Dec 31,2015 – JORDAN TIMES – DAOUD KUTTAB
Offering greetings, whether when meeting someone in the morning or on the occasion of a holiday, is a voluntary affair. Just like one cannot legislate morality, one cannot force people to say “Hello”, “Good morning”, “Merry Christmas” or even “Happy holidays”.
But while such issues cannot and should not be mandatory, the preaching and inciting against them can easily turn into encouragement of bigotry and be an indirect practice of “hate speech”.
It seems that every annual holiday there are some radical persons that come out with a sort of fatwa that it is improper and somehow unacceptable for a Muslim to offer a fellow Christian citizen with holiday greetings.
And although the birth of Jesus to Virgin Mary — which is the reason for celebrating Christmas — is recorded in the Koran, and despite the fact the Jesus is revered in the Holy Koran, some radicals call on followers to avoid offering Christmas greetings.
The danger behind this issue became clear to me when a colleague told me a story about her son.
She has suggested to her son to go to their Christian neighbour and wish them a merry Christmas. Her son refused, saying that the teacher of Islamic studies had told him it was wrong to do that.
Shocked to hear that, the mother sat her son and for an hour and a half they debated the issue until her son was willing to go against his teacher and greet the neighbour.
The problem did not stop there. When my colleague’s son knocked on the neighbour’s door, they refused to open. She said she understood they were afraid, because this Jordanian Christian family is often mocked by the community because of their faith.
This story worried me on two counts. The fact that a licensed school in Jordan allows teachers to spew hate in the religious class, or any other class, for that matter, points to the potential of this poisonous hate speech infiltrating our schools while no one seems to be doing anything about it.
The more dangerous aspect is the communal discrimination that is seeping into our society, where citizenship or humanity are not the overriding identities, and religious identity is creating a wedge between citizens.
Hate speech has been declared a human rights violation and cannot be ignored any longer. Legal and administrative actions are clearly needed to stem the tide of radicalism and hate that appears to become part of the mainstream.
While authorities correctly noted the need to respect all faiths and the importance of Christian Arabs in our society, a lot of work is still needed to translate these messages to governmental and non-governmental circles.
Educational leaders and supervisors must be on the lookout for hate speech in their schools.
Regulators and those who provide schools with accreditation must double their efforts and stress the need for educational institutions to reject such dangerous hate speech in our school system.
Preachers who use the pulpit or the airwaves to indoctrinate society with such unacceptable rhetoric must be held accountable.
Some of the Iraqi families that escaped from Mosul after Daesh took over say that when they hear sermons from Jordanian mosques, they are reminded of the same tone and content of sermons they used to hear before Daesh took over.
The lack of a public stand against such public rhetoric clearly paved the way for the takeover by Daesh supporters.
The call to stop hate speech should not be mistaken for restrictions on the freedom of expression and thought.
Preachers and thinkers should be allowed freedom to debate and discuss theological issues and matters of faith.
But one has to be able to differentiate between the freedom to practise and debate sacred issues of faith and the proclamation of words that are so divisive and poisonous that can be easily translated into incitement to violence.
This is a dangerously slippery slope that must be nipped in the bud. This is clearly an issue of the highest national security.