‘I’ and ‘others’

Nadia Hashem

Journalist, writer and former minister of state for women's affairs, Jordan

This written article is based on my novel A different kind of veil, which is written in Arabic and it refers to the symbolic “veil of the mind”; that veil consists of different layers, preventing people from observing the truth, confining them to their own predispositions that cuts off any chances of carrying an objective dialogue with others or even with themselves and with the same own households. So carrying on with a constructive dialogue starts at home in the way we bring up our future generations, it starts in early childhood.

Writing about Mediterranean through women is an inspiring subject: it simply touches on the philosophy of “I” and “others”. I am going to tailor this article according to my country’s culture, my knowledge and experience as a writer, columnist, novelist, former minister of state for women’s affairs, the president of the “National Society for the Enhancement of Freedom and Democracy” and the general director on “Pillars of Cultural Dialogue”. Such combination has enriched my knowledge and experience on every level in addition to the fact that I am an Arab Middle-eastern Mediterranean woman with traditional and modern diversified culture.

However, if I may say, I have made it as a Jordanian woman despite the obstacles of adversity that are scattered along the route of women’s advancement, due to the fact that women are usually discriminated against, all over the world, though they constitute 50% of any society if not more. They always have to prove themselves more than males and work double as much harder to achieve their goals. Quoting Jubran Khalil Jubran, the Lebanese Poet who once said: “Advance, and never halt, for advancement is perfection. Advance and do not fear thorns in the path, for they draw only corrupt blood!”

From personal and professional experiences and observations, I have come to know many successful examples of women who have overcome economic and social hardships through innovation and initiative without any type of government support, only to become leaders that government programs seek out as catalysts in the advancement of their communities. “No society or economy could prosper without the full participation of half of its population,” as Coleman maintains, and I add that prosperity comes through learning from adversity a trait we in Jordan are quite familiar with both men and women.

In other words we might say that Women Leaders can contribute positively to their society, region and broader region such as the Mediterranean. The role of leadership is very much important especially when it is applied to creativity; so if a creative woman such as an artist or a writer becomes a leader then she can perform miracles in her work, despite her surrounding environment; owing to her special qualities that seek renovation on every level. Why we want more women leaders? Women leaders are more persuasive and they are more adventurous, also styles of leadership is changing nowadays, a feminine way of leading includes helping the world to understand and be principled about values that really matter. No wonder they say: that the best man for the job is a woman!

Jordanian women are one of the components of a Mediterranean heritage and culture, though Mediterranean culture is diversified between European, middle- eastern and North African but we all spring from the same basin – the Mediterranean-. So to speak this diversity unites us in one particular pot, if it is mixed properly it will come out with a cultural deduction of special flavor, flavor of the Mediterranean; such output with rich different backgrounds will succeed in producing a positive dialogue that lead to change for the better through discarding “The different veils of the mind”!

I adore the Mediterranean, this intercontinental sea, that has been called the incubator of Western civilization. It is an ancient “sea between the lands” with its people, olives, citrus fruits, cacti, vineyards, grapes and never ending jasmine flowers, it is a combination of diversified nature, people, landscape, food, languages and religion.

Such a diversified region connected by the shores of the Mediterranean; so our job is to iron out irregularities in its various cultures to create harmony through accepting and respecting each other!

How can we do it?

Through the inhabitants of the Mediterranean: men, women and youths!

Though the role of women is greater in this aspect, because women are the home makers who bring up the future generations; women can produce miracles or the opposite, it depends on their qualities, skills and beliefs and their networking.

However I have complete trust in Mediterranean women, who spring from the Mediterranean basin, they can perform miracles when they unify while marching together towards a common goal of removing mental barriers that obstruct dialogue and understanding and limit mental powers.

By removing mental veils, minds can be purified reaching a state of enlightenment, which will pave the way towards attaining a common Mediterranean multicultural identity.

By dropping, so to speak, the veils that cloud our minds, we get a full transparency stretching in front of one’s mind widening its horizon, followed by a feeling of limitless freedom in which we move freely away from the clouds, enabling us to feel the sun’s warmth representing compassion; consequently waves of light will engulf us bestowing its wisdom, emitting continuous energy, charging our physical batteries, making us feel more powerful. Eventually, through attaining wisdom, compassion and power we will be able to see others as they truly are!

