Thursday, June 15, 2006

Zarqawi and Jordan

I've been too busy to post recently, coming back to a trip from Egypt and a week of catching up on work and preparing a presenation for a conference. So much has been happening that I actually have too much to say. But in the next couple of days I'll start to dump some thoughts here and see what they look like.

I'll start with the death of Zarqawi.

For some reason I have a hard time celebrating the violent killing of anyone, even someone as wretched as Zarqawi. I'm not a pacifist, and understand that police, armies and violence are sometimes necessary for good people to survive, but I can't help but see killing, even of the worst criminal, as a fundamental failure of humanity.

That being said, it seems the killing of Zarqawi is going to set back his organization for the next few weeks, but they will doubtless rebound and continue their ruthless and brutal murders of innocent people and their stoking of sectarian conflict.

But like Lina, I'm somewhat pensive about the killing of Zarqawi. In the days after his death, I felt a bit of extra tension in the streets here in Amman. I can't point to any particular act or event, but I just felt some people were looking at me differently, behaving towards me with a deeply repressed anger.

I don't usually feel this in Jordan, and didn't expect it. It started off "what the hell is wrong with people today" kind of feeling. And I didn't feel it was directed against me particularly, but just a kind of pent up political resentment. But I felt a difference. I think a lot of people, even those who didn't support Zarqawi, still saw him as a symbol of resistence to American misbehavior in the Arab world, and don't see his death as something positive.

I wonder if the government here isn't becoming somewhat tone-deaf to it's own people as it continues to tailor its image for the sake of Western audiences.

I've been suprised at how much the Jordanian government is boasting of it's role in Zarqawi's death. I don't think most Jordanians really want to see Jordan cooperating to this degree with the United States in Iraq. The Jordanian military may want to. I was suprised once by some of the Jordanian Special Operations troops gave me two thumbs up for Blackwater, a company known in Iraq, even among other special ops people and regular American forces, as the scum at the bottom of the barrel. They are alleged to be involved in some of the worst abuses of Iraqis. Here's a little taster of what they got away with in New Orleans. Imagine what they are doing abroad.

But Zarqawi's death and the recent crackdown on vocal critics of the government is coming on top of some pretty tough neo-liberal economic reforms that are really hurting a lot of poor people. The influx of foriegn capital, especially in real estate, has also added to rapidly rising cost of living, reported at over 8% for the first half of the year. Despite Oprah showed, Jordan is a poor country, and not everybody's refrigerator is stocked to the gills. People here do eat manseef more than they eat McDonalds.

The Jordanian goverment has also reportedly started giving greater support to Fateh, to counterbalance the influence of Hamas among segments of Jordan's Palestinian population. If true, this kind of divide-and-rule strategy cannot be good for Jordan in the long-term. At the end of the day, the government is dividing its own people, leaving the country a little less stable and a little less secure. Jordan's stability is based on a finely tuned balancing act which is getting harder to maintain. Pitting it's own people against each other in this way cannot be good for the country. It also just sent a shipment of weapons to Abu Mazen's Force 17 in the Palestinian Territories. If Jordan doesn't want Palestinians interfering in its internal affairs, maybe it's best they didn't interfer too much in Palestinian internal affairs.

Which leads me to start feeling pensive about where things are going in Jordan right now. The government's response to the public reaction to Zarqawi's death has been a bit heavy handed, including detentions and intimidation of journalists and opposition figures. Granted some censure of the Islamic Action Front and others is perhaps warrented, but the government appears to be using the killing of Zarqawi as an opportunity to crack down on extremist and moderate Islamists alike.

With the combination of heavy-handedness, the close cooperation with the US in policies people here oppose, the huge gap between the few rich and the many poor, and the continuinig economic reforms that are squeezing the average person, I have to wonder where things are going, and what people are going to be thinking and feeling a year from now.

Call it intuition or a gut feeling, but I'm feeling a shift in the Jordanian private mood. Publically things may still seem fine, but privately, among the people who don't write in the newspaper columns or meet for cold drinks in Amman's tony salons, things are getting really tough.

Maybe all this will be a flash in the pan, a spike in resentment and then a return to the same old coping mechanisms that every body employs here to try to cope with what's happening in the Palestinian Territories and Iraq, and the inability to do anything about it. But I feel the heat has risen a couple of extra ticks since Zarqawi's death.


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