Over the past few days, quite a debate has been going on the Jordanian blogosphere about the police’s closing of Books@Cafe. The story of the closure was told on 7iber.com by the owner of the restaurant Madian Al Jazerah. So far close to 240 comments have been posted on that story. I have rarely seen such an intense reaction on a Jordanian blog touching upon the sensitive issues of freedom, religion and identity. The restaurantuer in question says his restaurant was indeed licensed by the government to open AND serve alcohol in Ramadan (as a 3 star touristic establishment), and that the closure was done an arbitrary manner that contradicts the law.
Jordan’s tolerance and pragmatism are a well known traditions. But Ramadan in Jordan has some “special rules” that show that Jordan is uneasy about its own tolerance during that time of the year when, suddenly, mosque attendance jumps up to six folds. Closing restaurants and banning the sale of alcohol in Ramadan is a sort of “soothing pill” that gives people the feeling that religion is being “respected”.
This reminds me of another, rather strange, rule that forbids giving an alcohol sale license to any establishment within a circumference of 300 meters or so around mosques. Looked at in a humorous way, it seems as if alcoholic drinks can send out some “bad frequencies” that affect the purity of prayers in mosques. But what this really is about is the attempt by the state to create a “psychological buffer” between things that are seen by many as contradictory.
Discussing such a topic opens up all the unresolved files of the Arab and Muslim world: collective religious identity vs. individual rights of non-muslims or even muslims. The legitimacy of laws. The interpretation of Islamic Sharia. Tolerance for “non-believers”.. The list goes on.
But here is what’s interesting: the debate is no longer one confined to books written by obscure intellectuals. It is moving to a more popular level.
“Closed for Maintenance” (see the video above) is a short documentary by media designer Ibrahim Owais, who, armed with a DV cam, asked people around him, Jordanian and foreigners, what they thought about the closure. He also managed to interview the restaurant owner too. If anything, this film show the diversity of opinions on the matter and the intense reactions it can stir up in some.
NOTE: An English subtitled version of the film will be available soon. I will post it here too.
NOTE2: For a very interesting framing of the issue and a “reaction to the reactions” to the 7iber post read what Black Iris had to say.