(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Jordanians and others elsewhere in the region expressed shock last week at the BBC TV revelations about how many special education centres in this country treat their residents.
Mostly suffering from certain disabilities, the hosted children seem to have been subjected to systematic mistreatment, both physical and mental. Some, the BBC documentary exposed, were sexually abused.
A lot can be said about the case, but a lot can be mere pretence. Actually much, apart from shock, has been expressed already, but how genuine can the astonishment be?
Last week I wrote on this page about a different kind of scandal that happened in a far away country. It was about an academic course offered to military trainees at the Pentagon in the US capital of Washington, DC advocating belligerence against Islam, Muslim people and Muslim holy places. The shock there, as it may be with respect to the centres here, is that something terribly wrong and sinister was happening for years away from the eyes of the public and without any of those involved, organisers or students, sensing the weird nature of the situation and therefore raising the alarm.
This precisely is the one factor in common between the two scandals, despite the huge difference in their nature otherwise. If what was happening for almost eight years at the Pentagon was "incompatible with American values" as often claimed, or an isolated deed of few "bad apples", why did so many of the "good apples", who were supposedly guided by true values, keep quiet about what they were witnessing?
This was the first thought that came to my mind when the news of the special education centres' disturbing story broke out. As the implicated centres are many, their staff members and proprietors must run in the thousands. They must be from different sectors of Jordanian society. Many of them should be educated instructors equipped with the special skills required for the delicate task.
Others must have some kind of humanitarian sentiment or compassion, either out of their religious beliefs or their ethical and traditional upbringing. How did all of them, not in one centre, not in two, but in all of them, reach the same conclusion that what was happening was not unusual or worthy of raising the alarm. Why did the severe atrocities, which they either committed or experienced, fail to awaken their conscience even once and compel some of them to express loud rejection and protest? Instead, they kept quiet until the secret camera of a young, motivated woman took the great risk of infiltrating the centres' dark alleys to expose the shameful practices.
It is the maintaining of such a dreadful silence that should be an additional cause of grave concern.
We in this country often rush to avow that "this is incompatible with both our noble morals and our loftiest religious values" in the aftermath of any embarrassing revelation like the one in question. The tendency to expend energy and time to justify and look for excuses rather than directly focus on the problem and act decisively to stem it is a common trend.
And, most depressingly, neither this recent scandal nor the many other manifestations of communal violence that are alarmingly on the rise in this country seem to vindicate the claim that we are normally guided by great values and should therefore view any odd behaviour as a rare exception.
If the proprietors of some of the centres were driven by sheer greed and immoral pursuit of undue profit that led them to tolerate inhuman practices against those who deserve our society's most caring attention, why did the noble values we claim not hinder the meek acquiescence of the rest of the operating personnel. If they regarded what was happening before their eyes against these helpless humans as normal, then we are in deep trouble. And if they knew that the treatment of the disabled children was indeed cruel and inhuman but opted to keep quiet out of fear or of opportunism, then we should seriously look for signs of moral decadence in our society, as well as major faults in our education strategy.
No matter how great our values may be, they can be of no practical worth if hidden as precious keepsakes in the closet, if they do not become part of our education and culture, if we do not abide by them, if they fail to deter brazen conduct, if they only apply in situations where no malpractice is committed and if we reduce them to meaningless slogans that we hardly comprehend.
Has not the time come to reexamine these values and assess their current effectiveness?
My guess is that much of the shock we expressed at the misery to which our disabled children were mercilessly subjected by heartless handlers and instructors was simply because the outrage was first expressed by His Majesty King Abdullah himself in his angry letter to the authorities. The King's warning left little room for procrastination or fake rationalisation. He demanded a swift investigation, accountability and punishment as well as measures to prevent such behaviour from ever recurring.
That, however, is only one facet of the issue. We need to clear many other possible dark corners where other scandals may be hiding without having to wait for the accidental secret camera of a social activist to disclose more shocking scandals.
It is undeniable that the many manifestations of violence, in universities and within families, as well as other forms of communal callousness, require urgent introspection with the clear intent of exposing all social disharmony and defects. Most assertively we need more than soothing statements and cover-ups to address what look like serious symptoms of moral failure.