An item in the International Herald Tribune reveals that Jordan is beginning to develop a genuine civil society that is independent of Government. What has led to this? Well, not the common people rising up against their dictator — King Abdullah is one of the Arab rulers who looks to be emerging from the “Spring” mostly unscathed. Also, if there’s one lesson from the past year, it’s that in most cases the Arab public do not want democracy and will not vote for progressives or reformists — rather, they overwhelmingly support the Muslim Brotherhood.
The civil society that I am referring to, in fact, comes from the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the carnage in Syria and one very wealthy Jordanian man whose conscience couldn’t bear to see them suffer.
RAMTHA, JORDAN — Nearly every day, Thaer Al-Bashabsheh drives his BMW to the end of an unmarked road in Ramtha, in the northwest of Jordan, to check on the hundreds of refugees who occupy a five-building apartment complex donated by his family to house people fleeing from Syria.
In the past four months, aid workers say, more than 10,000 refugees — mostly from the southern Syrian city of Dara’a and central Homs — have made their way through the camp. Mr. Bashabsheh says one woman, who arrived with a bullet wound in her shoulder, recounted how she had been carrying her 3-year-old son when government forces shot him in the head, the bullet going through his skull and out the other side through her shoulder.
A 25-year-old man who died of a heart attack at the border is buried in the Bashabsheh family cemetery.
“When I’m go through the camp teardrops come to my eyes because I see kids my son’s age. It kills me to see them shoeless and dirty,” Mr. Bashabsheh, 36, said in an interview. “There’s a guy who lost his leg, and I see an old man, 95 years old, who cannot move and is sitting under the shade of a tree.”
“This is not a life.” …
The family subsidizes the camp for Jordan’s Interior Ministry at a personal cost of about 280,000 Jordanian dinars, or $395,000, per year. They also provide food, water, clothing and cigarettes for those who have fled President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Mr. Bashabsheh said. The camp is supposed to hold only 600 people, but at one point it overflowed with 2,000 refugees, according to local news reports.
“You know, daily, my father is taking from the bank 1,000 Jordanian dinars, going to the camp, coming back in the night” without a dinar left in his pocket, Mr. Bashabsheh said, puffing on a Cuban cigar.
As I have mentioned many times, elections are the final step towards democracy and not the first. Steps like wealthy Jordanians feeling obligated to spend their personal money helping those less fortunate is a step towards democracy. This is the start of the classic Hobbesian “social contract”, whereby the society is united by common values and the ruling class is a part of that society and not a separate entity that spends its time consolidating power and wealth (as is the case in the vast majority of Arab states).
This idea can be exemplified by people like Andrew Forrest, the mining magnate who today outlined his new initiative to employ Indigenous Australians. He laments the decades of well-meaning enslavement of our Indigenous community through keeping them poisoned through welfare and not affording them accountability for their own actions. Instead, he is taking them into his company on his own initiative and giving them the skills they need for the dignity of being productive citizens.
There will be some who will dismiss this great cause if I neglect to mention an important truth. A truth I have seen best taught by Aboriginal elders, leaders and scholars – some of whom are in this room.
I understand what they are saying to me: “When it comes to having the respect of others, being Aboriginal is not an achievement in itself”. It is not a right, a reward, or anything else that one earns by effort. It is a simple fact of birth which can be upheld with respect or cheapened by the actions of the indigenous individual. The same is true for all of us.
Those parents of Aboriginal youth who stereotype their own people through misbehaviour cannot turn a blind eye to the impact of their example. Nor can they blame anyone else. The family unit so deeply and traditionally honoured in indigenous culture means elders and parents take responsibility. No longer can they say: “There are no jobs, there is no place for me.”
The expectation is no different for Aboriginal people than for every other Australian. No segment of our society can excuse or blame bad behaviour on Aboriginality.
But we must make sure that the opportunity to work is well and truly there, and our expectation of their duty just the same as for any other Australian.
Of course, Forrest has been made a nemesis by Treasurer Wayne Swan, who figures that he — not Forrest — should be determining how Forrest’s money should be spent (probably on more welfare).
Meanwhile, as the Project on Middle East Democracy has reported, Tunisia is also seeing an incredible amount of civil society activity and looks to be the only Arab revolution that may actually lead to democratic rule. The situation in Tunisia is largely because Tunisia has been the only Arab country that did not elect an Islamist majority in Parliament — the ruling Ennahda party has had to form a coalition with secular groups. This is more proof that the centralisation of power is the enemy of freedom, a lesson that many in Australia could do well to learn.