On security and freedom of speech

Today, some Jordanians have called on bloggers to draw attention to the 18 Jordanian citizens who are currently languishing in Jordanian prisons for things that they have said. They’ve been charged with things like undermining the regime, chanting illegal slogans and trying to change the constitution by illegal means (whatever that means).

I don’t know much about the individual cases of these prisoners. I have a hard time keeping up with what Jordanian law allows people to say and what it doesn’t. I am not an expert or an activist. Most of what I know about my country, I’ve experienced in classrooms, malls, coffeeshops and from behind my laptop. I’ll be the first to admit that there is a lot that I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know.

I know that there cannot be a government that truly represents its people as long as such a thing as “illegal slogans” exists. As long as people can go to jail for what they say or what they believe, then there is no freedom. It’s that simple.

Many people argue that some speech has to be suppressed to maintain security. In my personal opinion, that is bullshit. If I can’t be honest about my views without fearing imprisonment or police beatings, then how secure can I possibly be? When I lower my voice and look over my shoulder before discussing my political views in public, it’s because I don’t feel safe. Every time I read about a protest for a cause I support and then don’t go, it’s because I don’t feel safe. And why should I feel safe, when there are 18 people in jail right now for being bold enough to express themselves and to stand up for their views? These archaic and oppressive laws aren’t making us secure. They are taking away our basic human rights.

Jordan is my favorite place in the world. I love this country; I really do. But I probably don’t love it as much as the 18 prisoners of conscience who are currently serving time in our prisons. Unlike me, they had the courage to try to effect change. They had the courage to be honest and tell officials that there is room for improvement. What could be more patriotic than trying to make your country better? Whether or not you agree with their message or their methods, try to recognize that our best chance for progress relies on us listening to differing opinions. For that to happen, we need to live in an environment where we feel free to make our opinions known.

I am all for law and order, and when people infringe on other people’s rights, they should be punished. But there are people in our jails today for “illegal slogans.” That is wrong, plain and simple.

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Our silence is killing them

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, more than 2,000 people have been killed by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and 3,000 more have disappeared. I say President al-Assad, but that’s probably not the right way to describe him. Most presidents aren’t appointed into the position after their father’s deaths. Most don’t run for the presidency unopposed, and most don’t win with a literally unbelievable 97 percent of the total votes. It would be more accurate to call him a dictator, an autocrat, or even a murderer. But, no matter what the Syrian people want, he’s still calling himself a president, and he doesn’t seem likely to give that up any time soon.

The footage coming out of Syria is disturbing. There are tanks shelling houses, there are secret police shooting peaceful protesters, and there are so many children dying, leaving behind bodies full of bullets. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Syria was being invaded — It’s hard to accept that anyone would actually do this to their own country. But the fact of the matter is, these are Arabs fighting other Arabs, an army turned against its own people. It’s horrible to watch, but, sadly, it’s really not all that surprising. And, although, someone as cynical as me probably shouldn’t be surprised by the Arab world’s reaction (or lack of reaction) to such a brutal crackdown, I still am.

If these were Israeli tanks barrelling down Arab streets, any Arab streets, there would be a swift, angry Arab reaction. Why is this any different? Why are we only capable of a passionate response when the bad guys are foreign? Everyone knows that the Arab world is full of rulers that don’t really represent their people. I don’t think most intelligent people would argue that what’s going on in Syria is right or moral. So why aren’t we doing anything about it? Or, better yet, why aren’t we SAYING anything about it? Where is the condemnation from Arab countries? Do we still have an Arab League or have they given up pretending they stand for anything? It’s like they don’t even care that dozens of people have been dying every day this week. When the same was happening in Gaza in winter of 2008, and Palestinians were dying at the hands of Israelis, there was action, from governments and civilians across the Middle East. Where is that fire? Where is that Arab compassion today?

