My time in Jordan was a time during which I temporarily removed myself from my life. A time to just sit back and let the play continue; miss an act or two. In doing so, I became the actress and audience of the play that is the colony of Jordan.
You see at the end of World War I, the territory now comprising Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem was awarded to the United Kingdom by the League of Nations as the mandate called “Palestine Trans-Jordan.” In 1922, the British, with the League’s approval under the terms of the Mandate, partitioned Palestine at the Jordan River and established the semi-autonomous Emirate of Trans-Jordan in those territories to the east.
Because these and other Middle Eastern borders have been drawn up by European powers, that did not take into consideration people, old tribal boundaries and history. As such the Middle East’s present-day struggle for identity can be traced back to imperialism and colonialism. Therefore, in “countries” such as Iraq and Jordan, leaders of the new state were brought in from the outside, tailored to suit colonial interests and commitments.
The British installed the Hashemite Prince Abdullah I while continuing the administration of separate Palestine and Trans-Jordan under a common British High Commissioner. The mandate over Trans-Jordan ended on May 22, 1946; on May 25, the country became the independent Hashemite Kingdom of Trans-Jordan. It ended its special defense treaty relationship with the United Kingdom in 1957.
The installed leadership continued. The current king of Jordan, King Abdullah, was until lately a political unknown. But he was catapulted into the limelight when his father, King Hussein, pushed aside Abdullah’s uncle Hassan, who had been crown prince for thirty four years, to select him as successor in 1999. Educated in Britain and the United States, Abdullah faces the gap between the traditional Arab values of his citizens and his utterly westernized upbringing.
But this gap does not only exist between the king and his citizens, it is also apparent within the different social and economic classes and generations within the populace. In Amman, the younger generation is highly knowledgeable about the latest Hollywood trends, scandals and fashions. The more westernized fractions of society are enamored with Cosmopolitan, Starbucks, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, American Idol, sitcoms and reality shows. On the other end, people are disgusted with the western garbage broadcasted via satellite and the Internet and retreating deeper and deeper into a more religious lifestyle, rejecting more and more products of the West, equating democracy with reality shows and freedom with promiscuity.
In this state whose boundaries were so artificially drawn, there is a an evident identity struggle for the individuals and the population in general in trying to reinvent their historical roots after colonialism, not only by the British rule, but the Ottoman Empire prior to it as well.
This blind love affair with the West or complete rejection of it is the dilemma of developing national identity in the wake of colonial rule. People attempt to express and even celebrate their cultural identity, wanting to reclaim it from the colonizers, but at the same time seek to maintain a strong linkage with the culture of the ex-colonizer. The medium by which they attempt to find and celebrate an independent identity is an adopted western medium. For example, writing in the language of the colonizer. As a result of the struggle to even form an independent identity, there is a strong sense of inferiority to the West.
What’s different now? In this era of globalization, people do not have to travel to the West to be exposed to others. The West does not have to come as a colonizer to impose its culture or economic rule. What fits and what does not fit is adapted and very rapidly. There are more McDonald’s restaurants than mosques in every neighborhood. The Arab awkward versions of trashy reality shows mirrored by the awkward adaptation of fashion and pop culture. All this counter-parted by more extreme religiousness and unrealistic nostalgia to a secluded Arab world.
There must be something in the middle, an identity for this former colony to embrace and a new way of life to help people progress forward, not follow like sheep.