Monthly Archives: October 2014

Halloween: a ghost of social inequality in Jordan?

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So, local media outlets went crazy (still are :P) a couple of days ago when a decision came from the Jordanian Government to ban all Halloween parties which are to take place in this weekend (the 31st of October). Of course, people who love to swear and just randomly insult others had a ball. Comments read from : “بستاهلوا عبدة الشياطين” to “ليش الحكومة تمنع حفلة بس فيها تنكر?”.

The Government’s (more specifically the Ministry of Interior) released statement read: ‘All Halloween parties are to be cancelled in Amman as in the recent couple of years, these parties have proved to be troublesome and caused security problems’. In this statement, we have two issues, “in Amman” and “security problems”. Let me tackle the second one first. I am completely with this decision, if there are serious claims that a Halloween party at a hotel for example would be subject to violent attacks. I believe there should be zero tolerance towards these events especially when we are going through a very crucial phase of stability. I read that people disputed this ground of justification by saying: “وين الأمن و الأمان؟ و سيادة القانون ؟ و حرية الأفعال؟”. This is all true, banning parties and celebrations just because certain people oppose it and might react violently against people who are attending these events, is quite dangerous and jeopardises the whole construct of ‘freedom’. but again, the government did not ban private parties, and people who want to enjoy it can still attend parties, but without being public about it, at least not in this sensitive stage that the whole region is going through.

Some people compared it to banning Christmas. But here is the difference I see. Christmas is a RELIGIOUS event. When we compare Halloween to Christmas or to any other religious celebration, we are falling in the same ignorant pit that people who call Halloween ‘a devil worshipping day’. Halloween should not be put under a category which differentiates people. You cannot say these people celebrate Halloween because they belong to a specific religion. It is a Western yearly celebration which is known for kids in costumers going around the neighbourhood asking for candy(trick or treat), older people watching horror movies and a pretty busy day for costume making shops! That’s it. I don’t deny that some celebrate this thing differently, but I am also affirming that any party in Amman, especially in a hotel or a publicly known place, will NOT encourage ‘devil worshiping’. It is just people wearing costumes, eating, drinking or whatever. Banning it according to security reasons, is not the Ministry of Interior’s problem, it’s a society problem, and this leads me to discuss the first part of the official statement: “In Amman”.

Did you notice how the statement did not say in Jordan? it specifically mentioned Amman. Maybe because the past two years, Halloween parties in Amman witnessed attacks on 3 separate one, one where a fire was raised. Or maybe because this event is only known to Amman, as the traditions of the West quickly find a place to adapt there. The simplicity and peacefulness of wearing costumes in Halloween, is probably only known to Ammanis, or let us say those of us who are fortunate enough to have our eyes opened up to different cultures and traditions and celebrations (either through TV, or computers, or schools, or parents, or our ‘social class’). When you raise a kid up and he sees a carved pumpkin with a little girl dressed as a witch or a boy as superman, and he asks what is that? your answer is significant to everything. If you tell him/her these kids are doing a wrong thing, worshipping devils, a disgusting western celebration then they will  grow up to hate anyone and anything related to this, especially when it is only provided to one specific social class. However, if you tell them it’s just a yearly thing where people like to dress up and act like their favourite cartoon character/tv show..etc then they will probably grow up to enjoy it or just not do it without any hatred. How we define a thing is important, and calling it, LIKE MANY LOCAL NEWSPAPERS did: “a very weird celebration which is known to be celebrated by people who like to wear weird things and masks” does not derive positive reactions.

Also, I read a comment, and I liked it, no matter how controversial it is: “لازم إلغاء كل ما ليس متوفر لجميع طبقات المجتمع”. I like this statement because when you offer something to one class but not to another, hate and frustration will be produced. This leads to violence and a gap widened between two people who live in the same country. I am studying social inequality and its relation to crime now, so I will not be able to elaborate on this until the end of this year 😛 but I thought it is something to think about.

Other than that, why not start by calling it like I do: a yearly thing in the West where children dress up in very cute outfits and older people attend parties(like every other weekend) in very creative costumes.

I may have confused you a lot in this blogpost, but like Halloween, I am really very simple 🙂

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An American Kerry over a ruined Iraq

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Image: US Secretary of State John Kerry looks over Baghdad. Source: Associated Press.

 

A photo emerged of the United States of America’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, travelling over Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, in a recent visit to the region.

As a Jordanian who have witnessed relatively nothing compared to Iraqis due to the aftermath of the American invasion on Iraq in 2003, I couldn’t help but wonder what might an American politician be thinking while he flies over a country, which was once an icon of civilisation.

