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Antonin Jaussen, sciences sociales occidentales et patrimoine arabe

 | 
Géraldine Chatelard
, 
Mohammed Tarawneh

Troisième partie. L'Attitude des Jordaniens face à leur patrimoine historique

The Attitude of Jordanians towards their Historical Heritage

Summary of the round-table organised by Mohammed Tarawneh

Texte intégral

1Participants in the round-table were : Jean Hannoyer, ‘Adnan al-Bakhit, Ghazi Bisheh, Saleh Hamarneh, Zaydan Kafafi, ‘Ali Mahafzah, Mohammad Tarawneh

2Starting from a definition of heritage as a set of values and artefacts which include buildings, costumes, music, (his-)stories, myths, in a certain area and which are affecting and influencing the people politically, economically, and socially, Dr. Mohammad Tarawneh offered the following topics of discussion for the round-table :

  1. What is meant by heritage in contemporary Jordan?
  2. In what ways is heritage interpreted?
  3. What is the role of the individual, groups, and institutions in establishing channels of communication between the present, the past and the future?
  4. To what extent is it possible to transfer accurately yesterday’s cultural knowledge to the present. Is there a distinction between people’s original vision of their culture and the constructed vision of this culture by future generations?
  5. Can the present time produce heritage and transfer it to the future?
  6. As regards the definition of heritage in contemporary Jordan, Jean Hannoyer in his introductory remarks warned that its definition is further complicated by the fact that it is subjective and sensitive because it relates to visions and opinions. Hannoyer reminded that there is no social life, no progress and no change without memory, which the stuff identity is made of. Pointing at the political dimensions of heritage, he stated that memory is the object of a constant struggle and negotiation and that it is the memory of the winner which, eventually, becomes the accepted memory.

3‘Adnan al-Bakhit carried this point further by remarking that, paradoxically, Arabic or Islamic history cannot be studied without references to Roman, Byzantine or European history. He attributed this to the fact that concepts of history in the West and in the Arab World differ notably, and that the lack of in-depth analysis of Arabic history has made it dominated by Western narratives. Despite a strong desire to write history in Jordan, contemporary Arab historians are facing the following difficulties : 1/ A strong aversion for local history, especially in Jordan, so as not to create problems threatening national unity ; 2/ The relative lack of resources and references ; 3 / The absence of idiomatic dictionaries in the Arab World available to researchers, except those compiled by orientalists ; 4 / The lack of proper language skills, research methodology, and devotion to research.

4Ghazi BISHEH noted that he was often asked such questions as : “Why do we spend large sums of money and waste great efforts to rebuild archaeological sites? Are these endeavours endowed with a political meaning, as in Turkey or Iran who try to find deep roots in their past? Or do we, in Jordan, only proceed from economic considerations, i.e. touristic exploitation?”. Through the writings of travellers who visited Jordan at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, one finds exaltation of these antique sites and of their builders and a critique of the people who lived near them since some were already damaging historical places looking for antiquities. Bisheh considered a need to conduct research and studies and to hold conferences so as to emphasize the link between peoples over time. He suggested distributing a questionnaire to do in-depth study of the attitudes of Jordanians towards their historical heritage. Besides, he stated that the term “heritage” was nowadays restricted to Islamic culture while this term should include all the remains and legacies of previous communities on this land. The difference between “heritage” and “history” lies in the fact that history belongs to the past while heritage continues to the present. However, he noted that Jordanians are relatively indifferent to their heritage, to the point that they damage sites and buildings. Even some educated individuals believe that studying heritage should be left to specialists. Therefore, the speaker recommended better education of the public.

5Saleh Hamarneh, for his part, said the concept of heritage should be taught in connection with the study of history and geography from school to university. This could be an efficient means for fighting the indifference of some educated people who do not see a reason for the maintenance of historical sites. He remarked that there are historical sites that are not visited by Muslims because of their Christian religious character (churches). This attitude reveals a misunderstanding of what constitutes Jordanian heritage and the part played by Christianity, which has common grounds with Islam, and used Arabic as a language of preaching. Furthermore, Hamarneh regretted that some words be used to conceal aspects of historical events. He offered Spain as an example, where “Moor” or “Moorish” is substituted for “Muslim Arabs” to avoid crediting them for their achievements in establishing a state and leaving behind a historical legacy. Conversely, the term “Crusaders” is used by Arabs today to refer to the military expeditions launched by the Europeans even though Muslim historians did not use this term at the time and Arab Christians fought Europeans alongside the Muslims. Comparatively, “the Middle Eastern issue” is a phrase used so as to avoid referring to Palestine.

6Zaydan Kafafi suggested to define heritage as whatever dates 50 years back. He proposed to use the following methods in view of strengthening an understanding of heritage : 1/ Drafting a law to protect heritage so as to enhance awareness among the public ; 2/ Holding conferences, seminars, and workshops about heritage ; 3 / Establishing non-governmental organisations to monitor the effects of building expansion on historical sites ; 4/ Producing publications and using the Internet to inform people about historical sites, especially those subject to damages ; 5/ Supporting the development of associations of friends of the antiquities and the exchange of information between them ; 6/ Encouraging school students to visit historical sites, and increasing awareness of these places among teachers ; 7/ Adding a course to be taught to school children about historical places throughout the history of Jordan, making them aware of their importance. Kafafi observed that, even though historical sites were the product of certain states, if was first and foremost the local people who carried out their building. Contemporary Jordanians can thus relate to these people as their ancestors. Besides, not only such a discipline as history should be concerned with the analysis of archaeological remains, but also physics, chemistry, statistics and geology in order to understand how things were made and not just why they were made. In this way, ancient Systems, such as the irrigation network previously used in Jordan, could be revived and the heritage of the past would find a direct continuation into the future.

