What's the frequency, Jamil?

Censorship is one thing but to have an unknown assailant come to your house and try to slash your face is quite another. It happened to Jordanian columnist and TV talk show host Jamil Nimri.
 jamil nemri

It was 10.30 p.m. on January 25 and Jamil Nimri was at his home in the Gardens District in Amman when there was a knock on the door. Someone asked to see the journalist in person.

Nimri opened the door to find a total stranger on his doorstep. After making sure that he was indeed facing Nimri, the stranger said he needed to get something from his car. He turned, only to turn around again quickly – this time with a knife in his hand. The stranger went straight for Nimri's face but Nimri had a quick reaction and took a step back. He was quick enough to avoid serious injury but not quick enough to get a small cut on his face.

His assailant ran away, jumped into a waiting car and disappeared into the night.

This is unfortunately not a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock horror movie. This is what actually happened to Jamil Nimri, a columnist for Jordan's Al-Ghad newspaper, and the host of a political TV talk show, called "Bila Qoyood" (Without restraints). Nimri is a famous media personality in Jordan, and is well respected as an intellectual who approaches issues with total objectivity and a great ability to listen and converse.

Yet, someone out there doesn't like him.

The Jordanian media community was quick to denounce what happened.

Tareq al-Moumni, the head of the Jordanian Journalists' Syndicate, issued a statement on Saturday, expressing his anger and denouncing the incident he considers as strange and dangerous, not to mention a threat to the freedom of journalists. He demanded an immediate investigation to uncover the perpetrators and take them to court. 

Nidal Mansour, the director of Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ),  said, "Such incidents are strange and unacceptable. We are awaiting the results of the investigations with great concern."

When asked if the attack could have been vengeful, he answered, "I hope this is not a new idea for settling personal accounts. Until now, nothing points to revenge."

When we reach Nimri on the phone in Amman, we hear him saying to a relative, "We will talk about this when the snow melts." Jordan is currently sleeping under the snow. We greet him wishing him health, and he says that the injury was minor.  

Who was the target, your person or your pen?

"I think the reason is directly related to my work in the media. I show respect to everyone, and have no enemies, especially that I'm solely interested in the media. To be honest, I don’t think this is a revenge act, for such action is expensive from a security point of view in Jordan."

Why were you targeted?

"I'm asking the same question. I'm a moderate and my ways of treating subject is far from provocative. Sure, I'm a direct person, I say things as they are, whether I'm treating local or international issues. I have to confess to having a few enemies on the local level, people I disagree with in opinions. I don't accuse anyone, but some may want to teach me a lesson. So, I think this attack is more locally than internationally related."

Was the Jordanian press as a whole targeted by this act?

"What was targeted is the freedom of expression and opinion. I don't know why I was chosen, but I think some of my comments must have disturbed someone. I gave what little information I have to the security authorities."

Did you see the face of the attacker?

"Yes, I did. He played the part of someone in need. This man didn't want me dead but only to hurt me, so I think my talk show must have disturbed someone. He aimed at my face so I think he must have wanted to disfigure me."

The media and press in Jordan have witnessed many restrictions lately, why is that?

In Jordan, there are always ups and downs in freedoms and restrictions. This happens in general. Amid the current political scenery, this is how they treat the press. Today, after the clashes with Hamas, terrorist acts, and the violations in the elections, it is normal to witness some kind of repression. The atmosphere is tensed. But this is not a coherent plan to weaken the press.

Are you more afraid today?

"The security services have offered me protection and the government has shown its interest in discovering the perpetrators. I don’t honestly feel fear but, yes, I am more cautious now in my way of thinking and in presenting subjects."

So maybe Nimri is being punished, outside of the law, for something he said or wrote. If so, it is a dangerous sign in a society when the security authorities lose their strength in repressing the bandits, no matter what their motives are.

Today, Jordan is facing a novel incident that has triggered dismay and questions.

Jamil Nimri is cautious now, fear could come next to give birth to silence.

Editor's Note: The title of this article refers to "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" or "Kenneth, What's the frequency?" – famous words allegedly spoken by the assailant who attacked CBS anchorman Dan Rather on Park Avenue in New York in October 1986. It is also the title of an R.E.M. song.