• Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland




    Krzysztof Bojko

    Poland and Jordan – breaking stereotypes


    One of the first Poles that came to the Middle East in 12th century was Duke Henry of Sandomir, and a magnate from Lesser Poland Province, Jaksa of Miechów from the House of Griffins (known also as: Jaksa Grifita).  The latter was the founder of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre in Miechów, a town near Kraków. This legendary place was for centuries one of the headquarters of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic order (in Poland known as ‘Bożogrobcy’). In 16th century the Holy Land was visited and described by a famous Polish-Lithuanian noble, Prince Nicholas Christopher Radziwill ‘The Little Orphan’. In 19th century the region became a popular destination for numerous Polish pilgrims and travellers, like poet Juliusz Słowacki, gen. Józef Bem, and also Count Rzewuski and Count Dzieduszycki who were pioneers in establishing new noble stud farms of Arabian horses in Poland. Polish diplomatic relations with Arab countries date from 30’s of 20th century, with Jordan since 1937. In recent years Middle East countries, including Jordan where Petra, one of the world’s miracles is situated, have become a popular tourist destination for Polish people. Increasing interest in the region resulted in the growing popularity of oriental cuisine in Poland. Therefore, it is surprising how little an average Polish person knows about the history of Arab peoples and the region, Arabic culture, customs and traditions, and also Islam. Unfortunately, general knowledge of the Polish people is dominated by harmful stereotypes about the inhabitants of the Middle East and Northern Africa, intensified even more by the events of 11th September 2001. Their knowledge is often based on colourful tabloids, superficial observations of the region, also gathered by chance of holiday trips to the region or  any overheard generalisations or opinions. Based on such superficial judgements, the image of the region and its inhabitants is not only untrue but also detrimental to the development of current and future relations between Poland and Arab countries, including Jordan. It should be noted that Arabs are aware of the fact that lots of Europeans, also the Polish people, still believe in numerous untrue and harmful stereotypes.

    The Polish people’s lack of knowledge about the basic principles of Islam is one of the major reasons for their fear of this religion and its followers. Some people in Poland suspect Muslims of attempting to impose their religion on Christians. Both history and modern times give evidence to how baseless these fears are. It is hard not to notice that in the Middle East countries, for example in: Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, etc., which have been under the control of the Muslims for over 14 centuries, some of the oldest Christian churches survived. It has been possible due to the fact that Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion towards the other, so called ‘religions of the book’. Muslims treat Christians and Jews as ‘people of the book’, which share with Islam a lot of common values including the belief in one God. The fact that the word ‘islam’ comes from the Arabic word ‘salām’ which means peace signifies the peaceful character of this religion. Peaceful coexistence of Islam and Christianity  is especially visible in Jordan, where around 5% Christian minority and majority Muslim society live peacefully side by side. It is worth noting that both in the capital city of Amman and other cities, e.g. in Madaba, Aqaba, Karak numerous Christian churches are situated next to mosques. During Christian holidays, especially Christmas , traditional elements, such as a Christmas tree and colourful decorations are used to decorate homes both by local Christians and Muslims. It is worth stressing that Christmas and Easter are public holidays in Jordan. Jordan, like neighbouring Israel and Palestine, is a popular destination for numerous pilgrimages of European Christians, including Polish ones. One of the most famous personalities of the Muslim world engaged in an interreligious dialogue is Jordanian Prince Hassan Bin Talal, the brother of the former King Husein and the uncle of the present King Abdulla II.

    One of the most popular and extremely harmful stereotypes for the Middle East region inhabitants, existing both in Western European countries and Poland, is the belief that most Muslims in some way support world terrorism. How unfair is this thesis was proved by a tragic terrorist attack which took place in Norway in July 2011, and was committed by a national Norwegian Anders Breivik, who killed 77 innocent people in Oslo and on the Utøya island. It must be stressed that terrorism does not have one country of origin. Terrorist actions are well known and have been used since ancient times. Terrorism has been present in almost all countries and on all continents of the world, including Poland. During and after 1905 Revolution terrorist methods were used by some Polish organisations fighting the Russian occupant, especially The Combat Organization of the Polish Socialist Party headed by Józef Piłsudski – future head of the country. It must be noted that although most Poles supported the fight for independence, they disclaimed terrorist methods.