7For ‘Ali Mahafzah, heritage is not confined to history and archaeological remains, but is also a concrete and spiritual legacy. Jordan cannot be separated from its environment with which its has always been in contact throughout time. In particular, Jordanian universities are committed to the teaching of Muslim and Arabic heritage which should be enhanced for the next generations from school onwards because it is part of the Jordanian national identity. Mahafzah deemed it necessary for a nation to study its culture to move towards the future. He stated that, in the same time, Jordan as a nation must cast a critical look at its heritage by means of scientific research. Therefore, Mahafza advocated getting rid of the sacralization of history imposed by men of religion. Instead, scientific methods should be applied to the study of historical heritage.

8Mohammad Tarawneh concluded by stating that several arguments were put forth to define the meaning of “identity” in the Jordanian context. Quoting Mohammad ‘Omara, he reminded that culture is an “immensely effective power, not a heap or a shroud”. He advocated the use of a neutral and comprehensive methodology to apprehend heritage, whereby heritage would be viewed both as 1/ a culture in its own contemporary setting, i.e. separated from today’s culture ; 2/ contemporary to us, i.e. connected to today’s culture. Heritage has to be restored to its genuine scope both in time and in space. The meanings of past civilizations do not belong only to the past and the present times, but also to the future. To link Jordanian culture and identity with that of humanity, the first step is to find their connections with Jordan’s own heritage, then to move to wider entities, Arabie and universal. Cultures experience several stages : social and cultural establishment, deposit after deposit, and excavation which is the stage they have reached today. The point here is to know the circumstances that lead from one stage to another. Tarawneh put forth that historians have to assess the linkage and maintain it to be able to have proper interpretation of the national, Arabic-Islamic or human set up, which forms the basis for the present and the future to be. He said that Jordanians are at present undergoing a crisis in the interpretation of their local history, a trend which can be politically dangerous. He suggested to write Jordanian history anew and have it taught in educational institutions and disseminated in the media. The truth must be sought outside the ideological and political framework inherent in historical texts used at the different levels of education.

DEBATE

9The following points were raised during the debate :

  1. How is it possible to assess and evaluate results of studies without devising a methodology to deal with historical documents (archives)?
  2. Was Jordan ready to accept a central government before 1920?
  3. What is the role of Jordan in a Middle Eastern project and its real commitment to the Arab cause?
  4. How is Arabic history to be read outside of the sacred context?
  5. What about the role of foreign researchers in studying and analyzing Jordanian history and culture?
  6. What is the role of heritage in shaping social values?
  7. What is the relationship between anthropology and history?

10‘A. al-Bakhit answered by underlining the fact that he advises his students to study local history away from any political considerations. He admitted that, despite his wide experience with the Hashemite archives collected by Al al-Bait University, a proper methodology has still to be found to deal with historical documents. As for the role of foreign researchers, he quoted the French school as having conducted research in Aleppo, Cairo, and Tunis and questioned their approach. Tackling the role of Jordan in the area, he reminded that no space was left outside of the framework set by the Anglo-French agreement and that King Abdullah was assassinated because he insisted on national unity. ‘A. Mahafzah, in turn, remarked that the role of the political regime in affecting the writing of history is not confined to Jordan but is common world-wide. He said he did not consider that the Jordanian historians or intellectuals were experiencing a crisis, but that they were facing inadequacy as everywhere else in the Arab world. He further put forth that the establishment of a central government in Jordan in 1921 was better than leaving the area open for Bedouin raids, a situation that some would call freedom. As for the role of Jordan in a Middle Eastern project and its commitment to the Arab cause, he believed that Jordan had shown concern for the entire Arab World and had to face problems because of this stand, in particular with its neighbours and with the British while advocating Arab unity. As for the role of anthropology in history, he said that history was merely the restructuring of what existed in memory. While the role of the anthropologist is to find and classify, the role of the historian is to write and restructure history. Z. Kafafi admitted that there is a negligence in recording Jordanian culture, in particular the universities which are nor performing their role in preserving heritage.

11M. Tarawneh ended the debate by stating that the problem was not in the relation between anthropology and history but in the transfer of memory as a social value from one generation to the other and thus in the preservation of heritage. He offered the following conclusions :

  1. There are disagreements among local historians and anthropologists as regards the concept of Jordanian historical heritage : some view it only within the wider Arabic and Islamic framework ; others consider it from a local Jordanian point of view ; others prefer to encompass it within global human history.
  2. Jordanians are relatively indifferent to what heritage stands for and symbolizes. Consequently, a firm stand from the part of the official institutions is needed to draft a law protecting what is defined as heritage, i. e. materialistic and non-materialistic elements.
  3. Heritage is influential only when it is socially valued and, thus, capable of affecting the behaviour of the individuals.

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 1999

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