November 9, 2005 | FrontPageMagazine

Jordan’s 11/9

By: Dr. Walid Phares.

After every jihadist terror attack or violent outburst around the world, the mainstream media always advances its myriad theories about the so-called “root causes” of the particular attack in question. Unfortunately, most of the time their analyses are fictions. That was the case last week with the interpretations of the French Intifada. And this is the case again just hours after terrorists struck three hotels in downtown Amman, Jordan.

Some commentators rushed to conclude that Jordan was targeted just because it was an ally of the United States and a backer of the war in Iraq. From al-Jazeera's opinion-makers to mainstream news agencies in the West, the common wisdom overflowed: had the small Arab Kingdom not involved itself in Iraq “regime change,” the angry nationalists wouldn't have shed Jordanian blood. Unfortunately, this equation misses the mark.

So what then is behind the surge of terror in the Hashemite Kingdom? 

First, one has to consider the weight of Jordan's. Jordan is ruled by a prominent Arab Muslim dynasty, the Hashemites, who are a serious competitor to the Wahhabis. The Hashemites are not the equivalent of Monaco's princes in Europe. In the Arab world, the ancestors of King Abdallah were the legitimate rulers of Mecca and Medina until the Saudi clan “invaded” Western Arabia in the 1920s. The remnant of the Hashemites established TransJordan with the help of the British as Wahhabism took hold of the peninsula and its religious shrines. Since then, the Saudi Kingdom exported fundamentalism, while the Hashemite Kingdom established a monarchy. The result: two fundamentally opposing views of Islam and the world.

Next, al-Qaeda grew out of the Cold War. While bin Laden pledged to destroy America and the infidels, King Hussein remained a faithful ally of the West and a proponent of a peaceful settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians. After his passing, his son, Abdallah, pledged to resume his father's anti-terrorism stance.

King Hussein didn't participate in Operation Desert Storm, nor did his son, King Abdallah, engage Jordanian troops in the removal of Saddam Hussein. Moreover, the country opened its borders to Iraqi refugees, including many Sunnis, particularly Saddam's family. Despite the protests of commentators offering lightning-quick analysis, Iraqi Sunnis do not resent Jordan's alleged involvement in Iraq's war. To the contrary, many in the West and among the Shi'ites criticized Jordan for being too soft in its support for Iraq. Thus, there is no Arab frustration over Jordanian intervention in Iraq. But there is another frustration for another reason.

The jihadists have many reasons to dislike Amman's monarch, but Iraq does not figure in this assessment. Rather, King Abdallah has endorsed his father's signing of a peace treaty with Israel. But even this is not the main reason for why Islamic fundamentalists have targeted this kingdom. 

The “root cause” of Islamist action against Jordan is this: the Hashemites are moderate Muslims, possibly the most successful in distancing their religion from Zarqawi's barbarism. Jordan is modernizing and has become friendly with the U.S., the UK, Europe, and Arab moderates. 

The Hashemites have contained radicalism and denied the jihadists safe haven within the country. Amman rejected Damascus' occupation of Lebanon, Syria's support of terrorism, and al-Qaeda's extremist ideology. Lately, government officials say Jordanian imams were able to reform Islamist militants jailed for violence. The concept of participating in the war of ideas has been tested in Jordan: successfully or not, moderate clerics, supported by the government, attempted to use parts of the Koran to negate the Wahhabi doctrines, allegedly based on a literal interpretation of that same Koran.

There is also a basic personality clash: Abu Massab al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian national. His bloody role in Iraq has reached the zenith of jihad. He wanted to teach the apostate monarch and his Western educated queen a lesson. This takes on added importance for the terrorist, because it is his homeland. Zarqawi wants to attack Jordan, not because he misses the souvenirs of his childhood, but out of geopolitical ambitions. The Sunni triangle's closest and most natural borders are with Jordan. By striking in downtown Amman, Zarqawi will be opening a Western front, thereby creating more room for his terror network which is under increasing strain as Iraq strengthens its democracy, military and police.

For al-Qaeda, Jordan is ripe for violence. The Islamists inside the country have reached an apex of influence, but they have also reached their limitations. Zarqawi attempted to use biochemical agents two years ago to destabilize the regime – an attempt which failed and exposed Syria's deep role in jihad, since Zarqawi's men came through Syria.

Al-Qaeda believes that a majority of Jordanians are sympathetic to its views. In fact, the Islamists in Jordan make up about 18 percent of the population, and hence, the parliament. The majority of the fundamentalists are members of the Palestinian community in Jordan. They are still a minority, but their community is growing quickly, and the Islamists believe they will have a majority in the future. But the jihadists also believe they don't have to wait to achieve a numerical majority. Their points are based on regional considerations.

Jordan is an ally of the United States and is training Iraqi security forces. Once Iraq securely establishes a pluralistic, democratic nation capable of defending itself, Jordan's jihadist threat will be contained. Thus, al-Qaeda's strategists plotted to strike two birds with one stone: by destabilizing Jordan, they would deprive Iraq of its most serious regional ally. By destroying the Hashemites, the terrorists would serve the interests of the Wahhabis.

Hence al-Qaeda struck downtown Amman against tourist symbols, as it did in Bali. The jihadists expect to start a chain reaction: Jordan's economy dwindles, civil war erupts, its support for the War on Terror vanishes, its potential alliance with Iraq goes down in flames, and eventually an Islamic emirate or caliphate rear its head in the region. 

Al-Qaeda is living out a fantasy. Unfortunately, if we do not hold a tough line in Iraq, its fantasy could become Jordan's nightmare.

– Dr. Walid Phares is a Professor of Middle East Studies and Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He is the author of the forthcoming book Future Jihad