TCS Daily

Don't Mess with Jordan

By Val MacQueen - December 2, 2005 12:00 AM

Following the terrorist bombing of a wedding party and two other hotels in Aman in early November, columnist Mark Steyn opined that al-Zarqawi appears to be losing his sense of direction, adding that his days as a terrorist godfather may be numbered. On a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, Steyn noted that al-Zarqawi has gone from blowing up infidels to blowing up fellow Muslims in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and now to blowing up brother Sunnis in Jordan. Comments Steyn: "This is pathetic." Worse, al-Zarqawi had sent some of his closest associates "to blow themselves up in this pointless ... raid."

He may be right. CNN notes that Jordanian security forces say that Zarqawi is choosing softer targets now: "They have thwarted, in the last year and a half since April 2004, 15 separate attacks here in Jordan."

Certainly, al-Zarqawi's follow-up announcement that al-Qaeda had bombed the wedding party at Amman's Radisson Hotel, where 30 people were killed and dozens were injured, by mistake, doesn't sound like the meticulous planner of yore.

After al-Zarqawi apologized to the wedding party, saying, "we want to assure you that we are extremely careful over your lives ... you are more beloved to us than ourselves," he segued into a threat on Jordan's modernizing and moderate King Abdullah with, "Your star is fading. You will not escape your fate, you descendant of traitors. We will be able to reach your head and chop it off." Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. On the other hand, the king has been known to refer to Zarqawi as "a street thug".

Whatever al-Zarqawi's inexplicable behavior, what is certain is that King Abdullah, who is said to be a direct descendant of the Muslim prophet, Mohammad, and the country of Jordan have not lost their nerve. The day following the atrocity, the female half of a husband and wife suicide team, whose detonator had got jammed, had already been captured. She was shown in police custody, nervous, glassy eyed, clearly eager to cooperate with her captors. She even obliged by lifting her jacket for the camera, on command, to reveal her suicide belt.

When suicide bombers committed the atrocities on London Transport last July, the first thing Tony Blair did was not, as citizens had a right to expect, express shock and anger that such primitive behavior could have been perpetrated in ancient, civilized Britain. Instead, he warned the British people not to surrender to Islamophobia and visit their outrage on Muslims. Next, he hastily convened a Muslim advisory panel, comprising "moderate" Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain, whose words are only moderate until one parses the circumlocutions, and Inayat Bunglawala of the same organization, which seems a bit de trop. Bunglawala is a former enthusiastic supporter of the Ayatollah Khomeini fatwah against Salman Rushdie. Fellow panel members are a barrister who practices out of an address in a public housing project and believes the world is run by a cabal of Jews and Free Masons and Yusef Islam (ex Cat Stevens), who is banned from the United States. These people were convened to tell the prime minister of Great Britain how Britain needed to improve its subservience to Muslim immigrants in the wake of the London bombings.

By contrast, the normally peaceable and good-humored Jordanians, who have no reason to fear looking Islamophobic, have shown an altogether more robust attitude in word and deed. In a public demonstration unprecedented in the Arab world, the day following the bombings, 150,000 Jordanians took to the streets of Amman, the crowd swelling to 250,000 angry people as it rolled along towards the town hall, where they demanded that the government "denounce this savage crime". As they marched, they chanted, "Zarqawi ... Cease, cease, you are a coward." The head of Zarqawi's own tribal group said he wouldn't hesitate to kill him.

King Abdullah has dismissed his former prime minister and installed his country's former ambassador to Israel, hardliner Marouf al-Bakhit with a mandate to go after Islamic militancy. The King told CNN's Nic Robertson, "We have been very successful on a regular basis in being [able to take Zarqawi's] groups ... because he has used Jordanians. Now he has changed his tactics. He is using foreigners. That means that our security forces have to change tactics, also."

King Abdullah, like his father King Hussein, graduated from the elite British military academy Sandhurst. Like his father, he is cultivated and comfortable with Western democracy, and is similarly a reforming king who wants peace. Just two months before the outrage, he had convened an unprecedented meeting between a Muslim head of state and Jewish religious leaders. According to The Boston Globe, the king quoted liberally from parallel passages of the Torah and the Koran during the meeting and earned himself a round of warm, genuine applause from the 70 rabbis in the audience.

Jordan is a tiny country of around 4 million, dependent on phosphate and tourism (and foreign aid, it must be added). It is at the center of the Palestinian tinderbox. But for all their good humor, Jordanians are not easily cowed and the king knows what he's doing and they will back him. If al-Zarqawi is eventually taken alive, we may well find that Jordanian intelligence played a key role.


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