In one day, my image was assassinated — Wafa Al-Khadra

Former Royal committee member resigns following social media campaign

Former member of the Royal Committee for Modernizing the Political System Wafa Al-Khadra. (Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — Wafa Al-Khadra has resigned from the Royal Committee for Modernizing the Political System after facing social media criticism for comments about Eid Al-Adha. Her resignation was accepted on Saturday.اضافة اعلان

Khadra, who was a member of the youth empowerment subcommittee, faced social media criticism under the Twitter hashtag #وفاء_الخضرا after she made a post on Facebook critiquing Eid Al-Adha’s sacrifice practices. The Islamic holiday, which took place last week, is typically marked by the sacrifice of a sheep or goat, in honor of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael at god’s command.

In the original Facebook post, Khadra wrote: “Eid deserves to be celebrated when we create a form of life or save it the chaos of survival, and not necessarily when we kidnap a life or exterminate it and sacrifice it because of rituals that lack mercy.”

“Slaughtering sheep and offering sacrifice is not justified, and Islam is innocent of this ritual.”
The committee member almost immediately faced fierce scrutiny for her remarks, with social media users calling for her resignation, describing her as a “heretic”, and deeming her comments an insult to the Islamic religion, and even going so far as to send death threats.

Fadel Soliman, for instance, a lecturer and author, wrote “I challenge the brave lady #Wafa_Khadra to criticize the slaughter of millions of roosters on American Thanksgiving Day,” alongside a screenshot of her comments, suggesting that she is hypocritical by only criticizing Islamic traditions.

However, she did receive some support on social media. One user, for instance, called for protection to be offered to Khadra.

In an interview with Jordan News, Khadra claimed that her Facebook post had been taken out of context. She said that some individuals practice the slaughter in a particularly inhumane way.
“This year, unlike previous years, I felt that the sheep, especially, were brutally slaughtered,” Khadra told Jordan News. “This is not part of how Islam regulates the whole slaughtering of the sheep. This is not it.”

Khadra, who trained as a medical doctor, explained that traditionally, sheep are slaughtered quickly, with extremely sharp knives “to avoid any perpetuated pain or suffering.” But she said that in cities especially, this was not always done — leading to the unnecessary suffering of the animals.

Khadra criticized other elements of the slaughter. She claimed that the sheep should be slaughtered individually, so “you don’t terrify them. This is according to Islamic regulation.”
“In many neighborhoods, in the streets, they did not use the sharp knives,” she said.

“Sometimes they left the sheep and those poor animals to bleed to death. Sometimes they use their guns to kill them, and there are many videos you can watch” showing this, she claimed.
Khadra explained that when she wrote her post, her hope was to communicate “that the whole idea of this Eid Al-Adha is solidarity; is giving life or giving hope to others. Not depriving them of life. We have to take into account the ecological balance and we have to look at everything as part of ecology, not human-centered.”

“I said Islam has nothing to do with these rituals,” she said. “Some people took it out of context and they used it to say we cannot slaughter the sheep during Al-Adha. This is why I was accused of being a heretic.”

Secretary-General of Religious Institutions, Ahmed Al-Hasanat, told Jordan News in response to Khadra's comments that “these animals were created by God to serve man and slaughtering them according to Sharia laws achieves environmental balance, not the opposite."

Hasanat stressed that his response was not intended to offend anyone, but as a response to opinions  addressed ages ago which have nonetheless shaken the religious feelings of Jordanian society.

Khadra added that she is now facing six charges in court.

“It was much more than bullying,” she said of the social media reaction. “It got to hate speech.”
“Immediately I felt that my family members could not take all of this bullying,” she said. “I decided to resign.” She added that Senator Samir Rifai, the chair of the committee, was “very, very supportive” of her decision to resign.

“I am someone who has built a reputation on human rights, women’s rights, and built my future for 35 years and built this image on being a thought leader,” she said. “In a matter of one day, my image was assassinated.”

Khadra, who is a vegetarian, emphasized her love for animals and the value Islam places on animal lives. “What I care about is the condition of the animals,” she said. “I don’t mind if I have to pay a very high price, as long as we’re able to give those beautiful animals a better environment and a grateful closure, especially during Adha.”

“Our religion has a lot of beautiful philosophy and code of conduct that has, over the years, been replaced with our own social rituals,” she added. “I hope this incident can be a turning point in our practices with sacrifices.”

The power of social media

Khadra is not the only member of the Royal committee who has faced intense and sometimes violent criticism, especially online. Oraib Rantawi, founder and director general of the Amman-based Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, resigned from the committee in late June after publishing a controversial op-ed, about the Battle of Karameh. Zaid Nabulsi is also currently facing calls for his resignation after old tweets supporting Bashar Al-Assad resurfaced.

“This is not the first time we see this” kind of social media harassment, said Raya Sharbain, program coordinator at the Jordan Open Source Association (JOSA), which advocates for digital rights, in an interview with Jordan News. She pointed to several other instances in which politicians and journalists have faced harsh and targeted online criticism — which sometimes leaked into the real world. She cited the example of Nahed Hattar, a prominent writer assassinated in 2016 as he entered the Abdali court to stand trial for insulting religion after posting an anti-ISIS cartoon on Facebook.

We are “talking about censorship that comes from people, not from the state,” said Sharbain. “You end up silencing yourself.”

Sharbain also suggested that Khadra and other members of the committee are receiving sharp criticism as a reflection of Jordanians’ frustration with the Royal committee in general. “I think people in the first place weren’t agreeing with the whole committee. So now they’re focusing on this very atomic issue, rather than focusing on the larger issue,” she said.

Sharbain added that although technically those facing cyber harassment can seek help from the Cyber Crimes Unit, the law that criminalizes slander and defamation — article 19 of the Cybercrimes Law — “is a double-edged sword, because it’s the same legal article being used to quell dissenting voices.” So the law ends up censoring free speech more than it protects those facing harassment.

In a media statement, Prime Minister Bishar Al-Khasawneh seemingly referenced the criticism against Nabulsi and Khadra. He said that undermining Jordanian religious and cultural values is unacceptable — but so is bullying and harassing Jordanian citizens.

Khadra herself said that social media has made harassment possible on a much larger and faster scale. Critics “were able to organize themselves in the virtual space and to use whatever resources, tactics they have in the virtual space to spread out the messages,” she said. “It went viral within hours. It goes out of control, with the hate speech and the death threats.”

Social media is “not well-regulated,” she said. “Especially if you don’t have a clear policy or code of conduct on how to use this space. It is a space which is stateless, not [just] in Jordan, but in the whole world.”

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