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Jordan’s tolerance shines a light on rest of the world

August 10, 2012

My op-ed on ‘the Jordanian example’ in today’s Australian:

Last week, more than 3400 Syrian refugees slipped across the border into northern Jordan, many with nothing but the clothes they stood in. Even backpacks might have marked them as opponents of the regime fleeing the country. As it was, some were fired on. Tragically, some children arrived on their own.
In two hastily constructed camps assembled, as it happens, by Australians, among others, I spoke to some of them: dusty, exhausted, traumatised. Since March last year, Jordan has received 145,000 Syrians. That’s on top of an estimated 450,000 Iraqis (about 32,000 registered refugees) and nearly two million Palestinian refugees.

The population of Jordan is about 6.5 million. It has few natural resources. Its economy relies on external assistance, which accounts for 22.5 per cent of its budget, principally from the US and Saudi Arabia. With headlines about war, tourism falls off. It is among the world’s 10 poorest countries in water resources.

In this context, the influx of Syrian refugees imposes enormous strains. Jordanian modelling estimates the full cost of 150,000 refugees to be about $US428 million ($404m).

I have just spent three days in Jordan talking to its leadership, visiting refugee camps and holding discussions on interfaith dialogue and the overlap of cultures. It was hard not be impressed by the worldliness of a leadership that has steered the country since it gained independence in 1946.

Jordan lives in a tough neighbourhood. It lost the West Bank to Israel in 1967 and withstood an attempted Palestinian coup in Black September 1970. Syrian tanks approached its border. In fact, throughout its history it has had to keep a wary eye on its warlike and more powerful neighbour. It was buffeted by both Iraq wars. And in 1994 King Hussein took the courageous step of signing a peace treaty with Israel.

There is now a Syrian refugee crisis. This week, I was proud to announce an extra $4m to help refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Australia’s total assistance now stands at $20.5m, the fourth largest national donor. This pays for tents, blankets, food, packs of toiletries and child-protection personnel.

I have instructed Australian ambassadors to make urgent representations to other nations to increase their aid and am phoning foreign ministers to respond to this international appeal.

Why does Jordan matter?

Despite its challenges, Jordan embodies moderation. It is not a liberal democracy, but a nascent one in which the king is promoting reform and there are contested elections. Muslim Brothers have been in its parliament since 1989. “Muslim Brothers? Been there, done that, have the T-shirt,” one Jordanian leader said to me.

King Abdullah made a speech in Davos in 2004, which I was lucky enough to hear, referring to the need to “avert the clash of civilisations and help the overlap of cultures”.

I explored this idea last Sunday in Amman with the leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities. Kamel Abu Jaber, a former foreign minister and now head of the Royal Institute of Interfaith Studies, elaborated on what might be called the Jordanian example.

He said religious and cultural overlap was part of day-to-day life. A Christian minority of 6 per cent, of which he is one, lives and works with the Muslim majority.

This reminded me of an older Middle East where Christians, Jews and Muslims worshipped and worked alongside one another.

“I am a Christian by faith,” said Dr Jaber. “I am a Muslim by culture and identity.”

His colleague Professor Amer Adnan Al-Hafi noted that Christianity and Islam were the closest of religions: Muslims recognise Jesus Christ as a revered prophet, Christians as the son of God.

Jordan’s respected ambassador to Australia, Rima Aladeen, made the important point that the Jordanian spirit was not just tolerance with its tone of condescension or passivity, but acceptance and respect.

Given the horror of sectarian bloodshed now manifest in Syria, this very language is welcome.

The world may have taken for granted the moderation of Jordan. But, as Syria’s distress seeps across the border, it is now time to dig a little deeper and help it to bear this burden.

4 Comments
  1. Ruth McKimmie permalink
    August 10, 2012 10:27 am

    Jordon’s response to it’s hundreds of thousands “illegal immigrants” puts Australia’s response to its few thousand to shame. Bob, bring some pressure to bear on your parliamentary colleagues to do the right thing and let us also shine a light on the rest of the world.