How? Through purifying one’s mind from preconceived perception, thus practicing equality on every level where human beings have equal opportunities despite their sex, race, religion, language etc. where they are held equal under the law, in an environment of positive freedom which does not step or trespass on other people’s ground and boundaries; it is kind of freedom that has respect for others …

Nothing is impossible, on condition that we are concerned with the welfare of others. The key to that lies within the state of enlightenment that we reach through discarding mental minds. Such as:

Firstly: The veil of selfishness, this veil stops us from seeing others while we are preoccupied with our egoism, so through analyzing our feelings and discarding the negative ones. We can get rid of this harmful egoism that prevents us from appreciating other cultures.

Secondly: the veil of ignorance. It is one of the darkest veils that can obstruct our mental vision; we can do that by increasing our knowledge of others, consequently accepting them and appreciating the advantages of diversity.

Thirdly: the veil of greediness. Avarice is a veil that fights satisfaction and content, making us miss a lot on happiness, to comprehend the difference between greed and satisfaction let’s ponder on the two following quotations: Erich Fromm said:”Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching ever the satisfaction”. Sigmund Freud said: “What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the “preferably sudden” satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree”.

If we can beat selfishness, ignorance and greediness we reach a state of enlightenment that enables us to see others as they truly are and hence accepting them. We need to do that in the diversified Mediterranean region.

We have succeeded in Jordan to a certain degree, but before discussing that we need to elaborate more on diversity, what does diversity mean?

The first meaning that comes to us is that diversity means difference; and as we know people’s differences are beyond counting.

Diversity means appreciating these differences whether they are cultural, social, mental, physical, religious, racial, ethnical, economical, political and geographical; also age and gender identity can be included.

Diversity also means recognizing others.

A successful diversity can be achieved if it works hand in hand with democracy and its main contents of equality, freedom and justice. They will help to create a fairer society through eliminating prejudice and discrimination. In other words, it means making a commitment to equality through the recognition of diversity.

In Jordan, for instance, we have a diversified society which reaches a population of nearly 6 millions citizens distributed in towns, villages and Badia – Jordan desert – which makes the population diversified into urban, rural and Bedouins – nomads .

The urban population mainly lives in Amman, the capital of Jordan. About 70% of Jordan’s population is urban; the rest is rural who depend on agriculture and less than 6% of the rural population is nomadic or semi nomadic – Bedouins.

In order to observe the diversity of Jordan, let us examine the following.

The population of Jordan since 1952:

1. Natives are mostly from villagers and Bedouins descent originating in the Arabian Peninsula;

2. There are Jordanian minorities like Circassians, Chechens and Armenians;

3. There is a number of other ethnicities that include communities of Kurds, Assyrian and Mandeans. These are refugees from Iraq arriving to Jordan after the 2003 war.

4. There are nearly 2 million of Palestinian refugees, the exact number from UNRWA statistics is nearly 1,951,603, which constitute 31.5 % of the population. Though that number doesn’t include Jordanians from Palestinian descent.

Two other events in the history of Jordan affected its demography, the outcomes of the 1948 and the 1967 conflicts with Israel.

Also there are Jordanians from Syrian descent who have been residing in the country since the establishment of Jordan.

5. There are also approximately one million Iraqis currently residing in the country.

Also, hundreds of thousands of guest workers from Egypt, Syria, Indonesia and South Asia that work as domestic and construction employees.

On the other hand, there are a few thousand residents of Lebanese origin who came to Jordan when civil strife and war broke out in their native country. They primarily reside in Amman. The official language is Arabic but English is used widely in commerce and government).

Not to mention the Syrian refugees who count to 50 thousands living now in newly established camps as refugees.

There are also the Ethnic and religious groups: Muslim Sunni 92%, Christians 6% (majority Greek Orthodox, with some Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Protestant denominations), other 2% are several small Shi’a Muslim and Druze populations, in 2001 estimate.

Ethnically, the Circassians and Chechens form more than 3% of the population, challenges facing these women who want to change their society for the better.

Women constitute half of the population , they form a striving power but in order to be effective , they need to discover the creativity power hidden deep within themselves to move after to the next step of improving their leadership qualities; combining both creativity and leadership in the best potion that guarantees fulfilling their aspiration of changing things for the better in their surrounding through producing a better quality of work on every level .

Why leadership?

