogger jameed, RPh, MS said...

Great piece. Very much in agreement with your interpretation.

Could the change of language you point to be a deliberate effort, at this point in time, to draw a distinction between the IAF and other Islamist groups that may believe in “more” extremist ideas or is it just a semantics game that as you suggest attempts to reach out for a broader section of the masses that may have lost the last remaining hope in “pan-Arabism”?

At 12:02 AM, Blogger Hatem Abunimeh said...

Isn't this document supposed to juxtapose the recommendations of the
national Agenda?

At 2:28 AM, Blogger jameed, RPh, MS said...

it may very well be the case Hatem. i wonder if the writers of the IFA the document are well aware of the content of the NA; for one Abdel Latif Arabiat is a common factor here.

alternatively, it may just be "hummeh il 7ukoomeh a7san minna? we'll publish a document!"

At 7:18 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Jameed: I think that carefull reading of the document shows that this is an attempt to change the image without changing the substance. In effect, they are saying what they have always said, only in a "nicer" way.

Hatem: I think that it is an attempt so say that there is a program which is seperate from the NA. Of course, they had their input in the NA. Perhaps they are trying to distance themselves from some of the NAC recommendations. I think we will know more when the NA is published.

At 7:27 PM, Blogger Oleander said...

Nice analysis Khalaf, to me the document came out rather rhetorical, I would've liked to see some action items instead of just claims that a revert to Islam will magically fix all our problems.

I wonder how the IAF is doing popularity wise. They are still the only viable opposition party and their long wish list i'm sure will still manage to attract a sizable constituency.

On a technical side note, their website has a Y2K bug! apparently we're in the year 105 now

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hi Oleander! I think that the concept of a magical solution is becoming less attractive than it was before, as people become more aware. I wrote about this previously on my post on the election law.

What do you mean about the incorrect date?

At 12:49 AM, Blogger jameed, RPh, MS said...

oleander, this is no technical bug, it is the date according to the IAF; in fact, if they have their way done, we would be living in the year 105...

At 2:57 AM, Blogger Ziad said...

Nice post. I agree with most of your points.

The IAF can make these proclamations now; but in a few years the events taking place in and around Jordan will make many of them seem absurd. The first will probably be the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, after the establishment a U.S.-friendly government that can enforce order there. Will the IAF then call for the overthrow of this government?! Another likely development is some sort of a settlement in Palestine that is endorsed (directly or indirectly) by Hamas (under the "temporary settlement" justification).

In addition, a significant improvement in the local economy will remove the punch from the "failed policies of the current government" rhetoric of the IAF. And I don't see how they would be able to get away with destroying the banking system that is at the heart of a thriving and expanding economy.

Most of what they call for would wreck the economy, and the entire country (by dragging it to war with Israel, or a confrontation with the UN at the least). But I don't think that even they would want to do that if they get in power; why would they want to wreck a country that they own

At 8:34 PM, Blogger Oleander said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger Oleander said...

remember the whole Y2K issue and what's going to happen to systems that are not configured in the 4 digit date format, i.e., 98,99,.. the question became what will happen when the year 2000 rolls through, are the systems going to think it's the year 1900? are they going to crash? this particular website, if I had to guess, is using an integer for their date (just a regular number) and when 2000 came it became the year 100 (the next number after 99) and now we're in the year 105.
ok, a long enough explanation!

Iyas, they'd probably prefer it to be a date in the mid 600s AD be it that Islam wasn't around in 100 AD :)

At 6:31 AM, Blogger Mccullum James said...

Motives and the concept seems to the be the best and brilliant one,in fact the thing you told about the somewhat acceptance of democratic rules, and thus welcomes diversity,is great and also sort of right,and the rules have to be tight and have to good for the others and the applicable rules have to be follow.So great peace of details you share,great to see.
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At 5:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this much fighter plane activity since the 50s, when the US produced the "Century Series".

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