THE BLOG

Musicians and Others Bullied Due to Intolerance

The comment was off the cuff, but the result was angry and violent. The commentator was Jordanian oud player Tareq Jundi; the remark was about the coldness at the Al Hussein Cultural Centre.

"It seems that the diesel hasn't arrived at the theatre from the government," he said complaining about the fact that the theatre hall was extremely cold.

The concert was a charity show for the rising Jordanian artist Ghiya Rushidat. Some staff at the centre came screaming at Jundi for "cursing" the government and chairs were thrown at the artists who were saved by some of their loyal fans.

Ghai and the musicians decided to file a complaint at the police station, only to discover that the centre had filed a complaint accusing the musicians of having insulted the government and defamed the national flag. In the end both sides dropped their charges.

What happened on the last days of 2013 at the Al Hussein Cultural Centre was not new. In many cases artists and public figures complained that the centre, which belongs to the Greater Amman Municipality, has become a place for bullying and political partisanship.

The centre's director denied permission to a local organisation to hold a debate on the nuclear programme because the centre "doesn't do politics".

In the past, and under a different management, the centre used to be the venue for numerous debates by that same organisation.

The centre almost caused a diplomatic incident last summer when, at the last moment, insisted on blacking out a scene from a Swedish movie that was shot in Jordan. The Swedish ambassador was told, just before the showing, that the centre would not allow a scene to be shown at an invited-only premiere of the movie "Hamilton in the Interest of the Nation".

The violence at the theatre completes a cycle of bullying and violence that made 2013 one of the worst years in terms of such violence in Jordan.

Students were badly injured and one was killed in the ever-escalating college violence. Fakher Da'as, who runs Dabahtuna movement, says that for the first time, student violence is no longer restricted to campuses but is going out of campus into the community.

Committee after committee made recommendations on how to stem the violence, but nothing has been carried out due to lack of courage in confronting some of the root causes.

One of these is the fact that more students are being accepted in the university programme that accepts students whose grades do not allow them to join if they pay extra money.

Morning radio shows have also seen an increase in verbal violence. Hate speech, often against strangers, refugees and others that patriotic anchors feel are not loyal enough to the country are on the rise.

Similarly, social media is full of people accusing others of not being "loyal enough" or saying that criticism of the government is "insulting" the country.

In addition to the usual verbal violence, this past year witnessed a member of Parliament brandishing a gun inside Parliament, an MP ripping the microphone from an MP who he did not like and, finally, the incident in which a brawl between two MPs ended with one going out to his car and bringing in his automatic gun that he used in the corridors of the Parliament. The incident brought swift response; the shooting MP was removed from Parliament and the other was banned for a year.

Violence and bullying are reflections of an intolerant society that is unable to resolve its differences in a civilised way.

They also reflect political, social and community frustration, often caused by perpetually avoiding tackling difficult issues that need to be confronted and solved in a just manner.

The incident at the cultural centre passed with no reaction from the government or the municipality, which runs it.

When public servants act with impunity, inappropriate behaviour and bullying are encouraged.

The time has come for a national campaign against such behaviour, one that raises awareness to the fact that criticism, including that of the government, is healthy, and that protecting the right to dissent is one of the pillars of an open and democratic society.