The Arab street speaks
The well-known "Arab street" has spoken recently, and it seems to be angry at al-Zarqawi .
The hotel bombings have outraged Jordanians, apparently even some who ordinarily don't support the king's Western ways:
The Amman protest was organized by Jordan's 14 professional and trade unions, made up of both hard-line Islamic groups and leftist political organizations, traditional critics of the king's moderate, pro-Western policies...
Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba has noticed, also:
the attack should alert Jordan that it needed to stop hosting former members of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"I hope that these attacks will wake up the 'Jordanian street' to end their sympathy with Saddam's remnants ... who exploit the freedom in this country to have a safe shelter to plot their criminal acts against Iraqis."
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi agrees, stating:
she did not believe al-Qaeda "or any of these violent extremists have had support among mainstream Arab opinion at all. Now they are making sure they are turning everyone against them."
Can we believe it? Here's evidence to bolster Ashrawi's claims:
Braizat said in an opinion poll conducted last year by his office, 67 percent of Jordanian adult respondents had considered al Qaeda in Iraq "a legitimate resistance organization." That attitude may be changing, he said Friday, explaining that he had spoken since the attacks to 10 survey participants who held favorable views of al Qaeda; nine of them had changed their minds.
It seems difficult--perhaps impossible--for Jordanians to excuse this as an insurgency or a nationalist movement fighting against an evil occupation. Since Al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian, this feels like a case of fratricide:
"Oh my God, oh my God. Is it possible that Arabs are killing Arabs, Muslims killing Muslims? For what did they do that?" screamed 35-year-old Najah Akhras, who lost two nieces in the attack. Similar thoughts were heard over and over throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Until now Najah Akhras had somehow avoided knowing that yes, Arabs kill Arabs, Muslims kill Muslims--although how, after watching the Iraq-Iran war, or seeing what is happening these days in Iraq, or even learning the Black September history of Jordan itself, I don't really know. Perhaps when reality is just too horrific, the mind closes down and denies--until the horror comes home in a way that no longer can be denied.
One wonders why al-Zarqawi didn't heed his far more strategic mentor, al-Zawaheri, who cautioned him about the negative PR fallout from this sort of thing. And why, oh why, did Zarqawi actually claim this as his own act, rather than letting people blame it on the Jews or the Americans, as many in the Arab world did 9/11? My guess is that Zarqawi just doesn't care; his focus is on proving that he's badder than old King Kong, and meaner than a junkyard dog.
Lest you think I'm being frivolous by quoting Jim Croce--that's not my intent. I am simply noting that although Zarqawi has political/Islamicist motives, his actions here don't seem to be strategic at all. In fact, they seem counterproductive (as Zawaheri understood), and more in the realm of psychological pathology writ large: that is, he is a psychopath on a world stage.
The details of Zarqawi's criminal past:
He spent his time scrapping and playing football in Zarqa's dusty streets and surprised no one by dropping out of school aged 17.
He drifted into casual crime as an enforcer and general-purpose thug. At some time, he was imprisoned for sexual assault. On the streets, he learned the art of violence. It was a lesson he used to dramatic effect when he hacked off the head of American engineer Nick Berg in the first "snuff video" to emerge from Iraq.
Indeed, much of his violence has a street crime feel to it. It is brutal, direct, unflinching and unthinking. Not for Zarqawi the press interviews with Westerners that bin Laden once gave. Not for Zarqawi the pampered Saudi childhood. Not for Zarqawi the meandering meditations on Islamic theory as a justification for murder. If Zarqawi and his network are eclipsing bin Laden and al-Qaeda, as some terrorist experts believe, then it is a form of terrorism that betrays its roots in Zarqa's brutish underworld, not some austere Arabian seminary.
Jordan has reason to regret its previous leniency towards its spawn Zarqawi. He was imprisoned there for plotting to replace the monarchy with an Islamic state, but was inexplicably released in 1997 after serving only five years in prison.
NOTE: I wrote most of this post last night, intending to finish it today. But this morning, when I checked out the NY Times, I wondered whether I'd spoken too soon about this being a case in which the Israelis weren't being blamed. Take a look at this front-page article headlined: "Many in Jordan see old enemy in attack: Israel," which describes blaming the same-old same-old scapegoat.
However, it's impossible to know from the Times article how many this "many" refers to. As is so often the case these days, the Times sees no need to quantify it. That there are such people in Jordan and elsewhere I have no doubt, but that news is only useful if we know how extensive the belief is, and the Times offers no help with that.
However, the Times does offer some rather insightful remarks on the "blame Israel first" crowd from several Arab scholars and pundits who seem to have thought some of this through:
Whatever the cause, the result is the same: "In the first place, people don't even recognize the reality around them," said Muhammad el-Sayed Said, a political analyst at the government-financed Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Egypt. "Secondly, they continue to overlook and ignore the problem without supporting a consistent anti-terrorism campaign, which the government might be seeking."
Dawoud al-Shoryan, a prominent writer and journalist from Saudi Arabia, says he is not convinced that those who blame Israel really believe it. But, he added, many people are deeply angry at United States policy in the region, including its occupation of Iraq, and blaming Israel is a way of conferring some degree of legitimacy on a crime that would be considered unspeakable if committed by a Muslim.
"They try to hide the hideous face of terrorism by hanging it on the United States and Israel," he said. "Shifting the accusation is nothing but a subconscious attempt to justify the act."
Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, it seems.
So, which point of view will win out? My guess is that, whatever the Times says, the Jordan hotel bombings have cut into some of that denial, and that quite a few Jordanians were mugged by the tragic and horrific reality of 11/9.