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Incongruous policies causing political disconnect

Mar 17,2018 - Last updated at Mar 17,2018

Social media was recently beset with commentaries on a video leaked from a university lecture by controversial Islamist Amjad Koursha, in which he provided commentary on the Old Testament selectively citing excerpts to prove that the content was “fabricated”.

This is not the first time that Koursha invites controversy over his opinions and activities. Many Jordanians feel that he has consistently been irresponsible and that his comments are in fact damaging to a moderate image of Islam that is respectful and embracing of other monotheistic religions. 

Critics especially have a problem with his sarcastic style of narration where he pokes fun at people who are different to him or do not fit within his declared mold of piety and political affiliation. 

The conundrum is that Koursha is both insignificant and significant at the same time. 

He is insignificant as an individual who seeks personal fame and notoriety by apparently trying to be “cute” and “with it” in his so-called lectures. His colleagues refer to him as a “good looking” boy who can be rolled out to showcase, a less austere image than the traditional dark and heavily bearded Islamists. As an individual, he is in line with his own style, a joke. 

But the problem is that assessments of individuals and their political impact cannot be simplified to that level, especially when the political reach of someone like Koursha goes beyond the small circle around him and in fact feeds into a worrying, and quickly growing national narrative of exclusion, intolerance, and of course extremist religious entrenchment. 

Most importantly, this narrative normalises the denigration of other religions and political ideologies and ridicules and derides their followers reducing their social significance to a level where violence against them becomes acceptable, sanctioned and even funny.

And in fact, continuing to allow Koursha, and the many hundreds of lesser-known Kourshas in our midst, to have free control of public forums, through which they reach youth in schools, universities, communities and the media without in parallel providing a similarly safe space to other groups, Arab nationalists, democrats, leftist, liberals, Christians and religious minorities, as well as activists supporting pluralism and diversity, is exactly the worrying situation that the government must wake up to and remedy quickly.

Jordan’s internal stability and social cohesiveness has been uniquely built on a very sensitive formula that is based in navigating its religious persona, based in the Hashemites historic credentials as Sharifs of Mecca and guardians of the holy places in Jerusalem, with its modern, internationalist and moderate identity as a state. 

Jordanians in turn, grew up expecting to be able to express their political views and live their personal lives in line with their preferences as conservatives, nationalists, Islamists or liberals and without feeling contradiction, albeit with some restrictions on political organising and representation.

The regime, since its inception, negotiated its religious status with powerful Islamist political movements in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, through which it bartered the provision of safe havens for local and regional Islamist leaders in the Kingdom in return for their signature to a socio-political contract that understands, subscribes and even protects political and social diversity in the country. 

What many Jordanians are finding unsettling in recent years is that this formula and contract we have come to expect as part of our status and right as citizens, is being hijacked by religious voices and platforms, which appear to be also receiving support from official circles — whether on purpose or inadvertently — but effectively limiting the freedom of non-Islamist political voices and groups to maneuver.

This is shown clearly when someone like Koursha is allowed to address impressionable youth at the largest public university in Jordan on a daily basis, and allowed to deliver lectures that invite hate and ridicule under the umbrella of academic freedom, while an academic forum hosting presentations from local and international experts focusing on “International Dialogue: Hate narrative, the Media and Radical Extremism — Lessons learned” is banned by the authorities without explanation. 

The examples in this vein are endless and it will not take much effort to compile a long list of contradictory actions by the government that show state complicity in furthering the political agenda of Islamists by ignoring the ramifications of the social agenda they perpetuate. 

The real concern, in view of its incongruous policies, is that the state at its core, is unable to follow a clear and public strategy to facilitate, encourage and empower a diverse mix of political and social forces and ideas in order to build towards, and achieve the political maturity that the regime insists is its target for the political system in Jordan. 

The state apparatus in this regard, in my opinion, are working against the will of not only the people of Jordan, who crave the achievement of a pluralistic and democratic political system working in tandem with the Hashemite regime to maintain stability, but also the declared preference of its leadership, which sees as its objective the achievement of two or three credible political parties representing the diversity of the political scene in Jordan.

The message that we are all hearing and that is being communicated through this inconsistency in policies is that there is a serious disconnect between what is expected and hoped for at the grassroots and leadership levels on the one hand, and what is implemented by government and state apparatus on the ground.

At this critical time of regional instability and internal economic strife, a political disconnect is surely a dangerous thing for us all.


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