Jul 03 2016

Promoting enlightenment

Published by at 10:06 am under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

Countering violent extremism has become the flavour of the month recently, but if a leaked document is accurate, the government has been following a strategy to counter extremism for at least two years.

The strategy of countering extremism states that it is based on three pillars: a correct interpretation of Islam, the need to promote a culture of democracy, and instituting values like tolerance, pluralism, respect for human rights and acceptance of the other.

It calls for a holistic, long-term, approach and not a quick fix.

But the 6,350-word document that begins with talk of tolerance, human rights and democracy reads more like a blueprint requiring action by the various executive branches of the government.

Any official reading this document will get the impression that many of the bullet points directed to different ministries are more like orders than words of advice.

The eight-page document, as published in a local newspaper, provides executive specifics on how to deal with extremism, including 49 articles expected from the Islamic Waqf Ministry, 17 articles that the Ministry of Social Affairs is supposed to implement, 15 items concerning the Ministry of Education,16 for the ministry in charge of media affairs, 10 items for the Ministry of Culture, 16 for the Interior Ministry, 10 for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and 11 items to be worked on by the tribal affairs adviser.

There are items set for the Ministry of Higher Education and a set of executive clauses for the Ministry of Information Technology. A few points concern the armed forces.

The document, which was reportedly produced and probably approved by the Cabinet in total secrecy, calls for a role for the community at large in helping counter extremism.

It lays out an important role for civil society in helping to implement it even though the civil society was not involved or consulted about the plan and many in civil society felt the brunt of this strategy that was supposed to support them.

Whenever a government enacts a plan in secret, it leaves ample opportunities for misuse and abuse.

Those in power can internally justify blocking many actions by individuals and organisations under the pretext that such action stems from this strategy.

Despite giving issues of democracy and human rights high billing in the preamble of this strategy, the executive orders that follow often contradict this and, if implemented directly, some of these issues are clearly illegal and unconstitutional acts.

The authors of this executive strategy might have come to the conclusion that the ends justify the means, but as everyone knows, the basic principle of human rights is its universality, and democratic principles cannot be applied in a discriminatory fashion.

The publication of this strategy illuminates a number of questionable policy decisions that have surfaced in the last year or two.

Regressive attempts to change the law concerning organisations clearly appear to have been influenced by this document.

Attempts at controlling local NGOs through a complicated process in terms of approval of projects appear to be a reflection of some of the executive clauses in this document.

Public events which are guaranteed by the Constitution were restricted without anyone knowing who made the decision to bar them.

Phone calls arrive at the offices of hotel managers from security sources asking for the cancellation of events without any explanation.

In March, for example, independent unions in Jordan wanted to hold a Mother’s Day event, but were prevented from doing so without explanation.

Now we know how such decisions are wrongly justified in order to weaken independent unions that maybe the government is not happy about.

This document now explains the arbitrariness behind the arrest of journalists and political activists for what they write or post on social media even though in many cases they have nothing to do with extremism.

There is no doubt that extremism must be fought, and fought in a concerted and continuous way.  But if the fight allows for the violation of laws and guarantees of human rights, then it can easily become self-defeating.

Even though extremists do not believe in democracy, the rule of law and human rights, it is essential that a nation does not lose its principles and values in the name of the fight against extremism.

The best and most efficient way to fight extremism is to promote enlightenment.

And to accomplish this august goal, society as a whole must work together, starting with the introduction of values of democracy and human rights to all, especially the youth.

In a society where those in power have been caught repeatedly abusing their powers, it is totally counterproductive to provide those in the executive branch of government with further unchecked powers in the name of fighting extremism.

If civil society is indeed a natural partner that can help inculcate values of tolerance, human rights and democracy, then a concerted and transparent effort is needed to include them in creating a strategy that does not violate existing rights.

To remove the scourge of extremism from society, efforts must be made in a way that regards the rule of law and respect for human rights as a universal and undivided value, rather than an excuse to promote partisan policies that may temporarily promote a particular government but in the long term will further alienate the entire nation.

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