Any process of change requires a strategic plan with clear visions, objectives and an action plan. When it comes to sensitive issues like cultural change and de-radicalization the process must also include insights into the latent and hidden risks not just the obvious ones.
The issues of protecting pluralism, rights of individuals, and above all the liberty of citizens are becoming increasingly concerning in Jordan. Recently, we have seen several incidents that demonstrate a lack of any progressive vision to protect pluralism, diversity or even personal liberties. These situations require a prompt and decisive intervention from the state.
In Jordan recently, there is a growing trend of protests on social media guided by some groups to impose their thoughts on others. Some of the campaigns that have been run, and won include banning concerts and movies as well as condemning particular people. The idea of organized campaigns is not the issue here, the real problem is that the government is blackmailed by these vocal minorities and enacts their wishes, over the wishes of the majority.
We have also seen incidents reported recently where the police have punished those who are not fasting during Ramadan, regardless of their situation. It is greatly concerning that anyone, let alone our police believe that “divine law” overrules the law of the state. It is a real problem for our society that our police believe that they can enforce religious law according to their interpretation of it. We are a society where the laws of the state, as enforced by the police and upheld by the judiciary are the only laws that apply to all.
This is a national security issue and it serves as a reminder of the tragic assassination of the Jordanian writer Nahed Hattar last year. These groups do not represent all Jordanians. They are a vocal minority, and our silence creates the impression that they are representative of the majority.
The government should be the protector of the people’s rights and liberties. Unfortunately we are seeing incidents where the government and its representatives did not demonstrate an understanding of the importance of protecting pluralism. On some occasions, the government’s actions suggested they do not even understand the issue of radicalization. This is dangerous for our society, both for our culture and security.
We can go back to Zarqa in 1993, a town famous for its many cinemas was subject to a terrorist attack planned by Zarqawi. The government response focused on security and they arrested the terrorists. There was no plan or response to protect the cultural movement by building more cinemas or declaring they were safe. Today, there are no cinemas in Zarqa. The terrorists have clearly achieved their goal in this town. We must maintain physical security, but we must also dearly protect our culture, our rights, our very way of life.
While the role of the state and its laws is to protect diversity and personal liberties, it must also prevent the exploitation of religion and the reinterpretation of history and traditions by certain groups to suit their own ideology and brainwash their followers. This can only be achieved with a clear understanding of the nature of change, long-term vision, political determination and actions everyday, day after day. If any of these elements are missing then the process of change or even protecting the current status quo will not be possible.
The roots of the tension between Qatar and other GCC countries go back several years to the Arab Spring. During this time, the GCC countries felt that Qatar was playing an active role in feeding the discontent, and the dispute was resolved with the transition of power of the Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to his son Tamim in 2013. As part of this transition, Qatar provided assurances of a shift in the role they played in the region.
The following year, the Gulf countries were not content with the progress and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain all withdrew their ambassadors from Doha and called for similar sanctions that have been applied this week, including the cutting of diplomatic ties and closing all land, sea and air borders with the Gulf states.
The events of this week are the culmination of these tensions that have been playing out over the last four years. Qatar is accused of supporting extremism, which they have not made any effort to counter. In fact, Doha has undertaken aggressive media campaigns against Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia through the wide network of media outlets that they sponsor.
The issues with Qatar span the Arab world, as the impacts are felt across the region. The main players have tried over several years to promote change in Qatar, to no end. While it may appear reactionary, this process has been playing out for many years, and Qatar has not sufficiently responded to ease the tensions or address the concerns of their Arab neighbors.
This process of isolating Qatar is part of a systematic plan that is likely to attract international support. The move comes immediately following President Trump’s visit to Riyadh where he called for an Islamic coalition to fight terrorism and radicalism.
These developments place much greater pressure on Qatar to shift its policies and actions. The promises of the past are no longer going to be enough, and Qatar will need to provide concrete actions in order to avoid further complications for its relationships within the region and internationally, which will fundamentally impact on its economy.
From a Jordanian prospective, Jordan is fully aware of the current situation and recognize that it is no longer a Gulf conflict, but one that impacts all Arabs. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt are key strategic allies for Jordan, so it was very logic for Jordan to consider a supportive position on this issue.
To win over radicalism, it is important not to forget that this battle is much deeper than a social media campaign or the promotion of certain rhetoric and narratives. It is also important to understand the psychology of these groups and how their leaders enjoy such widespread support.
In his book Black Flags “The Rise of Isis” Joby Warrick tackles the life of Al Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist who gained international notoriety and laid the foundations for ISIS. It is interesting to consider how these terrorists are viewed amongst different groups. Despite being a violent terrorist and an enemy of the state, many still see him as a hero.
Promoting the narrative that the state is an enemy of its own citizens fuels feelings of hate towards the state, its institutions and representatives. Al Zarqawi was seen as a strong leader amongst his followers, partly because of his strong positions against the states and its representatives, and was seen as a protector of his followers; “Despite his harsh manner, he won admirers because of his fearless defiance of prison authority.”
This arouses further inquiry around the underlying reasons for terrorists being seen as heroes. These groups enjoy impassioned solidarity amongst its members, as the group provides elements to their lives that general society has not. When states fail to uphold social justice and national identity, people can often seek these comforts elsewhere.
Fostering a sense of brotherhood can replace the failures of integration in society. These groups tap into feelings of exclusion, oppression, humiliation and the violation of human dignity. According to the book, Zarqawi appeared to be caring and a defender of his fellows, he presented himself as someone who stood for their rights and to protect their dignity. In one story, he appeared to fight for an ill man named Jahaline not just to receive the proper medication but also respect.
This extract is an illustrative example of the role that Zarqawi played for his followers: “One evening, while Sabha (the doctor) was visiting the cell, Jahaline suffered one of his occasional meltdowns, a screaming fit that usually required treatment with antipsychotic drugs. Sabha grabbed a syringe and was preparing to administer the shot when Zarqawi stepped forward to block him. Without a word, Zarqawi took a blanket from one of the beds and draped it over Jahaline’s lower body. He held the blanket in place with one hand, and with another tugged at the elastic waistband of the disabled man’s trousers, exposing him narrow crescent of skin. Then he motioned to the doctor. “Just make sure it’s in the right spot,” he commanded. When it was done and Jahaline was resting quietly, Sabha looked up to find Zarqawi watching him with a look of satisfaction.”
The point is that in our de-radicalization and anti terrorism strategies, we must consider how these groups work, on the psychology of the people involved. Being an outlaw has always had an attraction for certain people, and outlaw groups have for centuries leveraged the sense of protecting members from social injustice and failures of the state. Robin Hood, the hero that we all admire was in reality an outlaw. But in the story he is only an outlaw because of injustice in the system, so the people saw him as a hero fighting for their rights.
To be effective in de-radicalization, there should be also process of imposing justice, protecting human dignity, giving people the chance to live a better life and participate in building their future.