20 August 2011

Concerning the issue of Jordanian Women's Right to pass Citizenship to their children/ a response to stupid people

I've recently become more aware of the severity of the debate regarding a Jordanian woman's right, or lack thereof, to pass on Jordanian Citizenship to her children (obviously, in cases where the father is a non-Jordanian). It always struck me as ridiculous that the children of a Jordanian mother, even if they have lived in no other country their entire lives, are not eligible for Jordanian citizenship, and are required, in fact, to renew their iqama (basically: Leave to stay in the country) on a yearly basis. They are consigned to live as foreigners in their own homeland, and do not have most of the rights of a Jordanian citizen.

Needless to say, this always struck me as stupid beyond measure, and an obvious violation of the very concept of women's rights (only Jordanian men are allowed to pass on citizenship), and the many international human rights conventions to which Jordan is a signatory. But what really blew my mind is the severe narrow-mindedness that afflicts those who reject any amendment to this law; the utter nonsense that it spouted by people to support this flagrant violation of human rights.

It seems that the majority who are against any changes in this law quote a very specific situation, namely that of the children of Jordanian mothers and Palestinian fathers. I have yet to see any dependable/official numbers about what proportion of women married to non-Jordanians they represent, but they seem to be the go-to category for excuses as to why women should not have this right.

Let's start by recapping some of these "arguments":

1- Giving children of Jordanian mothers/Palestinian fathers will irreparably damage the Palestinian cause
OK, good start there; hit'm where it hurts: Palestinian Rights. So, opponents claim that as soon as these JM/PF kids receive Jordanian Citizenship, they're going to forget their heritage, and lose interest in the Palestinian cause.

First off, the Palestinian cause is not going to be forgotten any time soon, especially in Jordan, which is on the very border of Palestine/Israel and has an enormous number of citizens of Palestinian origin. To say that the primary political obsession of the Middle East is going to be cast aside is ridiculous. But may be the proponents mean something else? Could they mean that this will create problems in terms of political leverage?

Perhaps they do. But look at it this way: Israel was built on the "Historic Jewish Right of Return". If you can prove to be Jewish, you automatically qualify for Israeli citizenship, no matter what passport you hold. If you're a Palestinian, however, tough luck (more on this later). It doesn't matter what you can prove; if you fled your home (or were more likely evicted) during any of the conflicts, you're not likely to be allowed back, let alone given any sort of rights such as citizenship.

But here's the thing: The UNRWA (UN Relief Works Agency), which oversees most Palestinian affairs in refugee camps, has a pretty good idea of how many refugees there are; these names are all documented. Also, 63 years after the establishment of Israel, a whole lot of refugees are now of the second and third and even later generations; they've never been to Palestine, because Israel won't let them in, yet they're not allowed the citizenship of the countries they live in, and thus don't get many rights such as public healthcare and education, or even employment. Isn't it about time we moved on and started giving them some more freedom in the only countries many of them have ever called home?

These individuals still hold onto their Palestinian identity, as do many other Palestinians who live in the Americas, Europe, and Australia, and who are still actively involved in supporting the Palestinian Cause. Why should these be any different?

But the debate does not even concern these Palestinian refugees; it concerns spouses of and children of Jordanian women. Isn't it insulting to think that they would forget their heritage due to a piece of paper? But let's move on to the next point:

2-Sexual Discrimination

A Jordanian man married to a non-Jordanian woman can pass his citizenship to her and to his children. If a Muslim Jordanian man has the legal right to marry four women and give each and her offspring Jordanian citizenship, why is it far-fetched to say that a woman, who is only allowed one husband, be given the same right? Are we to believe that the father plays more of a role in asserting a child's identity, especially in a part of the world that is still overwhelmingly operating under the traditional stay-at-home mother archetype?

If women are supposed to raise the children and spend most of their time at home with them while the father is out working, who is really going to have a more profound impact on a child's identity?

What we have here is pure sexual discrimination.

3- The "Demographic" Argument

This one has to be my favourites, if only for the amount of barely-concealed racism. A lot of people argue that allowing these "multitudes" of half Palestinian children to become Jordanian citizens would adversely impact Jordan's demographic makeup.

Excuse me? So these people who live in Jordan, and have done so for most, if not all, of their lives, who are already part of Jordanian Society and their own communities, who already live here, are going to hugely alter the country's demographic composition? Do the people making this argument even understand what demographics are? It's not like you're opening the floodgates to foreign invasion; these people already live here. They are already a part of this country, although they don't have the rights that everyone else does, most importantly in terms of their hindered access to education, employment and inability to travel abroad. Also, am I the only person who thinks this sounds exactly like one of the reasons Israeli politicians give for not considering the Palestinian Right of Return? To maintain "the Jewish character" of Israel? How are Jordanians being any less racist in this case?

4- The Scary Agendas Argument

It just gets more nonsensical from here on. A lot of anti-citizenship campaigners talk about how those who campaign for the Right of a woman to pass on citizenship are agents for foreign interests and have "hidden agendas" that are aimed at compromising the country's sovereignty.

Let me be frank: this doesn't mean anything to me. It's meant to be vague because that's what the best fear-mongering is about: give them a non-specific threat and make their imaginations fill in the blanks.

Whose agenda is giving women the same rights as men serving? The "West"? Israel? Who could possibly benefit from Jordan becoming a more progressive and lawful country besides its own citizens? Jordan has already committed to a large number of international Human Rights treaties, most important of which is the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which is legally binding to all member states).

Discrimination is not something that can be allowed to continue. If Jordanians wish to see their country progress socially, culturally and economically, then we have to embrace these rights that our country agrees to, and not try to show one face to the world and another to our people.

Give women the Right to pass on citizenship to their children and spouses. It's the right thing to do.

Also, if you disagree with what I have to say, you're more than welcome to post a comment below. However, if you're going to be abusive, please note that your comment will not be taken seriously, and will be deleted.