Let’s put ourselves in his mind, his shoes, and his exact mental state at that moment his eyes hover around a country, now flooded with terrorism, destruction and extremism. He may be saying to himself: ‘Thank God we Americans exist to save Iraq from yet another dark future.’ That is the most obvious one. He might still think that Iraq needs that 2003 invasion again. You know, the 8-year invasion, which killed around half a million Iraqis. The 8-year invasion, which made hundreds of thousands of children homeless and orphans, and the 8-year invasion which not only turned off the beacon of light which lit the region, but also destroyed it. Kerry, as his speeches say, might be thankful that wise politicians like himself, and President Bush previously, exist to save the nation again.

He also may be saying to himself, that because around 5,000 service members from the U.S army died in that Iraqi war back in 2003, this time he will not be sending them on actual foot. This time, he will just manage the politics of Iraqis, airstrike their country, choose their leaders, finance their army, and take their oil. The most important thing is not to put more American lives at stake.

The least possible thought on his mind, but probably the most appropriate one on mine is: ‘Oh God what have we done! 11 years of war, and I still can only fly over the Green Zone (the area around the Republican Palace in Central Baghdad where security is very tight). The city looks so grey, so sad, so dark’. Yes, Mr. Kerry, you are right. The city, which you are now flying over, was a beacon of civilization. It was the city where everyone dreamed of visiting. Iraq was a country, which welcomed Arabs for free education. It had world ranking universities and stunning cities. I know Mr. Kerry, that you as a Western, believe in diversity and that Iraq needed you so you could bring in democracy. Well, did you know that Iraq’s first Minister of Finance was Sir Sassoon Eskell (in office: 1921-1925), a Jew? Yes, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side-by-side, celebrated occasions, held authoritative positions equally and enjoyed coexistence.

You are right Mr. Kerry, Baghdad does look dark. The reason may be the constant bloodshed. Or the extremism that is costing Iraqis their army, their young men and women, their resources, their power, and most importantly their country.

‘What have we done’ is the most suitable expression Mr. Kerry, and whatever remorse you might (not) be feeling, is ineffective.

The future of Iraq is bleak, unclear and unhopeful. But I am hopeful that you and your colleagues will once do the right thing and punish those of you who initiated the original war on Iraq then help it prosper like it once used to, and just step away. That is what Iraq needs, a helping hand, and not a meddling one.

Beware the social swirl

You may say I think a lot about anything, when you read this, you might criticise my inability to see ‘humour’, or my complete lack of understanding of how the world functions. But when I see something that should be addressed, thought about and discussed, I cannot really help it. This piece is to discuss the footage, which went viral (compared to other videos released by the same channel) during the Eid holiday. The footage drowned my Facebook timeline; twitter was filled with ‘quotations’ and jokes about it, and was shared more than 200 times when a random guy published it. I read some of the comments before clicking on play, and the amount of mockery and bullying was so intense that I was intrigued to see what made my society so happy and so smiling!

A young male, probably in his late teens or early twenties, rocking a specific hair style and wearing a unique outfit (its Eid!!!), looks very simple and genuinely happy, was expressing how thrilled he is to be in “Abdoun” (he lives in Madaba) and that he was just with the person he loves, while pointing to a red bag that he said was a gift from his girlfriend. That is it. Yes, you heard me. The hundreds of comments were directed at him, and why? Because he was happy. There may be a dozen of issues, which would provoke any reasonable thinker as to why the whole footage and the comments are controversial. I will discuss, and pose questions I have no answers to, to two of them: The invisible social disaster that is ruling our communities and cyber bullying.

If you reside in Amman, you’ll be aware that Abdoun has been for a while now stereotypically known as ‘the’ place for the youth. With restaurants, coffee shops, game arcades and a shopping mall, the area is designed to be a destination for those who want to hangout. It is also known that it is not cheap. One needs a 10JD budget to only sit in a coffee shop and drink something (yes Amman is becoming that expensive). Hence, Abdoun started to be identified as the place to spend Thursday nights (the chaotic traffic would serve as evidence). Beware I am not trying to encourage stereotypes; I am just trying to make a point while explaining to you what Abdoun has transitioned to in the eyes of a Jordanian. This young man seems to be especially happy to be there, just enjoying his time with friends and family. However, some people found it appropriate to comment ‘is this the people who go to Abdoun?’ ‘ha-ha look at that hairstyle, he did it only because he is in Western Amman’. OK. So, just because someone is wearing a specific thing, or doing his/her hair in a way that you do not find ‘suitable’ to your standards does not really mean that he is trying to fit in ANYWHERE. Putting hair gel, leaving your hair long, short or whatever should not dictate the places you belong to. Seeing his ‘girlfriend’, or “AlHabeebe” as he called her, does not also make him desperate or allows you to backlash his every word. It saddens me that the people who mocked this, did not even come close to cruelly commenting on the guy who sexually assaulted a female, or the criminal who raped and married a young girl. The young man, probably reading your comments now, is a joke because he loves someone? Since when is that a place of mockery? Or is it because he did not do it in a way, which was ‘modern’, or fit into the picture the Westerns drew for us when it comes to love? I have seen videos of American/British/European men expressing their love and affection for their significant others, but I have not seen you commenting with such hate and cruelty on it.

