The day the incredibly repressive ban on online news outlets was implemented in Jordan, as I was driving back home, I was listening to a radio interview with the head of the Press and Publications department. A ridiculously asinine comment by him triggered a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I knew starting then that this law is here to stay. In the next couple of weeks I tried to dismiss this feeling as a single instance of pessimism, but an entire month, and two public debates later, I’m sure that this is the first time I have a fairly accurate assessment on the situation of freedoms in Jordan. I’m no longer depressed, I’m angry, and I’m not going to be nice. If you’re looking for the kind of constructive debate, and indecisive pragmatism, you won’t find any here. This is purely a personal rant and should be treated as such.
This law is here to stay, and here’s why. The government is full of asinine and repressive officials. The head of the press and publications law is an example. They view freedom of speech as a personal freedom, something you do within your own personal sphere. They see no place for it in public discourse, and they still believe they can control that. For them, press should only have two point of views, one that carries the official government line, and one that carries the official government view of what opposition should say. Anything that deviates from these two poles is chaos. I have never seen another country that views press and journalists as a utility, comparing them to taxi drivers and doctors. Of course you need a government licence to operate as a journalist, otherwise everybody and their mother in law will start saying what they think about the country.
Then come the people who are responsible for ensuring such an infringement should never occur, our esteemed members of the Parliament. Lets not forget that they passed this law as part of their own personal vendetta against some of these websites, that continually attack them, when they deserve it and when they don’t. And since the parliament is really unpopular for many reasons, people tend to believe anything these websites say. Rather than work on gaining the trust of the people, by doing their jobs as elected officials, they would rather abuse their powers and repress the voices that come out against them. This is the parliament that couldn’t convene for the past two days and many more, because not enough parliamentarians bothered to attend. Counting on them to re-appeal the law is just equally foolish. Lets not forget that our current prime minister was one of the most vocal voices of opposition against this law when he was an MP, but he managed to do a flip worthy of an Olympic gold medal.
Which brings me to the community of people who are standing against this law, including myself. We’re stupid to believe the government when it said it won’t implement this law, or when it said it will implement it in good faith. I warned others but failed to take heed of my own warning when I said we should prepare for this ban. We were also stupid when we believed they wouldn’t censor blogs, but failed to realize that our government doesn’t know what blogs are. When I’m wearing my civil society hat or my Internet freedom activist hat, I tend to be as toothless as a new born. We’re few, and we’re outnumbered and we’re fighting an incredibly unpopular cause. Because other than a few respectable journalistic institutions that took a brave stand against this law, the rest of the ‘respectable’ institutions either capitulated to the government’s will, or are seedy yellow press that will never be popular for their dirty tactics. Let me be clear that my personal opinion on these websites doesn’t mean that they deserve any less freedom than anybody else, but it’s a really difficult cause to sell, because this country at large is incredibly good at justifying repression.
I’m really tired of continuing this charade of pretending that this law is a case of eroding freedoms. Freedom of the internet in Jordan was never a guaranteed thing, and the only reason it took 18 years for the government to finally censor the Internet is purely a byproduct of the fact that the repressive elements in our society and government are lazy, inefficient, and most of the times, stupid. The enemies of the free Internet in Jordan have finally showed their faces, and they are many, and they run this entire establishment. While I still believe in his majesty the King’s commitment towards reforming Jordan into a democracy, I sometimes wonder why these repressive elements continue to be sponsored and entrusted with a task that they are fundamentally against. I’ve honestly reached a point where I’m starting to question whether it’s all worth it to try and be part of this system, my commitment to Jordan isn’t a commitment to it’s sand or it stones, it stems from my believe in the values of our constitution, and if this constitution is reduced to just ink on paper, I am left with no choice but to seek another country that gives a damn about freedoms and democracy.
Oh, and if someone from the Press and Publications department is reading this, this is an example of a website that should be blocked under the law. But it isn’t, because you’re a bunch of inefficient and stupid censors.