Having been diagnosed with breast cancer early on in 2012, it was clear that my life was about to witness a significant change, not only in terms of my health and survival, but also with regards to my and my family’s priorities and future plans.
My decision to leave Jordan later in 2012, to set up home for my children in another country, was primarily triggered by that personal development. I suddenly understood that I couldn’t trust Jordan with the future of my children, especially if I wasn’t here to fight their corner. That is a very sobering realization on a very personal level, but it is also very telling of one’s faith in the system of governance in one’s country.
For one, my children are not Jordanian. The patriarchal system in the country has convinced itself that children born to a non-Jordanian father and a Jordanian mother have no right to residency or citizenship in Jordan.
Politicians argue (they believe convincingly) that the social and political fabric in Jordan will become fragmented and without identity if they allow the children of their Jordanian women to pass on the Jordanian nationality to their children. Naturally I, and a growing number of Jordanians, disagree.
But forget my children and their special status. Think of the Jordanian children in general. What does Jordan offer them in return for the exorbitant taxes, fees and duties that we, citizens, pay in every facet of our lives?
If only to maintain some semblance of privacy I cannot reveal the painful and unfair taxes that we as a family that hasn’t found the exit routes others did to avoid paying these type of taxes had to hand over to the government just to be released from our commitment to living in Jordan. There was no benefit attached to any of those payments.
Jordanian children are not receiving an education — in school or university — that is respectful of their diversity and intelligence, or commensurate with the international standing that Jordan claims for itself or, indeed, the labor market needs in this country and internationally.
The education system lives in an archaic moral vacuum that fails to provide our children with a credible, modern and embracing roadmap to deal with our differences, be they religious, gender or ethnic.
The son of a Christian friend of mine asked poignantly of his mother: “How can we be living in Jordan — the bed of Christianity — and be taught nothing of that history in school?”
How can we indeed.
The weakest academic departments in our universities are politics, international affairs, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and economics. In developed countries, these departments provide the essence of academic achievement and produce generations of critical thinkers and future politicians that a country needs for a vibrant political and economic system.
But in our fear of change or any form of opposition, we have mummed these departments and denied them their rightful place in academia and the political scene.
What political life do we expect to have in the country when all basic knowledge of these subjects is seen as subversive and suspect, or only held behind closed doors in secret? What political system are we expected to build if we have no experts in this field and have to depend, instead, on security-inspired formulas that give and take away at the same time.
Our universities, however, are rife with Sharia schools that take in students from the lower ranks of scholastic achievement and turn them into religious zealots who are hostile not only to other religions but also to other political and social frameworks of thought. Why aren’t these departments teaching theology and encouraging knowledge of all religions — including, of course, Sharia — instead of being allowed to become breeding grounds for Islamic fanaticism?
What is the academic value of a school for preachers in every university in Jordan? What sort of environment will we be sending our children to if we decide to keep them in our educational systems?
Where are the academic, art and sports scholarships to schools and universities? Where are the inter- school, collegiate and university competitions in football, basketball, tennis, swimming, fencing, etc?
I am paying tax for a government to hand over preferred entry to university based on geographic and tribal affiliations instead of academic merit, sportsmanship, artistic ability, musical ability. What does this country offer the Jordanian child who isn’t from the socio-economic brackets that receive automatic favor?
2012 has opened my eyes to the fragility of the human body and the suddenness by which plans etched in stone can really become completely irrelevant as priorities change. Nothing is as sobering as becoming aware of one’s mortality. This certainly has put a time frame for my achievements and added urgency to my plans. But this urgent awakening to one’s mortality can be extended to the survival of countries as well.
For Jordan, the political turmoil of the so-called Arab Spring has brought forward the urgency of deciding as a country what future it wants to (or can) offer its children. And the answer, in my humble opinion, is not in dressing up the political system with a myriad of political parties, parliamentary and municipal elections, and higher committees, or in inviting ad infinitum political debate among the masses.
We need to go back to the drawing board and build an education system that meets the criteria of the rest of the world and therefore raises the standards of our political participation and citizenry in order for our dialogue to become open, intelligent, politically correct and informed.
Political activity and national identity narratives rooted in ignorance, xenophobia, sexism and nepotism will not usher in the future we want for our children.
I am skeptical, but I never lose hope. Happy New Year!
(Nermeen Murad is a renowned researcher and columnist and the Executive Director of the Information and Research Center (IRC), King Hussein Foundation, in Jordan. This warticle was published ion The Jordan Times Dec. 31, 2012)