The incidents in Al-Salt are just the tip of the iceberg.
Wherever we look in Jordan there are signs: rising family and tribal violence, apathy, lack of quality and a way of life divorced from our real means and natural and human resources.
The decay is affecting much of our national life: from the disastrous state of our universities to the laughable mediocrity of our national TV to the destructive regionalism and tribalism on news websites.
Even “west” Amman is not immune. My 12 year old son who goes to a “good” private school comes home and asks me about the size of our “tribe” (my answer: we have no tribe).
A university teacher recently told me how his architecture students “buy” ready made project almost openly and I’ve witnessed the absolutely bad level of 5th year design students in a jury I recently was part of in a once-proud public university.
Hell, we even can’t spell the word “Restaurant” in English on a building sign, right opposite the 5-Star Amman Intercontinental. It’s maybe “silly” to mention this. But isn’t that a glaring sign of an “I don’t care” culture?
This is not about stolen graduation projects or misspelled signs. This is about a town where one university student killed his colleague with a knife, because of “angry looks”. It’s a town that had to be occupied by security forces after tribal-based violence swept its streets. And this is happening 15 km away from “west” Amman with its fancy cars, restaurants and malls.
Back in 1989, when unrest erupted in various towns in Jordan (over the price of commodities) I remember quite well that the moment violence reached Al-Salt the situation was particularly scary.
Back then, the Late King Hussein ordered a “reboot” of Jordan. That’s how Jordan got back onto the democratic (or semi-democratic) track.
The incidents in Al-Salt and elsewhere should prompt another “reboot” of the country. I’ve read a dozen mainstream newspaper columns in the past 3 days that are all ringing one huge alarm bell and raising a huge red flag. Just read the latest stinging article of Al Arab Al Youm’s Fahed Kheitan about the “tragic end of the success story of Jordan’s universities”. He warns that we are on a path of violence not unlike to what Lebanon experienced before its devastating civil war. “The sectarian violence started in the universities back then. Arms came later”. Depressing words. But we’d better pay attention.
How did our universities and our society get to this point?
* Blame populist educational policies which resulted in stuffing universities with too many unqualified students and stuffing the country with too many mediocre universities. HRH Prince Hassan had a lot of criticism of that policy in a recent press interview.
* Blame the systemized de-politicization of Jordan’s universities since the early 1990′s. This happened to counter the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and to turn down the volume of opposition to peace with Israel. Instead of encouraging enlightenment, moderation and liberalism in the the universities, fundamentalism was countered with a sick form of “tribalist Jordanism”, which equates patriotism with mindless flag-waving and an over-emphasis of “places of origins” and tribal affiliations.
* Blame easy oil money and the rise of land prices, which brought about mindless consumption patterns and the lack of creative production. Who needs to invent software, revolutionize agriculture or even provide good service when land trading can make you rich overnight?
* Blame our lack of democratic progress. Jordan is more materially and socially developed than its democracy. The election system produces parliaments that simply hold the country back.
We need a reboot. And this time it can’t just come from HM The King alone.
If an earthquake hits us tomorrow, we can be sure that a state of emergency would be declared. The social earthquake has already started hitting. This is a chance for a reboot with the aim of a more democratic, productive and sustainable Jordan:
* The upcoming elections need to be held under a law that is biased AGAINST narrow tribalism and regionalism. Educated and enlightened members of every community should be induced to run for election. Radical ideas (like only allowing people of a certain level of education to run, or giving women a huge quota) should be considered. If there is fear of an Islamist over-domination of the elections, the State should tell them in no uncertain terms that any attempt of encroachment on civil liberties or crazy moralistic legislation will be faced decisively. A very enlightened, respected and liberal-minded Senate can be appointed too.
* Swift action needs to be taken to totally reform schools and higher education. A small committee of wise men and women needs to be appointed with a “war room” mentality. The aim: the determined uprooting of policies that hinder reform. Literally bring the Army in to help clean up the universities and fix the buildings. Students will be required to help with this effort. Government should beg or borrow money to attract great Jordanian and foreign professors to Jordan. Everyone in the universities should be thinking “oh my god, this is serious stuff”.
* A radical economic plan, built around energy, water, human knowledge and innovation should be enacted. Water for swimming pools needs to be taxed like hell. So should extra large cars. Cigarettes should be highly taxed, with proceeds used to rebuild and re-staff public schools. The economic elite needs to be convinced, pressured, encouraged, etc, to start investing in new energy, water collection projects, innovative software and content companies and education. High level guarantees should be given for regulatory stability.
* An immediate restart of a national media project (like what ATV was supposed to be) with TV, online and mobile media outlets is needed NOW. The aim: produce and distribute content with positive messages, critical thinking and cultural openness and the creation of a new internal national identity for Jordan.
A small country like Finland did not rebuild itself after World War II (and produce a global giant like Nokia) by flag waving and fast food consumption, but by considering the brains of its kids as the number 1 national asset.
We need a real reboot. Socially, economically, politically. There are enough good Jordanians to do it.
Or else we will be on path of deterioration or worse.
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