The film ”Lion of the Desert,” showing the life and struggle of Libyan nationalist Omar Al Mukhtar, was one of the few to be praised by Islamist groups. They promoted it and allowed it to be screened but only after the original soundtrack was replaced with the sounds of jihadi slogans and deleted the already few scenes featuring women.
Its international renowned director, the Syrian Moustapha Akkad was killed along with his daughter in the suicide attack on a hotel in Amman last week. Perhaps the murderers had seen the film in its Islamic version or was sent to his death by someone who had watched it. This is evidence of cruelty within the Muslim community and the impossibility of peaceful expression of opinion.
My intention is not to discuss the life of the late Moustapha Akkad who I was fortunate enough to meet and speak to a few times. Our encounters left me with the impression that the man was a nationalist at heart, a Nasserite whose main concern was to resist the west and realize Arab unity. Conversely, combating the cultural crisis sweeping through the Arab and Muslim worlds with extremism at its helm was not one of his priorities.
Jordan is a country proud of its stability and its security. On a visit to Amman a few weeks ago, I myself sensed the feeling of confidence despite there being no obvious security measures despite the Hashemite Kingdom being at forefront of the confrontation with al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, and in close proximity to the powder kegs in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. After Jordan’s own 9-11, the hitherto hidden conflict with Islamic extremism has become an outright war!
Abu Musab al Zarqawi has tried to target Jordan several times in the past. Hardly a week passes by without his supporters being tried, suspected of being involved in terrorist activities, according to the judge who heads the state security court. When I attended some of these sessions, I was appalled by the obstinacy and evil these young men displayed as they shouted threats and religious condemnations from behind their metal cages in the courtroom.
Is it true to claim that terrorists in Jordan are a small group and an exception to the rule, as many have emphasized? Yes, and No! There might be only few in numbers but no one can deny the support, sometimes hidden, they enjoy and which King Abdullah II denounced in his first speech after the triple hotel bombings.
Let us be honest with ourselves… the Jordanian street has traditionally backed the resistance movements. It is also acted as fertile ground for conspiracy theories such as during the days of the Syrian Baath Party and the Salah Jadid regime, the Palestinian groups and Black September, and the Second Gulf War when Jordan supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. In more recent times, the people of Jordan have backed al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, with the former seen by many as the mujahid (fighter) who humiliated the American crusaders in Iraq. One of his supporters told me al Zarqawi was “the true Muslim revivalist of this age”. Other non-fundamentalist who sympathise with his actions accuse the US of denigrating his image and falsely holding them responsible for all the troubles in Iraq. A lawyer acting on his behalf said to me the head of al Qaeda in Iraq was, in fact, “a sincere and honest muhajid”.
Having visited Amman a few weeks ago, I could have been one of the victims of the suicide attacks. As I watched images of death and destruction, I recalled the popular Arab saying, ”warning us from hating something which might prove positive…” Of course, nothing can compensate the loss of a son or a father. Rather, the shockwaves caused by the triple bombings might awaken Jordanians and rid them of their illusions, especially those that are ready to forgive any act as long as it is against the US and the west and refuse to heed our warning that the fires of extremism do not distinguish between east and west.
This malaise is not restricted to Jordan. Indeed, the majority of Arab countries are suffering from this ill, in different degrees. A love of extremism, violence and destruction, xenophobia and suspicion are rife in Arab societies.
According to a public opinion poll conducted by Zogby International, in cooperation with the Arab Business Council, in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, whose findings were published in this newspaper, the majority of those surveyed preferred to apply Islamic Sharia (law) in business matters, except in Lebanon where the vast majority of respondents rejected this idea. In Saudi Arabia, 82% of those who took part in the survey supported calls to apply Sharia Law in business.
The survey contains more surprising information concerning the opinions of Arab citizens on education reform and whether they trust Islamists to apply democracy once in power.
Interestingly, 82% of those polled in Saudi Arabia called for the application of Islamic Sharia, as if the Kingdom was not the country that most followed the fatwas (religious edicts) of men of religion in the Arab world! Still, it seems some want even more!
What does this imply? Does this choice reflect a genuine concern or is it part and parcel of an identity crisis and the need to use any thing to isolate oneself further?
The crisis is not one of politics, economy or society but of identity. The presence of large numbers of individuals who support al Zarqawi or defend him, until the Amman bombings, and the increasing extremism in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere promote fundamentalism and isolation. There seems to be no light at the end of this tunnel… so far.