Jordan’s Tribal Heritage Shouldn’t Justify Death Sentence

Last week Batir Wardam, a Jordanian famous writer, blogger and human rights activist, published a post on his blog about death sentence in Jordan. What he said mainly is that he is a strong supporter for the international declaration of human rights and the associated covenants with it except for one thing he doesn’t completely agree with, which is the call to abolish death sentence absolutely.

Batir goes on in his article and try to justify his stand by pointing out Jordan’s specific cultural heritage of tribal laws where tribes are known of taking justice by their hands and kill the murderer – or any member of his family – in order to take revenge. He claims that if the law can give the victim its right by sentencing the murderer to death, then tribes don’t have to enforce their own version of justice.

I, personally, have a deep respect for Batir, and I do usually agree with most of his ideas and stands, but I found myself completely against the notion that he presents. I didn’t intend to write about this subject back when I read his post, but today I was reading July’s issues of Living Well magazine which features a comprehensive report addressing death sentence in Jordan, and was surprised to read that the same notion has been talked out by a Jordanian famous lawyer.

It seems that there is some pushing towards abolishing death sentence in Jordan (no death sentence applied since 2006), but it also seems that there is some pushing against it. Building a case on the particularity of the local social structure and heritage is a quite common approach that has historically been used in different occasions to fight the pressures of the global community to push human rights amendments in the country.

While it is true that tribes tend to take revenge, I don’t think that it justifies keeping the death sentence penalty. You don’t fix a mistake with another one. If we have a problem with our social heritage then we should come up with laws that enforce fixing the problem instead of building on it and violate human rights recommendations. If a member of a family murdered someone in retaliation of a murdered happened in his family, then an investigation should take place in order to find out who in his family supported and helped him to take his revenge. In the eyes of the law, associates and supporters of a crime are criminals as well and should be punished. That is what should be enforced in order to stop tribes from applying the law by their hands instead of supporting death sentence with all what it entails of violations of human rights recommendations.

Why Queer is not good enough to define Arab homosexuals?

The Arabic culture is still at a stage of evolution where it has little to no tolerance to human differences. Whatever is different, and whatever defies the norms is rejected and looked down upon. That explains the bad connotations associated to the word “shaz” which is a direct translation of the word queer.

“Shozooz” in the Arabic language is a term that is used to label anything that is different than normal; it is also used to mean that something is odd or weird which also holds bad connotations in the Arabic perception.

While the homosexual community in the west has been able to reclaim the word ‘queer’ – which is now being used with pride by some of the community’s younger members to describe themselves – it only happened because their culture was mature enough to embrace and celebrate people’s differences. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the Arabic culture, and thus, Arab homosexuals face a dilemma of terms and labels in their battle towards gaining acceptance from their local societies. “What applies to the west doesn’t necessary applies to us” a sentence that many Arab gay activists believe in.

That is true in a way especially now that homosexuality itself is widely perceived in the Arab world as an imported construct that is against the general consensus of moral conduct. The issue here in the Arabic area is that people still insist on defining homosexuality by sexual behavior instead of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is a recent scientific discovery due to scientific advancements in psychology, human brain and behavior. It hasn’t picked up in the Arabic area due to different reasons; first because it is a new concept, second because it is a western invention that strongly challenges Arabic sexual moral values, third because only few Arabs actually read books and forth because it contradicts with what most people believe in of Islamic teachings.

In reality, same sex attraction and not behavior is what connect this wide pool of people. They self-identify as homosexuals rather than queer and thus are demanding to be called “Methlyeen” rather than “Shazeen”. While being queer – odd or weird – doesn’t necessary mean a bad thing, it is actually bad in the current perception of the Arabic mind, and thus it is kind of a word that offends most Arab homosexuals.

3 weeks ago, I was watching an episode of Desperate Housewives – season 4 -; they had this brilliant conclusion at the end of the episode related to labels and the way we – human beings – judge each other. They had a priest who used his power to tarnish the reputation of a woman and call her prostitute because she rejected his sexual advancements, they had a creepy child who was bitter and angry and caused many troubles to her family, they had a female drug dealer who rejected strongly marital disloyalty, and they had a man who was perceived as a villain for a horrible past mistake and who showed a heroic act of standing up for his wife.

They ended the show with a line where they asked: Can a priest be evil? Are children always innocent? Can a drug dealer be a good person? And can a villain be a hero? In the same line, queers can be good people, but until our societies become mature enough to see behind labels, homosexuals will keep on demanding to be called “Methleyeen”. Unfortunately we still literally apply the Arabic proverb “an envelope is known through its title” and judge people based on the label they carry.

