By KEVIN L. JOHNSON”When I look at my friends, I can tell that they all are Arabs, and I know that most of them have an Arab family background,” says Alaa Muhanna, a 22-year-old student from Jordan.
She is one of hundreds of young people across the Arab world who say that the Arab culture and identity is the most important factor for their identity.
Alaa is among the many young Arabs who have joined an online community called Arabic Culture Club to share stories about the diversity of their culture and the richness of their identity, which is sometimes perceived as a Western-style “multiculturalism”.
Some say that their sense of belonging is a product of their Arab upbringing, which has been shaped by a history of colonization and oppression by Western powers.
Others have adopted the Arabic identity for themselves, adopting the name, for example, as “Amal”, which translates to “my mother”.
For a long time, Arab youth in Jordan have been marginalised in their communities, but now that they have started to assert themselves, the Arab-language media and media outlets have picked up on the issue.
“I am an Arab in the sense that I’m an Arab, but not the Arab in culture,” says Amal, who is studying at a university in the Arab city of Ain Shams.
“Arab culture is something I’ve always been proud of and I have a strong identity that I can carry with me,” she says.
Amal, along with her friends and fellow young people from Jordan, have started the Arabic Culture Clubs in Jordan.
The clubs, which are run by the Arab community-run Islamic Association of Jordan (IAJ), meet at a mosque on the outskirts of the capital Amman.
“The purpose of these clubs is to provide an alternative for young people and to teach them Arabic, so they can understand the cultural and social diversity of the Arab region,” Iaj, the organisation’s chairman, said.
The Arab clubs are open to all students, but they have been especially popular among young Arabs from the south-west and eastern part of the country, including the city of Amman, which the clubs have also been a hub for their operations.
“We have to say that there is a difference between being Arab and being Arab in Jordan, because of the way the Arab identity has been defined and the way we have been told that we are Arab,” says alaa.
The culture club is one example of the diversity and openness that is growing among young people in Jordan as a result of the efforts of the Iaj and its allies.
The cultural club was started by the Jordanian-born Palestinian poet, author and activist Awwad al-Dahlari, who said he had heard about the clubs through his brother, a former student of Arabic at the Jordanian university of Jeddah.
Awwad, who was born in 1948, was raised in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon.
After a failed uprising against Israel in 1982, he fled to Jordan with his family to escape a political upheaval.
He returned to Lebanon and eventually became an activist for Palestinian rights.
He was inspired to set up the Arabic culture clubs in Jordan by his own experience of discrimination and discrimination against Arabs, which he said had been exacerbated by his brother’s own experiences of oppression.
“He came to Jordan, in 1980, with a group of 30 or 40 students from Jedda, but it was only after that that the whole system began to change and that the Jordanian regime changed,” Awwid says.
In 1989, Jordan’s first president, Abdullah Al-Bazrak, made a speech about the Arab national identity, and was applauded by the public.
He said Arab people should not be excluded from the country.
Al-Bazzrak’s speech was controversial because it did not refer to any religion.
However, the following year, a military coup led to the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has declared itself a Caliphate, the most powerful and absolute Islamic state in the world.
“That speech was a huge blow to Jordan,” says Awwadi.
Jordan’s leaders did not have a clear position on the existence of a Caliph, and did not see the clubs as a threat to the regime.
But they were forced to respond when the Ias had to stop providing funding for the clubs, Awwed says.
“They closed the clubs down,” he adds.
The Ias also faced criticism over the lack of an official position on Arabic-speaking people, and whether they should be given citizenship.
In 2014, Jordan became the first Arab country to grant citizenship to citizens of a predominantly Muslim country who were not part of either the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qaida.
However, many of the clubs’ members remain concerned about their status, because they believe that if they are not included in the government’s plans, they