I don’t know what the guy was feeling, does he see Abdoun as the place you need to be to fit into these stereotypical roles that define who is cool or not? If yes, then I blame the government, schools and us. We have widened the gap between Amman, Western Amman in specific, and other areas around Jordan. The relationship of both people here, there and everywhere is going backwards, and as we keep neglecting the issue, it will increase and eventually sabotage the whole construction of our society.

This is cyber bulling at its worst form. Imagine him reading your comments; is it really necessary that you spread your mocking laughs? Can’t you laugh within you? There should be laws to regulate this behaviour, because as I know it, your freedom to speak/judge stops when it overlaps with someone else’s right to a dignified life. The responses on the video may cause serious implications on the lives involved.

I personally salute him; he looks to me as sentimentally honest and proud that he is in love. Such a unique person in a society that is growing to prefer hate and violence to love and acceptance!

Star Academy: Rise into fame or fall into shame?

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A show that helps young talented candidates rise into fame. A show that supplies the tools needed to become an ‘artist’. A show that provides a 24/7 reality TV station so viewers can witness the transitions these people go through, and not only love their talents, but also their characters. It all looks good, until one wonders, does the word ‘show’ really go with ‘reality’? Can a company (obviously wanting to generate profit) be trusted in producing ‘artists’? Or will some drama be triggered as to attract more viewers? The latter seems to be what’s happening.

With more than 5 million fans around the Middle East, Star Academy 10 launched last month, and despite being more than 10 years old, it still proves to be a popular show demanded by millions. In this piece, I explore the negatives of reality TV, especially in the Arab World, and the effects it might hold on those in front of the cameras.

Let’s get right into it. We live in conservative societies. In most of our countries, a female’s reputation is all she has, and once it’s publically shamed, suffering begins and in no way she can be looked at as an ‘idol’. A male is in no better position; a male can be shamed if he acts too emotionally or too rigidly. One cannot put 10 males and 10 females in one house and expect them to conform to social boundaries. Imagine yourself living under one roof with the same people, after a month or two, you will be forced to display actions, which might not be acceptable to some, but which will be completely appropriate to those who live it. For example, she (X) misses her parents and her home. She starts crying. He (Y), who has been living with her for more than 90 continuous days, now hugs her trying to comfort her. The hug may be completely brotherly, with no intention but to act as a friend. That is what happens in front of the camera, but that is not what’s usually translated to those behind TV screens. The next day, tabloids and YouTube channels release news pieces or footages with titles like: ‘Relationship begins between X and Y’ or ‘Watch Y trying to physically touch slutty X’. Production companies are not dumb, they know it’s this juice which people like the most and see viewers’ interest in X and Y, hence increasing the focus on them, putting them in situations where they need to be close. Cameras start focusing on their every move, every gesture they make towards each other, and every eye contact. I have myself searched through YouTube, and some footages with couples sitting alone gain more than 2 million views, while others, of individuals signing, gain no more than 10,000 views. X and Y may leave the show and enter the real world with no clue of what has happened nor of the ways the show got advantage of their bond. Some families may not mind, but others might, and with the pressure of harsh judgmental communities, these people may not be able to handle being in that spectrum of the public eye.

An example is the case of a student in one of the seasons. After colleagues of his, completely negligent to the fact cameras are all around, gossiped about his ‘strange’ behavior and talked about his sexual orientation. He was a powerful popular participant who was going to win the title and it was obvious that due to competitive jealousy, some thought that spreading these kinds of rumors would be ‘fun’. In the Middle East, one’s sexual orientation cannot be considered a ‘normal’ issue, and even though the talks were only gossip and free of any truth, the show itself should not have released these footages, as it must know the implications it would cause him and his family. His sister called him and told him to leave the show as his dad is ill (he was not, but they could not disclose to him what was happening in the outside world on air), and so he quit. This is an example of a young man, aspirational and completely determined to reach his goal, but was prevented. Yes the inappropriate discriminatory social boundaries played a part, but the show, which puts profit generation goals above morality and respect towards these people and their families, should also be accountable for his departure and possible emotional distress.

Psychology maintains that not one single human being can keep on acting for more than 24 hours, and the real personality prevails eventually. How will then a true character appear when 4 walls and the same people confine it? Participants will, with no doubt, reveal their attitudes which may not seem sensible to the normal viewer but will completely be normal when the situations these people are put in are lived. It is well known, that under stress, frustration and anger will prevail over sweetness and smiles.

It is true that Star Academy opens a door for social and political change. It introduces cultures to each other, reflects a more inclusive society: one, which features women as equal men, and threatens the appalling restrictions of a ‘conservative’ society. I have no problem with Star Academy as a show, which interrelates cultures and releases talents, but they have to admit that the dramas, the gossip, the catfights, are the main profit generation pathways. Hence, a fine line should be drawn between harmless drama and life ruining footages that will always be there for the world to see.