Honor Crimes, will the law change anytime soon?

As a Jordanian man, I know exactly what “honor” defined by the Jordanian cultural heritage means. In my teen age, I had to pass through different emotional dilemmas regarding my relationship with my younger sister. On one hand I needed to assert my masculinity and “fit” in the Jordanian male macho sub culture which entails embracing “honor” as being the most important value that defines a man, and as being a characteristic that is attached to females and associated with their relationship with the opposite sex. One the other hand, I had a deep respect for my sister, her emotions, and her choices in life.

Coming from a middle class family with easy going non conservative parents, and as I grew out of my teen years, I was fortunate to break off the “honor” mentality, end my dilemma, and decide that my sister is more important to me than any social or cultural obligation. Sadly, not all Jordanian men are lucky as I am. Some do grow in much harsher conditions where social pressure on “honor” is much stronger and serious; strong enough to define aspects of their behavior through their life time.

The seriousness of the “honor” issue found a perfect match in Article 98 of the Jordanian Penal Code. The Article stipulates a minimum of three months and a maximum of two years in prison for a murder that is committed in a fit of fury caused by an unlawful act on the part of the victim. A fit of fury is exactly what many Jordanians expects from a man who just found out that a woman relative has disgraced his family “honor”. Somehow this matching opened the doors to the murder of many Jordanian women.

“Murder In The Name Of Honor” is a recent book by Rana Al Husseni – a Jordanian Journalist and women rights activist – where she highlights her 16 years of reporting honor crimes in Jordan. Through the years, Rana was able to bring the attention of the Jordanian local community and the outer world to the horrible stories behind those murders. She succeeded in creating a strong movement of women non-governmental organizations which got backed by international pressure and support from the Jordanian Royal family to push the Jordanian government to do something about the current law.

It was only recently that we have started hearing about stronger stands from government officials against honor crimes. A week or so ago the Minister of Justice Ayman Odeh stated to the Jordan Times that “A crime is a crime. There is no such thing as honor crimes. All people are equal before the law”. His statement was accompanied by another one from a well known Muslim cleric, Abdul Rahman Ibdah, who said “Islam absolutely rejects the killing of others by individuals. There is nothing called ‘honor crimes’ in Islam”.

Jordan bloggers have also been covering honor crimes and showing dismay of the government for not being able to abolish the Article 98 of the penal code. They have also recently started a facebook group called “La sharaf fel Jareemeh” (No honor in crime). The group has over 900 members so far and is gaining popularity.

Any observer can see that there is a substantial shift in the Jordanian public opinion regarding the matter. The pressure of civil organizations, local and international community may lead to change in laws, but would that solve the problem? It may, only if accompanied with a change in some social values.

هل نحن امام اخر فرصة لدينا لانقاذ الارض؟

من الافضل صياغة السؤال بطريقة اخرى: هل نحن امام اخر فرصة لدينا لانقاذ الحياة على كوكب الارض؟ الحقيقة هي ان الارض ككوكب موجود منذ الازل و سيبقى موجود لفترة طويلة حتى بعد اختفاء الحياة عن سطح هذا الكوكب. لكن هنالك خطر حقيقي يواجه البشرية الان, خطر التغير المناخي الذي يهدد جميع اشكال الحياة على الارض. نسمع بكثرة عن الحاجة لانقاذ الكوكب, فذلك كما يبين باولو كويلهو في رواياته الاخيرة – المنتصر يقف وحيدا – يعطينا شعور بالرضى لهدفنا النبيل, لكن الحقيقة اننا بحاجة لانقاذ انفسنا نحن. الكوكب سيستمر لكننا سنختفي

طبعا, كثير منا سمع عن التغيرات المناخية و الاخطار القادمة, و لكن قليل منا يعي ان خطر التغيير المناخي ليس خطر مستقبلي, بل هو خطر اني نواجهه اليوم في عدة مناطق حول الكرة الارضية. قليل منا يعرف ان التغييرات المناخية تقتل اكثر من 300,000 شخص سنويا حول العالم و تهدد حياة الاف اخرين. فيا ترى ما هو شعور العائلات السورية التي اضطرت الى مغادرة بيوتها في القرى و الضيعات السورية بسبب الجفاف؟ ما هو شعور الشعب اليمني عندما ضربه اعصار جونو و شرد الالاف السنة الماضية؟ و ما هو شعور المصريين اليوم و هم يرون دلتاهم تغرق يوما بعد يوم؟

