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.

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