    You can observe a similar situation in the Middle East, where in recent years, the problem of terrorism has come up for various reasons. It is a fact that all terrorists that in September 2001 attacked  American targets were Muslims from the Middle East. Similarly to the events in Poland one hundred years ago, the September attack  is only a marginal episode which definitely does not reflect the opinion of the majority of Arabs. An overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims completely despise terrorism. It is also a paradox that members of Al-Qaida and other similar organisations, which use terrorist methods, as it is visible in Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly hit civilian Arab targets. As a result, the Arabs pay the biggest price for terrorism in the region. A huge price was paid also by Jordan where on 9th November 2005, suicide bombers carried out an attack on several hotels in Amman, which resulted in the death of 60 people. The most  victims of the attack were wedding party guests in one of the attacked hotels. The scale of this unprecedented attack in the history of Jordan shocked the kingdom’s citizens. It also resulted in a drastic action of the Jordanian government directed against its suspected perpetrator, terrorist Abu Musaba Al-Zarqawi.

    One of the common characteristic traits of Poles and Arabs is hospitality. Like in Poland, where for centuries it has been believed that –“a guest at home is a god at home”, in Arab and Muslim countries foreigners enjoy special respect. They can always count on help while travelling. They are invited by local, often poor, people for a treat or coffee. All  the Polish people who travelled on their own through the region of the Middle East have learned about this exceptional hospitality as the soldiers of gen. Władysław Anders’ army, who during the World War II stayed, e.g. in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. It is worth stressing that Arabs’ hospitality comes from both tradition and Islam’s principles.

    Just like Poles, Arabs are attached to their tradition and family. In the belief of Muslims a big family is the highest value for a human being. Thanks to the popularity of many-generational families in this region, family ties in Jordan are very strong. When in trouble an average Arab can rely on their family or relatives. It is worth noticing that the Arab world has not been much affected by social problems existing in western European countries, such as aging society, disintegration of family and family ties, problem of orphans and rejected children, abortion, drug addiction and alcoholism.

    A common feature of Poles and Jordanians is a peaceful attitude to the world. It is interesting that Jordan, as one of a few Arab countries, has peace agreements with all its neighbours, including Israel since 1994. Both Poland and Jordan have very close relations with USA, which is treated as a strategic partner by both countries.
    A linking element for both countries is the fact that Jordan associated with EU has enjoyed special status in relations with EU since 2011, believes in the same values as EU member states: respect for principles of democracy and human rights, openness to the world and market economy principles. Like Poland, Jordan is actively engaged in peace missions, including UN missions.

    Like Poles, Jordanians pay a lot of attention to education, including higher education. At 10 public universities and several private schools of higher education, there are 50% of graduates from secondary schools in Jordan. It is one of the highest numbers of all the Arab countries. It is worth noticing that over 60% of all students in Jordan are women. It should be mentioned here that a lot of Jordanians received their education in Poland. Jordanian graduates of Polish universities constitute a significant group of ‘Polish ambassadors in Jordan’. Just as young educated Poles leave Poland in search of a job to different EU countries to improve living conditions of their families, also Jordanians are one of the most mobile Arab nations. Over a million, mostly young, Jordanians live and work abroad, mostly in Gulf countries, and send financial resources to their families in Jordan.

    Participation of both Polish and Jordanian youth in EU educational programmes, including Erasmus Mundus, through exchange visits of students and scholars, or summer camps organised at the universities of Poland and Jordan, give hope of further understanding between both nations. This hopefully will result in the near future in closer bilateral relations.



             Amman, 4th September 2012


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