Shunning Civic Duty

A lack of civic responsibility is behind many of the problems we face today.

By Osama Al-Sharif

In Karak a few months back, someone decided they were perfectly entitled to riddle a major water pipe with bullets so that their sheep could drink for free. That many towns and villages in the surrounding area were deprived of water for days hardly seemed to concern the individual behind the infuriatingly selfish, and not to mention illegal, act.

This is just one example of how many Jordanians have lost any sense of civic duty, that hard to define quality often equated with the responsibility a citizen has towards their society, and which is intrinsically linked to lofty ideals surrounding citizenship, democracy, and a functioning system of checks and balances.

Our lack of civic responsibility can also be seen in the wider context of rising societal violence in our public spaces. More often than not, such incidents involve the destruction of public and private properties. At football stadiums spectators vent their anger at rivals by destroying seats and other property with no regard to the harm they are doing.

So far, the government has been unable to deal with such serious crimes. More worrying is the fact that people seem to believe they can take the law into their own hands. According to government figures, there are more than a million unregistered firearms in the Kingdom today, including machine guns and rocket launchers.

There are many causes behind such disrespect for civic duty. The concept of citizenship, in relation to social responsibility, has been severely degraded over recent years and many people have become accustomed to challenging the authority of the state. The weakness of the state in enforcing the law is one of the reasons that some people believe they can break the law and get away with it.

Of course, poverty, unemployment, and corruption have also contributed to this phenomenon. But people still believe that since the state is not carrying out its responsibility towards society, they are free to help themselves to whatever they can get. Public property becomes an easy target. This dichotomy between preserving public property and the sense of civic duty is a sign that society is regressing into pre-state conditions; where might makes right.

The same can be said of how many Jordanians deal with environmental issues. Littering is one example, but in recent years illegal logging in public forests, some of them protected, has increased considerably. People fail to understand that it is their duty to protect forests and other public property.

Governments alone cannot be blamed for this dire state. For the government to function there must be justice in society. Furthermore, there needs to be a vibrant and socially responsible private sector in addition to civil society institutions. The three together can work to complement each other. It is this delicate balance that we find in more advanced societies.

A society that has a strong and representative government, a system of checks and balances, an independent private sector and a thriving civil society will enhance the sense of civic duty among citizens. Civic duty means many things; to vote in elections, to safeguard public property, to respect the rule of the law, to carry out volunteer duty like cleaning the neighborhood and protecting the environment, observing speed limits, among many others. It means that deputies must present themselves as role models; like not smoking under the Dome, which is a public sphere, or carrying a firearm in parliament.

Changing society for the better must start from our homes and schools. A sense of civic pride is the ultimate proof of an advanced society manifesting itself in all aspects of daily life. The alternative is more chaos and more lawlessness.