by Arwa Aburawa
23 September 2008
Manchester, England – “I love Jordan,” whispered a young refugee girl. “I love Jordan even though I’m Palestinian.”
Listening to Ibtisaam, a proud Palestinian who lives in the expansive refugee camps of Jordan, I could see that this was a hard confession to make. In light of her Palestinian pride it was hard to justify her love of Jordan since this was seen as a denial of her Palestinian self – a direct challenge to her Palestinian roots.
Why is this so? In a country where much of the population is of Palestinian-origin yet holds full Jordanian citizenship rights, why do many feel that they can’t be both Palestinian and Jordanian?
This is an ongoing debate between Jordanian nationalists and Jordanian pluralists. The nationalists have put forward an exclusive concept of identity, based on the notion that an individual can be loyal only to one country. They state that Palestinians can only become part of the Jordanian national community if they reject all aspects of their Palestinian identity.
Pluralists, on the other hand are in favour of an identity that embraces multiple loyalties, in which one can choose to be both Palestinian and Jordanian. Pluralists have also asserted the possibility for integration of Palestinian Jordanians without complete assimilation.
Nonetheless, a new generation of Palestinians is emerging which has no lived experience in Palestine, and while they have a strong sense of Palestine, they recognise that their long-term future is Jordan, not only because of the difficulties of returning but because they have made Jordan their home.
In building their lives in Jordan, many younger Palestinians have developed deep roots in the country in which they live. These young people are reinterpreting and reworking the social worlds they inherited. They are expressing these multiple identities and learning to move fluidly between elements of their identity – perhaps with some hesitation, but their confidence will grow.
In a sense, the Jordanian identity is already a hybrid of pre-state identities such as religion, Arab nationalism and a sense of tribalism. Early forms of Palestinian identity were also multi-faceted and allowed Palestinians to identify with the Ottoman Empire, religion, Arabism, and their homeland. It seems that both these identities – Jordanian and Palestinian – share a fluidity, a deep-rooted pluralism that lies at the heart of their national identity.
As a result, Jordanian identity needn’t be exclusive, it hasn’t been for a number of decades and its inclusivity towards diverse complementary identities can be illustrated throughout history. In other words, change towards a more inclusive national identity is possible.
According to Stefanie Nanes, assistant professor of political science at Hofstra University, for Jordan to become more inclusive of Palestinians isn’t a distant, extraordinary request; it would simply be a “continuation of a Jordanian practice of incorporation and inclusion.”
In Western communities where hybrid-identities are more widely accepted and acknowledged, Palestinians are already embracing their dual identity. Western citizens fully accept their Palestinian roots without having to reject the idea of being simultaneously British or American. Such a model may work well in Jordan where young Palestinians are no longer comfortable living on the margins of Jordanian society, as legal citizens but without a representative identity.
In our increasingly interconnected and multi-cultural world, where many people do not fit easily into one specific national identity – citizens whose identities are complex myriads of loyalties and communities – it is important that hyphenated plural identities become more widely accepted.
* Arwa Aburawa is pursuing a masters degree in international journalism at Liverpool John Moores University in England. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org.