The fact that an Arab regime is responsible for this violence means, in my opinion, that Arabs have an even bigger responsibility to step up and do what they can to stop this. The same goes for the crisis in Somalia; people who are calling themselves Muslims have been turning their country into a wasteland, and we’ve stood back and looked the other way for years. Is it because they’re Muslims too? We can’t just turn the other way because the people doing the killing share our culture. We need to tell them that, because of our culture, because of our morals and our religion and our sense of brotherhood/sisterhood to those who share it, we won’t let them kill innocent people in our name.

As long as we’re silent, we’re complicit. There may not be much that we can do, but caring would be a good start.

**

Also, please sign this petition asking India, Brazil and South Africa to put pressure on Syria to save thousands of “disappeared” (read: kidnapped) Syrian civilians… And if you hear of a local protest against al-Assad’s regime, please go. It’s Ramadan and these people need your support. Just because Arab governments are going to insist on being useless doesn’t mean the rest of us have to do the same.

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Musings of an almost-graduate

Tomorrow will be my last day as a University of Jordan student. I’ll walk in, take a test, and walk out a freaking graduate.

Freaking graduation

I’m not really that excited about it and I’m beginning to wonder if I really get the significance of this final day as a BA student. After four years of going to classes I hated, wading through literal unwashed masses to get around campus, being forced to enter bathrooms with horrors so unfathomable that I can’t even put them into words, and praying on floors that ALWAYS smelled like feet, I am finally free of the University of Jordan. I did my time and am finally getting my diploma. But instead of feeling the expected rush of relief, all I can think about is how hot it’s going to be tomorrow and that I’m going to have to face major traffic to get to a 4 p.m. exam.

I mean, I’m happy that there’s probably going to be plenty of parking at 4 p.m. But I have a feeling that’s not supposed to be what I’m happy about.

I know that part of the problem is that, while this may be my last exam at JU (or UJ… four years and I’m still not sure which), it is NOT my last exam ever. In a month or so, I’m off the states for a year to study journalism. Knowing I’m still going to have another year of papers to write and exams to take kind of dulls the thrill of finishing up this degree. Another thing, which I’m a little ashamed to admit, is that I haven’t really worked that hard as a literature student. I didn’t cut corners; I read what I was assigned to read, whether I loved it or hated it. But, with or without literature classes, I would have been reading. It doesn’t feel like much of an achievement to spend four years doing something you probably would have done anyway.

But while I would never recommend for anyone to study English literature at JU (it just sounds better than UJ), I enjoyed it. I had fun talking about everything with a bunch of strangers (one of whom eventually became a friend) in my oral skills class. I had an epiphany reading Where Angels Fear to Tread for my first novel course, and a blast working on a group project on The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf for my second one. I read a lot of poems, which I had never really been into before, and a lot of short stories, which I used to actively hate. I even recently wrote a short story of my own and, for the first time in my life, read my own work aloud in front of an audience. I’m even kind of glad I was forced to read all of those classical Arabic poems about war and horses during my freshman year.

That last statement can be attributed to graduation goggles*

I guess what I’m saying is, despite the university’s best efforts, I actually learned a lot during my four years at JU (yeah, JU). I never was in love with the place but I will miss it. It’s where I let go of who I was in high school and grew into a full-fledged person. It’s hard to really track changes in your own personality, but I can feel the difference when I run into people from school that I haven’t seen in a while.  I’m not a different person, but I am different. Maybe I’m just a little older… but it’s good to feel my age for once.

So tomorrow I will walk in, take a test, and walk out a graduate. Soon there’ll be a robe and then a diploma to prove it. It’s ironic that I’ve had to read so many books just for one piece of paper… But of course that’s the kind of thing I notice. I’m a literature student. Well, at least until 4 p.m. tomorrow I am.

*For those of you who aren’t obsessed with How I Met Your Mother: http://how-i-met-your-mother.wikia.com/wiki/Graduation_Goggles

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Protests, reform and – Oh look! Football!

The last few months have been months of extreme change across the Middle East. From regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt to violent government suppression in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the Arab world has been on fire and revolution has been on everyone’s minds. Just a few weeks ago in Jordan, there was no where you could go where televisions weren’t always set to the news or where you could escape from images of the violence happening in the countries surrounding us.

