The roles of the muftis and the media are remarkably similar and it is no coincidence that the authoritative influence of both is intensified by the public reliance upon them for revelations regarding all societal and economic matters. Both the muftis and radio anchors deal with petitioners who seek information from them as public individuals, not as mere members of society. This practice of petitioning individuals removes the public problems and concerns from their societal context. Instead the effort is focused on individuals rather than the community at large, widening the divide between those who rule the society and those who are ruled within it.
Just the other day I was listening to the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom on an official state radio broadcast. Answering a questioner, he shamed those who work in money-lending institutions, accusing them of usury, and, without batting an eye, urged the caller to get his wife to leave her job at a local Jordanian commercial bank. The mufti did not imagine the scene of thousands of bank employees sleeping in the streets after abandoning their jobs. Yet, he surely would outlaw sit-ins in the case of these employees deciding to protest against unemployment. Just as previously in his reign he issued a fatwa shaming unexcused absences from work for teachers who had declared a strike in protest of not being allowed to establish a teacher’s union.
His eminence concerns himself with money-lending institutions despite the existence of other fatwas that make them permissible. This includes fatwas issued by religious clerics who adopt the same school of jurisprudence favored by those in Jordan, such as, the fatwa of the late Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, Sheikh of Al-Azhar.
However, perhaps the most dangerous of these fatwas is the prohibition on employees working in the banks, yet silence with regard to the activities of the state which deals with both domestic and international banks to borrow and conduct all financial transactions. The individual employee is forced to face an existential crisis with regard to his or her work, while the state carries on the same work without reproach, and even goes so far as to exploit this contradiction as a mechanism for social control.
The double standard does not stop there. The mufti exhorts an individual not to work, borrow or deal with the “usurious” banks, yet he conducts business with a broader and more comprehensive series of such institutions, many of which are accused of monopolizing wealth and controlling both companies and countries in turn.
So we have in front of us two standards: a specific standard for those in positions of authority, members of a privileged group who are permitted to operate outside of the societal realities, to which the constitutions and laws do not apply, and another standard which applies to everyone else. Throughout history, those in power have always sought to place a mediator between the people and their God--the preacher, the Mufti, the Imam, the scholar, the sheikh--neglecting the truth of Islam, which makes it clear that no mediator is needed.
Parallel to that, the radio broadcasters present themselves to the public with claims of being trusted and unbiased mediators, yet official errors are portrayed as small and only subject to the occasional criticism or admonition. In these cases, the so-called performance monitoring and evaluation is a farce at best and there is no true accountability for institutions or the regime.
There is one goal for media presenters and that is to reinforce the idea that citizens are just mere individuals and, if they wish to solve their problems, they must give thanks to and obey those in authoritative positions. For example, the great education crisis calls for fundamental solutions, yet the diction used to describe the issues does not describe the reality of the situation. It is always just a small error of a few teachers here or the whim of an official there. The language is vague and diminutive, failing to represent the issues in an accurate and concrete light. Often this serves to cover up who is actually responsible for any mistakes or missteps.
It is useful to remember that the Mufti and the media presenters are not mere employees, but are public servants who represent the authorities. In the case of the Mufti, he is paid a salary on par with that of government ministers, and he speaks accordingly. While media broadcasters, though not direct representatives of the regime, are associated with it and can be considered stakeholder agencies, going so far as to accuse their opponents of treason as they go about furiously defending the authorities against criticism of any kind.
While the state declines and the quality and quantity of its achievements wane, it accelerates efforts to publicize its false achievements and seeks to silence skeptics through public incitement against them. And in the end we are left with a community that gives conditional membership, in which citizens, though they are the ones who pay taxes and carry out their civic duties, are robbed of their rights and freedoms while the only models that are deemed valid and acceptable are the men of religion and the media.
When the models for society exist outside of the society and are representatives of the state instead of the people, a distorted picture of reality is to be expected. At this very moment, there is an absence in talking about justice in governance and the focus is on the officials and leaders, true humanitarians, and their overwhelming kindness in their dealings with families and with individuals in society!
Mahmoud Muneer is a writer, journalist and the editor of the "Takween" section on AmmanNet
*The Arabic of this article appeared on May 03, 2015. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily representative of AmmanNet.
Translated by Julia Norris