  2. August 10, 2012 3:30 pm

    Thank you for this piece Foreign Minister Carr. Indeed, Jordan’s humanitarian protection is commendable. According to the Jordan Ministry of Health, some 30,000 Syrians have been treated in the country’s medical facilities, while 25,000 children under the age of five have been inoculated at a cost of JD800,000. Minister of Health Wreikat has said in The Jordan Times that the cost of providing health services for the Syrians currently staying in Jordan will reach JD30 million this year. Over 150,000 Syrians have entered the Kingdom since early last year. The humanitarian generosity towards asylum seekers from the states neighboring Syria (Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon) is an important case study for the Asia Pacific region.

  3. August 22, 2012 7:52 am

    Mr Carr. I invite you to visit our refugee camps and hear the stories of persons escaping torture and trauma from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, yes, and even Syria. How can you be moved by one group of refugees and ask the world to assist those who have left Syria and are in Jordon etc and yet be part of the cruel treatment of people with the same stories who arrive here?

    Do you think it is only the poor, neighboring countries who should bear theses burdens? Is the ‘crime’ which requires cruel treatment here that they didn’t stay put suffering in poor, third world countries?

    I have done refugee work for ten years. I acted for survivors of the SIEV 221 which crashed into Christmas Island. I acted for Cornelia Rau. I acted for Al Kateb who the Howard Govt argued could be kept indefinitely in detention because he was stateless. I act for some refugees who your govt justifies detaining forever because of undisclosed and untested ASIO concerns. One was a child when he arrived here. I have spoken to young, vibrant and wonderful people who our refugee centres have crushed and ruined because of the cruel and inhumane treatment of those places. And now you intend to send, men, women and children to Nauru.

    If you can be so moved and expressive about Syrians why not about people on our shore?

    It makes no sense unless to get votes based on racist arguments.

  4. August 30, 2012 12:26 am

    The comment below appeared in response to the three part SBS program on “Boat People” broadcast on Sunday, tonight and to be concluded tomorrow night. Whilst Jordan’s treatment of refugees may appear good on the surface, its support for the terrorist war against the Syrian people in alliance with the US, NATO, Israel and the dictatorships of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar cause me to want to scrutinise these claims more closely.

    I would be interested to know your response, Bob Carr, to what appears to be an even more exemplary treatment of refugees by Syria, particularly 1,000,000 refugees who fled from Iraq into Syria from the wars of 1991 and 2003 by the “Coalition of the Willing” including Australia?.

    COMMENT FROM SBS PROGRAM ON THE BOAT PEOPLE:
    http://www.sbs.com.au/goback/yoursay/topic/123/boats-and-the-media

    daggett 24 hours ago

    So, where has SBS ever acknowledged that the Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad, which it so likes to demonise, has given refuge to 400,000 Palestinians and 1,000,000 Iraqis including 250,000 Iraqis who fled from the “Coalition of the Willing”, including Australia, in 2003? (See for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraqis_in_Syria http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugees_of_Iraq)

    Compared to Australia, which participated in two illegal wars and sanctions against Iraq, which killed 1,000,000 Iraqis (and wars against Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan, West Papua, Korea, etc), Syria is a model international citizen.

    Who here believes that Australian sanctions against Syria will help refugees in Syria?

    If not, then why do we permit the Australian Government to impose sanctions against Syria diplomatically support NATO’s proxy terrorist war against the Syrian people?
    (comment from SBS ends.)

    GLOBAL RESEARCH GIVES FACTUAL HONEST REPORTING OF SYRIA

    If you want to be properly informed on the Syrian conflict, please look at the Canadian web-site Global Research at http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=newsHighlights&newsId=55 . Please feel welcome to show me where Global Research’s reporting of the Syrian conflict is contrary to the evidence and logic.

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