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Privilege and impunity

Feb 17,2019 - Last updated at Feb 17,2019

A very cynical but cogent Arabic proverb says that “two things are rarely discussed openly: the pimping of the rich and the death of the poor”.

Seriously. Throughout history, in every civilisation, there is always a segment that enjoys special treatment. Romans highlighted this succinctly with the Latin word “privilegium”, meaning private law.

Many cases can be cited to confirm this. US President Donald Trump, for instance, before he became president, boasted openly that his star status enables him to grope women non-consensually and with impunity.

The existence of such people is not surprising. After all, there is no limit, hem or boundary to man’s greed, acquisitiveness or his ability to justify his misdeeds to himself. Wherever you look, there are people who genuinely believe that they have a prerogative to operate above and outside the law and codes of civilised behaviour.

What is remarkable, however, is that in every society, there are multitudes that readily condone the transgressions of celebrities. The most brutal dictators are never short of cheering crowds, and the adoring fans of the most narcissistic and brattish celebrities are always ready to justify their idols’ mischief.

Therefore, it was refreshing to read the saga of the Duke of Edinburgh’s car accident. A month ago, his car collided with another that contained two women. The women sustained injuries and his car overturned. 

Two days later, Prince Philip was photographed driving a new car without wearing a seatbelt. He was given “suitable words of advice” by the police.

You see, in theory we are all equal before the law. In practice, there are overwhelming privileges that come with winning the birth lottery. But this was not the end of the story. 

A week ago on Saturday, a statement from Buckingham Palace said: “After careful consideration, the Duke of Edinburgh has taken the decision to voluntarily surrender his driving licence.”

I posit that this was an appropriate conclusion to the story. After all, the objective of society is to ensure that everyone, including celebrities, comply with the same rules of behaviour as everyone else. In this case, a 97-year-old who has trouble walking unassisted should not be allowed to drive a car for safety considerations. 

But it was not necessary to brutalise him in the process. Ideally, in fact, non-celebrities should not be brutalised either. 

Perhaps Jordan can follow Britain’s example in dealing with our all too frequent scandals, such as the tobacco scam. Despite frequent government assurances that justice will be done, or perhaps because of them, Jordanians seem to believe that only the minnows will be scapegoated, while the capos remain untouchable and continue their business.

Since their cigarettes will continue to fill the market anyway, perhaps someone should give them “suitable words of advice” to voluntarily support the Treasury with the hundreds of millions which, according to official estimates, is the cost in taxes and customs. Then maybe the Income and Sales Tax Department will stop chiselling every last penny from the already impoverished to cover the deficit.

 

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