Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Moving on from Amman

I'm sitting in the old, converted stone building of my hostel in Jerusalem, temporary home to tons of disheveled and bearded travelers through the Holy Land.  A brief note will follow--

After I finished and presented my culminating research project for my program (an examination of the role of the student government at the University of Jordan in the context of regional revolution and national reform) our program went on a last excursion to East Jordan, did some final things, talked about re-entry into American, and then adjourned.

The next morning several of my friends and I flew to Beirut for three days.  Lebanon was incredible, especially after Jordan.  So green, so clean, everything so new (a result of fairly recent destruction of the city), everything so liberal.  With my hostel we toured a bit around Eastern Lebanon, saw the cedars, the ruins at Baalbak, Hezballah supporters and copious army checkpoints.

This morning we flew out of Beirut at 845, landed in Amman, hired a taxi to the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge and crossed the border into Israel/Palestine.  After hours of lines, questions, and various forms of semi-public transportation my group and I, now only 4, were walking through the winding Muslim quarter of the Old City to find our hostel with a rooftop view of the Temple Mount.  Jerusalem is amazing.  So old, so (to the naive visitor, perhaps this perception will change) integrated.  We walked by Eastern Orthodox priests, families of Hasidic Jews, and Arabs.  We saw the Western Wall, the Armenian and Jewish quarters, etc.  Tomorrow we're seeing the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, Holocaust Museum, and all the other Jerusalem sights.  The next day, maybe into the West Bank to see Bethlehem, Ramallah, and perhaps Al Lud, the town where my host-family in Amman is from.

After three nights here, we head back to Amman to catch a flight to Cairo and meet the rest of our friends for six nights in a rented apartment in the very safe and convenient neighborhood of Zamalek.  I will write more from there.

The Middle East is pretty cool, I would say.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

[Insert Osama/Obama Wordplay Here]

I got up this morning and Mohammed called out, 'Mabruk, man!' Congratulations.  He told me the news that is dominating headlines and conversation today.  But the question I'm getting from people back home (and people here as well, to be fair) is what people in Jordan are saying.

I'm gonna make this short.

From what I can understand, Jordanians haven't really decided what they should think yet.  By 'what they should think' I mean what they should think as Jordanians, as Arabs, as Muslims, as Palestinians, as people living in a part of the world that America didn't pay much attention to before September 11th.  On one hand, al Qaeda has done a lot of damage here.  The 2005 Amman Hotel Bombings in which 60-some people were killed and scores injured was orchestrated by al Qaeda.  Most of the casualties were Jordanian.  Only 4 of the people killed were American.  Jordan has a lot of reason to fear and hate al Qaeda as well.  On the other hand, most Jordanians disagree with the US government's position on a lot of things.  'I love the American people but I do not love the American government' is a phrase I have heard many times.  A powerful terrorist is dead, but it was the Americans that killed him.  That puts many Jordanians (and probably many Arabs) in a difficult position to respond.

My host brother Mohammed is who I've spoken the most about this with, and he seems to have a similar position to mine. Osama bin Laden is dead, but his ideology is not, Mohammed explains.  My other brother Omar chimes in: 'The prophet would not have approved of bin Laden's actions.  You aren't allowed to kill children, women, or sheikhs under any circumstances. But killing him doesn't solve the problem.'  The way forward lies through education and government action to dismantle this false picture of Islam that bin Laden has represented.  'The religious traditionalists lose power because of his death--this a good thing,' Mohammed says.  He tells me that overall in the Arab world the reaction is positive--it is only minorities that claim bin Laden as a martyr.

I agreed with my brothers on the takeaway points:  bin Laden's death is a step forward, maybe not one worthy of celebration, but still a step forward.  But there is a lot more to do.  The US needs to open further channels of communication with the Arab world, and not just with governments (whether popular ly elected or not).  The Arab governments need to do the same.  I have little doubt that Osama bin Laden and his actions are a main reason why I am here in Jordan right now, but it was America's negative perception of Islam and the Middle East that sprung from 9/11 that is the real thing that brought me here.

In terms of political consequences, I see two immediate and important results.  This is really good for Obama and his reelection, especially sine national security is an area where the Dems are usually seen as weaker.  However, Hamas' response is really bad.  They condemned the killing of bin Laden, describing him as a holy warrior. By taking this stance that breaks from the official position of I think any other Arab government, they are really harming the Fatah-Hamas split and the peace process with Israel.  By so directly siding with bin Laden, Hamas has does none nothing but aligned itself with more extremist, radical and minority views.

The situation is developing here, as it is in the US and the rest of the world.  But my host brother's response as a Palestinian-Jordanian who once thought positively about September 11 cannot be ignored. The enduring problem is one of false perceptions that can only be solved through further education and communication between the Arab world and the west.