Full Spectrum Jordan: A Day of Irony

(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
Today is International Genocide Prevention Day. While the international community is marking this event, Gaza is facing an ethnic cleansing. There is documented intent, there are multiple calls for elimination of Gaza by current and former Israeli officials, and there is the practice of calling on civilians to evacuate and then striking the evacuation routes. The mood in Arab states, specifically Jordan, has been one of mourning, anger, and frustration with protests, boycotts, and even canceled holiday festivities. اضافة اعلان

These weeks I have been troubled by some comments. ‘Westerners are discussing ‘rising radicalization’. Attention is now being redirected towards “radicalization” - why? Do they believe that organizations akin to ISIS and Al Qaeda will emerge again? Or is this an ‘easy way out’ to dismiss public discontent and criticism of Israeli and US policy? 

We need to be very careful with terminology and not stick the label of ‘radical’ on any and all positions, demonstrations, opinions which question the narratives from Tel Aviv, the White House, and Brussels. Having worked for years on preventing and countering radical extremism (along with many of you) I know these concepts have definitions, methods of detection, and strategies for prevention. But when the concepts get blurred because the word is used as an umbrella under which to gather all unwanted opinions, we destroy real work and make way for real threats.  

This is a day to denounce both the denials of past genocides and the justifications of current ones. It is also a day to remember the victims. As Secretary of State Blinken stated on this occasion in 2021: “Victims of these crimes are not merely numbers.  They are mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, family and community members, friends, neighbors, human beings.  Our hearts break for all victims, survivors, and families and loved ones affected by this brutal and heinous crime.”  (Conversely, Matthew Miller, State Department spokesperson on December 4, 2023: “I have not seen evidence of their [Israel’s] intention to kill civilians”).

To contribute to the goal of today I wish to clarify an issue. 

Three things you should know
1. The Takfiri vs the radical.Pundits and politicos often conflate the Angry Protesters with the Takfiri  often combined through the word ‘radical’. A single protest makes a person a protestor. What happens after two months? If the injustice remains the response should not be expected to go away. People engaged in long-term campaigns for Palestinian rights and safety cannot be measured as ‘radical’ on any scale. Normally we would ask, is X person or group moving out of our standard worldview, and thinking? In Jordan, on the issue of Palestine, the answer is no.  When we, Arabs and Muslims, use the word radical we imagine the Takfiri, more often associated with ISIS, HTS, Al Qaeda etc. This is the radicalization we fear, and the radicalization we mean. In the ongoing protests, Jordanians are not necessarily getting ‘radicalized’ or joining in with this line of thinking. 

The issue here is mass social pressure in defense of Gazan lives and land, carrying out lone wolf attacks, or targeting western interests out of anger. In fact, it is a little offensive to group the protestors up this way. These two “radicals” are very different and beckon different approaches. One of solidarity, organization, and mass action, and the other of violence. Yet the solidarity movements are painted as ‘concerning’ because of risks of radicalization. Why? The Indian Farmers Protest was 18 months long, the French ‘Yellow Vests’ was 15 months, and the Occupy Wall Street protest was two months. There was no rush of articles predicting a ‘Spring’ or a ‘risk of radicalization’. It is sloppy and inaccurate to paste this on the current mood in the Middle East.

2. Have Jordanians changed? Yes and no. There is no more ‘radical’ position in Jordan. There is more anger, as the protests show, there is more organization as the boycotts of certain franchises demonstrate. But in terms of opinion, Jordan has always supported a just solution to the Palestinian issue. The King and Foreign Minister Safadi have always been outspoken, firm, and determined in their calls for a two state solution, and dignity of life. Jordan’s support for Palestine is unwavering. If you look at Jordanian perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict you can clearly see it has fluctuated based on whichever current event. 

Jordan is not the country that changed, but Israel has changed. As I pointed out last week, the rise of the ‘settler state’ has outshone the ‘security state’ and actually shifted policy. Western states have also changed as older neoconservatives in power face masses of protesting youth in their own countries and risk losing in future elections. There is no doubt that Gaza can spark violence and that individuals already at risk may be driven to act. But that does not logically allow the broad painting of all protestors as ‘radical’. 

3. What we lose.
 There has been a lot of research and field work on radicalization done in Jordan (examples are herehere, and here). When ‘radicalisation’ is used to describe the public outrage - anger at the Biden administration, denouncing Israel breaking international law, despair at the high loss of life, instead of looking at how these actions are justified by the speakers (or by, you know, the facts), the sector loses. The staircase model explains a person’s shift towards radicalism through the steps and options a person faces. As the options become narrower and narrower the person is directed to an act of terrorism. This model, backed by substantive research, includes the context of material conditions of the individual, availability of ‘voice’, economic conditions, education, identity issues, and a feeling of ‘belonging’.  This is a well-studied area. A person does not watch the news, join a protest, boycott a coffeeshop and then become a radical. 

 We cannot claim anger at Netanyahu or Biden or the IDF is radicalization. We cannot dismiss the crowds singing songs about Hamas as radicals. Radicalization is a deeper process that should not be diluted for political purposes of the moment. We would spoil the years of research and work that went into actual PVE. We lose the battle against actual radicalization -the “takfiris” -  who also target our people and our communities. 

My Take:
Jordan has a very skeptical view of Western foreign policy (the war in Iraq, the Abraham Accords, the lack of support for Palestinian lives, etc.) while at the same time remaining a reliable ally of the West, stable base and market, and a safe home for all. Jordan has done this by both being open to cooperation with all, while standing by its own values. Being an ally does not mean caving to every trend of every partner.

But this idea of claiming that Jordanian anger on this issue is ‘risking radicalization’ is dangerous besides being naïve, and poor partnership in return. Please don’t turn an actual term about a real issue into a buzzword that delegitimizes a movement - a movement that has shifted consumer behavior, involved over two dozen political parties, multiple NGOs, several cities, thousands of citizens over two months, and in line with the rhetoric of His Majesty, the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Minister. 

There is the threat of takfiri recruitment. There is the threat of lone wolf attacks like the recent one in Egypt. These are real. The recruitment is a multi-step process.  It can be prevented, tracked, and combatted. The lone wolf attack is after the breaking down of an individual. Clogging up the system of preventing these two threats with breaking news and quick takes and hot takes and whatever else, prevents real questioning and actions.

Let me end with some requests. If a non-Jordanian friend starts talking about risks of radicalization from the current mood, please correct them. Let’s stop that conversation before it becomes a talking point for politicians. If you want to ask me about risks of radicalization, then define your terms and be technical. If you, non-Jordanians, ask your Jordanian friends and colleagues if they condemn Hamas, do not be surprised at the eye-rolling. It does not mean they are Hamas fans or acolytes. It is just that we are exhausted. It is a form of self-flagellation that we are expected to commit ourselves to, or else be called radicals. It is reminiscent of post-9/11 when the first interview question to Muslims would be, “Do you renounce violence?”

There is an irony that on International Genocide Prevention Day a mass movement warning of possible genocide is seen as a road to radicalization. 

Katrina Sammour was first published on Full Spectrum Jordan, a weekly newsletter on SubStack. 

Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Jordan News' point of view.

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