Alleged assault, cancelled conference test freedom of speech in Jordan

Some called on the government to punish those responsible for the attack but others labelled the incident as “a mere stunt from an Indian movie.”
Sunday 18/11/2018
An undated photo of Younis Qandil. (Twitter)
Divisive issue. An undated photo of Younis Qandil. (Twitter)

AMMAN - The alleged kidnapping and torture of Younis Qandil, the secretary-general of the Believers Without Borders Centre for Research, has divided Jordan, a country that had maintained domestic tranquillity amid unrest in neighbouring countries.

Some called on the government to punish those responsible for the attack but others labelled the incident as “a mere stunt from an Indian movie.”

Jordanian government officials initially expressed support for Qandil but, on November 15, the attorney general ordered Qandil jailed for 15 days because he supposedly faked the abduction. Qandil’s nephew was also arrested in relation to the case.

Qandil was allegedly grabbed from his car by three gunmen and taken to a forest where he was stripped and his back slashed with a knife with “Islam without borders” carved into his skin, media reports said.

“We, as a society, are against any type of violence and, if the attack did happen as it was described in the media, then we, as Jordanians, are against it and no matter what is the reason behind [it], and again if the attack was real it should not have happened,” a member of Jordan’s parliament said on condition of anonymity.

The alledged attack came after a controversial cancellation of a conference on contemporary religious narratives. Jordanian Interior Minister Samir Mubaidin banned the conference after receiving a letter from Amman Third District Islamist MP Dima Tahboub, who said there were many complaints from citizens regarding the event.

“There were many people expressing their anger through the social media regarding the conference but again if the attack did happen and was evoked due to the conference then violence is definitely not the answer,” said Tahboub.

Masarat, the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research & Strategic Studies, in cooperation with MWB, was planning the conference for ideological enlightenment. Organisers expected 50 religious scholars and researchers from Jordan and abroad to discuss various topics. On social media the conference was branded as “blasphemy and contradict with the religious values of the Jordanian society.”

MWB issued a statement calling the cancellation an “unjustified prohibition” and “a narrowing of the freedom of expression and the right of intellectual pluralism.” It pointed out that Jordan had hosted two conferences for the group in the past.

MWB condemned the attack on Qandil, calling it “barbaric” and attributing it to the cancellation of the conference.

Jordanian Minister of Culture and Youth Mohammad Abu Rumman tweeted that he visited Qandil in the hospital and said “the government refuses any form of violence or hate speech and that the government is waiting for more details to emerge from the investigations.”

Social media erupted with anger because one paper that was to be presented at the conference was titled “People’s History of God’s Birth,” which many considered an attack on Islam. Muath Bani Amer, the paper’s author, said he received threats after the conference was cancelled.

“The decision was based on one word from my research paper that is a total of 18,000 words,” Amer was quoted in Jordanian media as saying.

Al-Ghad columnist Jamil Nimri said had it not been for Tahboub’s memo and the minister’s decision to cancel the conference, the event would have proceeded without incident. He also blamed social media users for stirring trouble.

The situation escalated with MP Khalil Atiyah sending an official memo to Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz stating that Qandil’s family had threatened him and others after the incident.

Atiyah said he was surprised that a statement by Qandil’s family accusing him and others with acts of terrorism and holding them responsible for the supposed kidnapping. He said the statement threatened them with vengeance.

Outside Jordan, participants in a seminar organised by Takamul Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Marrakech rejected the attack on Qandil, who was supposed to take part in the event.

Participants issued a statement saying that they fully supported Qandil and that the aim of the attack was to prevent Qandil from expressing and writing his views.