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‘Do not just nod and accept’

Jan 05,2014 - Last updated at Jan 05,2014

A Jordanian widow and her five children live in a cave in Pakistan, on handouts from the good people of Pakistan, awaiting any sign of humanity (or political intelligence) from the Jordanian authorities who are denying her children entry to Jordan because their father only carried a temporary Jordanian passport and therefore his children have no rights in Jordan.

I actually do not want to talk about the rights of Jordanian women to pass on their citizenship to their children except to mention very quickly that Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour personally pledged, in a conference attended by more than 100 activists three years ago, that he fully believes that this is a right that cannot be denied any longer by Jordan and that he would commit himself to working on finding a resolution to it.

Admittedly, this was in his capacity as a parliamentarian at the time, before he took office as premier, but he spoke with conviction and I believe honestly.

And so, we are still waiting for the prime minister to use his considerable clout to bring back respect to all Jordanian women, regardless of the nationality of the husbands they chose as life partners.

I hope he comes through with his promise and take political credit for doing so because I am convinced — as are all the other activists involved in this issue — that we will win this just battle sooner or later.

I mention political credit here because I know — as does the prime minister — that Jordan’s insistence on maintaining bias against its female citizens on this issue has been a black mark on its record as a respected member of the club of democratic states that respect human rights charters and with whom we have been pretending to be equal.

As every Jordanian diplomat serving in any country in the developed world would report back, they are questioned on this issue repeatedly and, embarrassingly, quite often. And I am not sure we can continue the charade much longer.

Clearly, it would be politically savvy of Ensour to push forward and actually help us win this not only because of the number of women — and by extension their families — who suffer as a result of this outright bias against them, but because it is a good political win for Jordan internationally and we would get a lot of political mileage out of such a step.

But, more importantly, and I finally get to the core of this issue, taking a serious step in this direction would give the right message to Jordanians at this critical time of our country’s journey to political maturity.

It is not acceptable that Jordanians nod in understanding every time someone mentions the word “Palestinian” in reference to this problem.

What exactly do they understand?

That it is “national policy” to make the “Palestinians” and their children suffer?

That Jordan’s policy, when it comes to “Palestinians”, is to keep them separate and shove them lower down the socio-economic scale in the country?

That we are worried about the demographic shift and scared that more Jordanians would speak “Palestinian” than “Jordanian” and we would lose our national language?

That more Jordanian households would cook mloukhia than mansaf?

That Palestinians living on the West Bank would stage a mass exodus to marry the “Palestinians” we have here in order to gain a Jordanian passport?

That our women would marry out of their race and end up as wives with the immigrant “Palestinians” and produce half-cast children?

There is this absolutely unacceptable nod of the head that has become a characteristic of our collective “understanding” of what it would take to protect Jordan’s security, demography, national identity and future from the new generation of “Palestinians” who are not really only Palestinians, are they?

They are the children of Jordanian mothers with long extended families that have their roots here and have built a life here and eat mansaf just as often as they eat mloukhia and speak both Jordanian and Palestinian. They understand both “cultures” and love them both. They are our children!

Are we seeking a pure race? Did we declare Jordan a “purely Jordanian” state that only accepts uncontaminated descendants?

Do we ask ourselves, as a country, exactly what message we are approving when we nod our heads in understanding?

The studies into this issue in Jordan have shown that the bias against the women is not anymore only tied to the “Palestinian” element, albeit this is the one we use because it appears to be “security correct”, although not politically correct.

The underlying message in our nod of approval is the understanding that Jordan does not want to change yet — in its social makeup — to become the hub of a mishmash of last names that do not connote a long Jordanian history.

Jordanian women are not only marrying Palestinians (in fact that number is diminishing) they are marrying Egyptians, Sudanese, Saudis, Iraqis and men of many other nationalities.

The fear is that their children, carrying all these strange and unfamiliar last names, would suddenly carry Jordanian passports and these families would forever become Jordanian families.

The fear is that we would stop being the Jordanians we know: divided very nicely almost down the middle between the original Jordanians and the adopted Jordanians (mostly of Palestinian origin but also Syrian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Circassian, Armenian among others).

That is the formula we traditionally understood and lived by. And this is why our laws allow the children of men, who carry their fathers’ last names, to become Jordanians, but deny that same right to the children of Jordanian women.

What we must understand is that this is not a debate or a fear that is unique to Jordan. This same uneasiness and apprehension is happening in many parts of this global village that we call earth.

It is part and parcel of the exchange among the communities of nations and states in this world, and a necessary outcome of open borders, travel and cultural exchange.

Jordan cannot unilaterally stop this international trend arriving at its doorstep.

It cannot continue to employ undemocratic and exclusionist policies and legislation, and justify this inhumane, unconstitutional and internationally illegal policy towards its women and their children through a theatrical display of “bogey man” political and security scenarios.

The political message the authorities need to collectively put out there to all Jordanians is that we believe in the equal right and access to the benefits of citizenship and thus we will change the laws; we have our political, economic and social concerns so these laws will regulate the process; Jordan respects the rights of its men and women equally, upholds its integrity as a nation-state and abides by its international commitments.

We do not allow xenophobic laws or policies. Full stop. One big political nod!

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