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May 19 2022 1:02 PM ˚
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Lack of empathy for suicidal Jordanians ‘is the true crime’

Ruba Saqr
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.(File photo: Jordan News)
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A recent decision by the Lower House of Parliament to criminalize attempted suicide in public spaces has caused a painful uproar in the Jordanian society over the past couple of weeks — and for good reason.اضافة اعلان

Jordanians are once again coming face to face with the twisted rationale and severe lack of empathy of the legal minds drafting this country’s human-centric laws, a persistent trend that has been aggravating the country’s social justice issues rather than solving them.

It is becoming more and more evident that the draftsmen entrusted with writing up legislation that affects society’s most vulnerable seem to be prisoners of their own minds, and at times, their chauvinism.

Perhaps it is time to unmask the ugly truth about the mindsets that draft unfair social clauses and articles in the Penal Code (and other pieces of legislation like the highly problematic Cybercrime Law). Such mentalities seem to be unable to identify with the suffering of men, women, and teenagers who resort to suicide to escape their intolerable mental and psychological torments.

The mere notion that a person attempting suicide is perceived as a criminal — rather than a victim of mental illness, severe stress or injustice — is suggestive of seriously impaired reasoning that is void of empathy.

This is the same kind of thinking that reveres abuse of power, social tyranny, selfish individualism, disconnection among members of society, and attitudes rooted in Social Darwinism, such as “survival of the fittest”.

On April 25, the Lower House voted in favor of a controversial amendment to the Penal Code before referring it to the Senate. It states: “Those who attempt suicide in a public place shall face an imprisonment term of no more than six months and a fine of no more than JD100, or one of these penalties … and the penalty is doubled if committed by collective agreement.”
The mere notion that a person attempting suicide is perceived as a criminal – rather than a victim of mental illness, severe stress or injustice – is suggestive of seriously impaired reasoning that is void of empathy.
The vote came on the heels of a foiled suicide (and homicide) attempt, on April 20, by a female public-sector employee who squirted benzene on herself, her female manager, and the furniture surrounding them with the intention of setting the room alight.

Al-Ghad News reported that the female boss in a governmental department in Eastern Amman had called the employee into her office to berate her before the incident happened. By chance, an off-duty member of the Jordanian gendarmerie was on site; he tackled the employee and removed the lighter from her hand. He then ran back into the office to save the woman from a second suicide attempt as she tried to jump out of a window.

This kind of behavior is not normal. It does not come from a balanced frame of mind and may very well signal the person’s inability to cope with an overwhelming situation. This woman, like other survivors of suicide, could have been the victim of workplace bullying, or maybe has a mental health disorder that deserves professional treatment and specialized healthcare support.

In this vein, lawmakers who think it is plausible to punish people for being helpless sufferers of depression, abuse or social injustice should never be put in charge of society’s laws and regulations.

To punish suicide survivors by imprisoning or fining them, instead of admitting them to a facility that provides the best mental and psychological care possible, is a sign of alarming sociopathic tendencies and of a host of thinly veiled hate, misogyny, narcissism, and violence against the most vulnerable segments of society.

Sociopaths, narcissists and psychopaths are individuals who lack a positive feeling or understanding toward other people’s circumstances, emotions and motives. They do not recognize or see their needs (or suffering) and treat them like inanimate objects — with cruelty, heartlessness, and unnecessary harshness.

Such propensities by the people who draft Jordan’s social pieces of legislation have for long infested our lives with unfair and inhumane laws. Article 308 of the Penal Code readily comes to mind. Abolished in 2017 following long years of activism that fell on deaf ears, this highly unjust article allowed a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying his victim, destining her to a lifetime of pain and misery, rather than offering her the support she needs to heal from an extremely dehumanizing experience.

Ridding the legislative process of such recurring hostile attitudes is fairly straightforward. Law experts who write up the country’s social laws must undergo a “psych evaluation” to determine their fitness for the tasks before them. Field trips to meet survivors of suicide, victims of child abuse, and women who face domestic violence should be enough to gauge the reactions and level of empathy, or lack thereof, of present and future individuals who draft our laws.

But those legal committees and experts are not alone in the legislative process. Their draft bills go to government ministers, who then submit their legislative proposals to the Prime Ministry for consultation and approval, before formally introducing them to the Lower House of Parliament, and then the Senate, for final ratification.

The first person to move any draft law or amendment up the chain of command is the Cabinet minister in charge of the bill’s area of expertise. One is compelled to ask: does this person take the time to read the draft bill in his or her charge before referring it to the Prime Ministry? And does he or she, as a decision maker, have any idea about the ins and outs of mental illness, depression, and human suffering?

How about the last link in the country’s legislative hierarchy? Do the two chambers of Parliament have the emotional awareness to scrutinize the human-centric bills they receive from government? And do they debate the real-life effects of their decisions on the weakest members of society?

On April 26, Lower House Speaker Abdul Karim Al-Doghmi was quoted as saying social media critics better direct their criticism and “muscle flexing” at the government that drafted the public suicide law, implying their anger should not be directed at the Lower House that merely approved it.

Never mind the fact that the central reason for which Parliament exists is to dissect, modify, and scrutinize every piece of legislation that government sends its way. This is literally the MPs’ core responsibility. As such, deputies have no business finding excuses and pointing the finger at government when the onus is on them to debate, amend and vote on laws that work for, not against, all Jordanians, including suicide survivors and other at-risk individuals.

As the story develops, this week the Senate came out to say it was looking to introduce a “moderate” version of the law, before returning it to the Lower House. No one knows when the new wording will be ready, especially with the recent Royal Decree to prorogue Parliament’s ordinary session as of May 15.

Until then, there is one thing left to say: to not have empathy for Jordan’s most vulnerable individuals is without question the true crime.


Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.


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