Leadership has an effective power that guarantees a better change; taking into consideration that without persistence and hard work women cannot polish the necessary leadership qualities they have.

Women all over the world, including Mediterranean women, are destined to be faced by challenges most of the time, which can be sometimes disheartening, morally paralyzing and physically exhausting.

What women can do in times of difficulties, instead of feeling low and powerless without taking any actions on their behalf, they have to get up and start building interior bridges of dialogue to reach their inner selves for more understanding of themselves, once this is achieved they will be able to construct external bridges of dialogue reaching to others.

If they can do that they will be able to locate any problem which is an accomplishment by itself; cause once a problem is located, it can be analyzed and solved; consequently adding positively to development and change and this is what women can do, especially creative women and leaders, in Jordan and all over the world including the Mediterranean region.

This cannot be done without being armed with polished skills so as to face challenges while acting in favor of equality and diversity.

Women leaders are more persuasive and they are more adventurous

I picked some examples of Creative women facing challenges from my own experience. For instance: Women writers in Alrai Newspaper, (Jordan). I happen to be a writer, poet, a columnist and a novelist. For over twenty 20 years I have had a weekly article at ALRAI newspaper. I can write once a week only, and so are the rest of my women colleagues.

According to the policy of the newspaper we are not allowed to exceed more than one article per week. I did succeed in writing two articles for two years , when I was given the chance to write in the youths’ part for of the newspaper for two years until it was abolished, which means returning to one article per week.

Some of these women writers are Jordanians from different origins, such as Lana Mamkigh of a Circassian origin, Ghaida Darweesh of a Syrian origin, Salwa Haddad a Jordanian Christian and others of a Palestinian origin. Anyway we are all Jordanians who belong to Jordan and we love our country and serve it, this is what I would call a good example of diversity.

This diversity can add positively forming a rich culture in the Jordanian society; though we are not faced with challenges regarding the different origins; but we are still faced with a gender gap between women and our males colleagues; this is what is really considered as a great obstacle and forming a great challenge for me and for the female writers.

Being restricted to write once a week has not put me down, on the contrary it challenged me to seek other possibilities and other outlets. It encouraged me to write short stories for children and for adults, then at a later stage novels; I joined NGOs both cultural and Human Rights to become the president of the National Society for Enhancement Freedom and Democracy (JUND), I ran for Parliament in 2003, and recently I became the first “Minister of State for Women’s Affairs” during Dr. Tarawneh’s government. Just before joining the council of Ministers, I established a center called “Pillars of Cultural Dialogue”, but I was so busy while being a minister that I did not have enough time to develop it. Now that I have more space I will be able to renovate my old interest in the center.

So as you see I did not sit down moaning my luck for not being able to write more than one article per week. In fact I turned this frustration into a positive energy that multiplied my work into a diversified directions that served my personal ambition and the well being of my country.

Meanwhile, I keep striving to make a change for the better through improving culture and laws in my country, strengthening democracy by supporting the elements of justice, equality, equal opportunities for males and females so we all become equal under the umbrella of law; so eventually these elements will reflect themselves positively on diversity whether it is social, political or economical.

We know that diversity is a success when we start appreciating these differences that exist in individuals and societies; and that is what we really need in the Mediterranean region; we can as women succeed in spreading the culture of recognition.

A successful diversity can be achieved if it works hand in hand with democracy and its main contents of equality, freedom and justice

Going back to gender inequality, we looked as women, for a solution to get out of this bottleneck through joining civic organizations, syndicates and political parties in order to lobby for gaining our rights either through changing culture for the better – replacing patriarchal culture with democratic one, and improving on legislations; though it takes more time to change culture than to change laws.

There are several Human Rights organizations, and societies for democracy and human rights in Jordan; as I mentioned above I happen to be the president of the National Society for the Enhancement of Democracy. Through spreading culture of democracy and lobbying with parliamentarians we can change things for the better such as introducing democratic laws; also being the general director of Pillars of Cultural Dialogue Centre will help in developing dialogue.

So Mediterranean women can lobby to discard all the so called mental veils that obstruct their advancement on one hand; and prevents them from constructing the bridges of dialogue among diversified cultures in the Mediterranean region on the other hand.

Finally, we can say it is up to women to be constructive or destructive, be positive or negative; but we intend as Jordanian, Arab and Mediterranean women to be constructive on every level through discarding all mental veils, and encouraging others to do so.