The Jordanian Schism :How a poorly made television series revealed the fractured soul of a nation

Monday 17 June 201905:12 pm

Like clockwork, another public outcry has stirred through the Jordanian community, this time involving a mediocre teen drama — “Jinn” — the first Jordanian series produced by Netflix. Under any other circumstances, “Jinn” would have been instantly dismissed as a forgettable piece of amateur fiction; a series that is as poorly written as it is executed. Unfortunately, our penchant for outrage has turned this drivel into a national security issue, demonstrating once again that we are a society that suffers from a dangerous and and ever-growing schism.

Not surprisingly, the almost rabid assault on “Jinn” has not been driven by criticisms of its artistic merits bur rather its “explicit” content. The series has the audacity to depict teenagers engaging in all sorts of depraved behavior — kissing, using foul language, and casually enjoying alcohol and drugs. Outrageous, right? And seeing as we live in a veritable utopia — a self-sustaining bubble in which innocence is a lifelong privilege and immaculate values rule supreme — these images have been almost unanimously condemned as incommensurate with our collective consciousness and values. The vocal majority reacted within hours after the series became available for streaming, unleashing their legions to climb on their various soap boxes to warn of the end of days and re-enact the Fall of Babylon.

Jordanians have consistently demonstrated their passion for self-expression (to the extent that the government allows them), almost as fervently as they have demonstrated their zeal for groupthink. They love bandying about collective phrases like “our culture” and “our values,” drawing rigid lines to define what it means to be “Jordanian” and seamlessly illustrating the unfavorable ends that will meet those who attempt to challenge their definition. They seem to have mastered the craft of self-censorship, effectively turning public outcry into a tool used by the majority to silence the pernicious minority.

 They seem to have mastered the craft of self-censorship, effectively turning public outcry into a tool used by the majority to silence the pernicious minority.

This becomes especially problematic when the government is all too happy to respond to the outcry by placating the masses, just as Jordan’s Attorney General had done when he echoed the criticism leveled against the series and called upon the kingdom’s Cyber Crimes Unit to block it. The government has gone so far as to schedule parliamentary session to discuss the ramifications of the series — this in a country where inflation, corruption and metastasizing taxes are real and measurable threats to its national security.

The outcry surrounding “Jinn” has all the telltale elements of those that preceded it. It revealed the sad reality of a country woefully mired in denial, one that consistently seeks to project an image of openness and progressiveness to the world but is held back by a populace that is petrified by change. It showed us that we are essentially citizens of two countries constantly at war with one another — the first desperately clinging to the dream of a secular nation driven by individualism and freedom of expression, and the latter a fascist republic eager to drown out the voices of few with the shrill shrieks of the many.

What is particularly disturbing about these outcries is their almost militaristic commitment to collective denial. We know that the imagery and language used in “Jinn” is not that far removed from reality. We know that many of our teenagers are sexually active, we know that obscenities adorn our daily conversations throughout the nation, and we know that tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs are part of the healthy diet of countless Jordanians, irrespective of their religion, gender, economic status, or the region of Amman they inhabit. And yet the moment someone holds up a mirror in front of us, the fascist majority squirms whichever way possible to look away, chanting their favorite mantra of “this does not represent us.”

Every time I hear that mantra, I ask myself: What in hell does represent us? What are those sacred values we claim to defend? Are they reflected in the oppressive patriarchy that limits the voice of women in our parliament to merely 16 percent of its seats? How about the ever-growing cases of sexual harassment that plague the lives of Jordanian women every day, particularly those who dare to brave the streets of this sacred utopia? Were those values in play when we all sat silent as the law allowed rapists to marry their victims in order to evade prosecution? Or are they in play now as extremist ideologies continue to spread like wildfire throughout the kingdom, spurring ISIS sympathizers and sleeper cells whose threat looms above us like a bloodthirsty Jinn?

What is particularly disturbing about these outcries is their almost militaristic commitment to collective denial. We know that the imagery and language used in “Jinn” is not that far removed from reality. 

We know that many of our teenagers are sexually active, we know that obscenities adorn our daily conversations throughout the nation, and we know that tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs are part of the healthy diet of countless Jordanians.

Even more disturbing is the sadistically violent nature of some of the commentary that has flooded social media since the airing of the series, leveled primarily at some of its female cast members. 

Even more disturbing is the sadistically violent nature of some of the commentary that has flooded social media since the airing of the series, leveled primarily at some of its female cast members. Within hours, fake social media accounts of the female cast sprung up in droves, welcoming a flurry of comments ranging between praise and questions about a potential second season to straight-up insults, obscenities, and threats of rape and death. Not only is the irony palpable and infuriating, as the foul language and sexual imagery used in these comments far exceeds that used in the series itself, but it also shows the inherent hypocrisy of the conservative mind, which is more often driven by the need to control female behavior (and sexuality) as opposed to safeguarding morality. Even commentary made by self-proclaimed progressives and educators still failed to avoid the use of incendiary phrases like “our values,” which have become violent weapons used to curb freedom of expression and, in this particular case, forever jeopardize the safety and dignity of the Jordanian children who appear in the series.

Majorities tend to forget the existence of minorities, and the Jordanian majority has decades of experience in willful amnesia. In their zeal to safeguard “traditional” values and definitions of the word “Jordanian,” they forget that this country has become a beautiful tapestry filled with a plethora of minorities deeply woven into its rich fabric. This not only includes the many other nationalities and ethnicities that have made Jordan a home, such as Syrians, Palestinians, Circassians, Filipinos, Iraqis, Kurds, Chechens, and others, but it also includes countless individuals whose world views fundamentally differ from those of the majority. This includes atheists, agnostics, homosexuals, feminists, communists, and socialists, to name but a few. However muted their voices, they are nonetheless there, slowly but surely redefining the soul of the nation.

Majorities tend to forget the existence of minorities, and the Jordanian majority has decades of experience in willful amnesia. 

But one minority in particular poses an unparalleled threat to the Jordanian majority — the shameless liberals who call themselves individualists. These heretics believe in the moral worth of the individual, placing great value in the concept of civil liberty and championing dangerous causes like freedom of expression. They believe that sexuality is a completely natural component of the human experience, one that ought not be feared or vilified, lest it be pushed into the shadows to mutate into an unrecognizable and destructive force. They believe that women, too, are individuals, with the birthright to exercise their individual freedoms with regards to their minds and bodies. They believe in a free society that is unafraid to to take a good, hard look at itself, to acknowledge that each and every one of its members has the right to define their own ideals and values and to lend their voices into a the growing chorus of social evolution. In this particular scenario, they believe that works like “Jinn” — however trite and poorly made — are expressions of that freedom, paving the way for countless creative talents to emerge and add their voice to that chorus.

What has become painfully clear is that we Jordanians need to snap out of our voluntary stupor and embrace the inevitability of change.

What has become painfully clear is that we Jordanians need to snap out of our voluntary stupor and embrace the inevitability of change. It is also a sobering reminder that Jordan needs a more aggressive strategy to accelerate its much-needed march toward secularism, a strategy spearheaded by educational reforms and grassroots movements that serve to loosen the stronghold the patriarchy has on public consciousness. The beauty of freedom is that it guarantees the right of everyone to cultivate the society and values they wish to see in the world around them, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others to do the same. Contrary to popular belief, it will not pave the way for a series like “Jinn” to singlehandedly dismantle the sanctity of Jordanian society. All it means is that those who do not like the series can simply go back to streaming Game of Thrones instead.

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