الاخطارالتي تحيطنا كبيرة و حقيقية, و لكن للاسف فـأن الاعلام العربي شبه غائب عن القضايا البيئية. العالم يغلي, هنالك ادراك عالمي اليوم عن مدى خطورة التغير المناخي. انها اكبر مشكلة واجهتها البشرية منذ وجودها. يجب ان نعمل كلنا معا, الكل مسؤول اليوم و الكل عليه ان يكون على قدر المسؤولية اذا اردنا ان نرث شيئا للاجيال القادمة
دول العالم ستجتمع في كوبنهاجن في ديسمبر هذه السنة. اجتماع كوبنهاجن مهم جدا لتقسيم الاستحقاق المناخي بين دول العالم. المفاوضات ستكون صعبة جدا, فالدول لديها مصالح و مسؤوليات متضاربة. هنالك الدول الغربية التي ساهمت بالشكل الاكبر خلال العقد الماضي في الانبعاث الحراري, و هنالك الدول النامية و الكبيرة في عدد السكان كالصين و الهند التين تساهمان بانبعاث حراري اكبر اليوم بسبب النمو في اقتصاديتهما, و هنالك الدول المصدرة للنفط كالسعودية المهددة بخسائر اقتصادية كبيرة اذا توجه العالم للطاقة البديلة. المعادلة صعبة و معقدة فالتغيير المناخي ليس عادلا ابدا, الدول الغنية التي ساهمت بالقدر الاكبر من المشكلة في الماضي ستتضرر بشكل اقل من الدول الفقيرة التي لم تساهم ابدا في الانبعاث الحراري. العالم اليوم امام اختبار حقيقي, الكل يتمنى الخروج في معاهدة تعطي عدلا اكبر للقضية و لكن الكل يدرك ايضا انها قد تكون اخر فرصة لدينا

اخر فرصة؟ نعم فالكرة الارضية اليوم على حافة الاشباع من ثاني اكسيد الكربون الذي يمتص في المحيطات. هذا التشبع قد يصل الى نقطة مفصلية بحيث تبدأ الكرة الارضية بتسخين نفسها بتسارع. هذه النقطة محورية لانها قد تكون نقطة اللاعودة, النقطة التي لن ينفع بعدها اي جهد بشري للعودة. يحدد العلماء اعلى درجة اشباع ثاني اكسيد الكربون المقبولة ب350. تجاوز هذا الرقم يضعنا في مأزق حقيقي. للاسف فأننا قد تجاوزناه حقا ووصلنا الى 378 درجة و نواصل الصعود! العلماء صدمو و فزعو في صيف 2007 من الذوبان الكبير و المفاجىء للجليد في القطب الجنوبي (25% من الكتلة الجليدية اختفت فجأة) لانه فاق كل التوقعات العلمية و حسابات تأثير التغيرات المناخية. اليوم نحن نعلم ان الخطر يمكن ان يكون اكبر من ما نتوقع و قد يأتي ايضا اسرع من ما نتوقع. لدى الناشطين البيئيين خطة عمل للعودة الى رقم اقل من 350 خلال الاعوام القليلة القادمة و لاكن يجب على دول العالم الاتفاق و تحمل المسؤولية

الدول العربية لديها دور محوري في هذه المفاوضات, للاسف فأن السعودية موقفها غير مشجع من التغير المناخي حيث انها تحسب مصالحها الخاصة و بقصر نظر. للاسف ايضا فالموقف السعودي هو المسيطر على موقف الدول العربية, موقف دول الوبك المصدرة للنفط و الدول الافريقية التي تتزعمها السودان. اليوم نحن امام استحقاق حقيقي و واجب بشري للضغط على حكوماتنا العربية لاتخاذ الموقف المسؤول. يجب علينا العمل بجد لتوصيل اصواتنا ومطالبة اعلامنا العربي بأخذ دوره المناسب. قد يكون مستقبل البشرية في ايدينا نحن العرب, و قد نكون نحن الطرف الصعب في المعادلة لانقاذ البشرية. السعودية و باقي الدول العربية النفطية لديها اليوم فرصة حقيقية للتوجه نحو الطاقة البديلة فالعالم مستعد لمد يد المساعدة في وقت بدأنا نسمع فيه عن اقتراب نضوب المخزون النفطي