Of course, that was before Jordan collectively changed the channel to watch Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Disclaimer: I have no idea who these people are

This headline from the Jordan Times sums it up nicely: “El Clasico boosts businesses, takes youths’ minds off ‘depressing’ regional news.”  As one Real Madrid fan put it:

“Finally we found something enjoyable on TV rather than watching demonstrations taken place in different Arab countries.”

Because revolutions are depressing. It’s stressful to have Al-Jazeera blaring at you 24/7, replaying the same clips of wounded people in hospitals or Qaddafi making threats, over and over again! What’s even MORE depressing is when things get shaken up here in Jordan, a man dies during a protest and no one can agree on who is to blame. So let’s just bury our heads in the sand, pretend that nothing is going on and cheer on a bunch of footballers from countries most of us have probably never been to. If “we” win, maybe we’ll feel like we’ve accomplished something again.

Just to be clear here, I am biased against football. I hardly ever watch it and, if it wasn’t the only thing on during the World Cup, I probably never would. Still, this is not a rant against football, the European League or its fans. This is a rant about our willingness, no, our need to be distracted. Instead of facing the reality of our world, we throw ourselves into TV shows, sports, gossip – basically anything but ourselves, our own countries and our own opinions. I’m not exempting myself from this. I just finished watching an episode of Glee to help me forget about all the work I’m supposed to be doing; it’s escapism, another gramme of soma to keep me from feeling too much about anything.

I know that political discord isn’t fun, especially when people are so divided. But to be honest, in the couple days following the March 24 protests, I learned more about my Facebook friends than I have in years of knowing them. I didn’t like a lot of what I saw, but at least what I was seeing was real. If we want to advance as a people, we need to cut the small talk and start saying what we really think, even if it’s not going to be popular.

This really happened. Discuss.

A few weeks ago, cars were decked out with Jordanian flags – today, there are street vendors peddling European clubs’ logos at traffic stops. It’s not that I think we don’t all deserve a little fun sometimes. I just think there are some things worth being depressed over.

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Irony at its finest

It’s 6 pm, two days before all of my assignments are due for the semester. I had decided to work on the last paper I would have to write for my psychology class, but when I opened the Word file, it looked unhappily blank and I felt my brain would need a bit of a warm-up before I would actually be able to write anything.

…So I decided to visit CollegeHumor.com. Yes, bad idea. I have a tendency to get stuck there.

Anyway, I watched this video about a hand model called The Worst Person in the World, which, you know, she probably never killed anyone or anything, but wow, she was terrible! But then an ad comes up that, at first, made me laugh, but then made me feel guilty. Boo.

You are the kind of person who squeezes every minute out of every hour out of every day.

The T Mobile G2 by HTC…. It’s as turbo-charged as you.

T Mobile? Know your audience.
Now I have a video of a cute little French girl making up a fairy tale to watch, but then I have psychology homework to do!

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Hip-hop article on 7iber.com!

An article of mine is being featured on 7iber.com! Check it out!

Click here –> Hip hop, Jordanian style

Thaer on the left, "Ripsta" on the right

Thanks again to Thaer and Abu Ghazaleh, two really nice guys. They gave me some great suggestions for Arab (and non-Arab) hip hop artists to check out, here are some of my favorites:
The Narcicyst ft Shadia Mansour – Hamdulillah
Omar Offendum – Straight Street
Kenny Mohammad, beatboxing

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All-time Favorite Cover Songs (Pt II)

It’s been a while since I posted my first list of cover songs, and since then I’ve heard a bunch that blow those other ones completely out of the water. In no particular order:

 

Obadiah Parker – Hey Ya

I love the original by Outkast, but this cover is on a whole different level. No, I can’t dance to it, but I can actually hear the amazing lyrics.


 

Sinead O’Connor – War

This is considerably less controversial now that we know that she was right about chronic child abuse within the priesthood. If she hadn’t torn up that picture of the pope, people would have been talking about her haunting rendition of a great Bob Marley song the next day instead of how evil that bald Irish lady was.

 

Ray LaMontagne – Crazy

Amazing. The original track is good, but this is just incredible.

 

To be continued…

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