Jordan: A country mourning in solidarity for Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh

Published February 4th, 2015 - 10:04 GMT

Muath al-Kasasbeh’s capture on Christmas Eve brought home to Jordanians the reality of their army’s involvement in the US-led coalition after his fighter jet crashed in the Daesh stronghold of Raqqa.

The images of Muath, a young recently married Muslim, being carried out of the water back in December shook the kingdom, forcing Jordanians to become emotionally involved with both Daesh and the government’s foreign policy in a way they hadn’t been previously.

Some hope did remain that Muath would be freed, given an offer from the Jordanian government of a prisoner exchange with would-be bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, who was arrested in 2005 after her suicide vest failed to detonate in a joint attack with her husband that killed 60 people in Amman.

Jordanians were unaware that Muath had already been savagely murdered a month before. It was clear to Daesh all along; there was no pilot with whom to swap Rashawi.

With his death, Jordanians are understandably angered, horrified and shocked. The manner in which he was executed was symbolic. Muath was paraded before Daesh militants first and then led to a cage where he was eventually engulfed in flames.

There isn’t any need to see the photos or watch the video to imagine this unbearable scene - a new method for Daesh, and one that is ironically prohibited in the practice of Islam, as it is completely haram.

This new method should be considered a failure for the organizations propaganda strategy for attracting new Muslim recruits. Muslims worldwide condemned the heinous act, viewing Daesh as trying to tarnish the peaceful image of Islam.

A local taxi driver I chatted with last night did not hide his revulsion for Daesh's crime or his sadness. As always when I speak with Jordanians about Daesh, he reminded me: “Daesh does not represent my religion. This is not Islam.”

What next?

Jordan is now considering its options. The King has promised an “earth shattering” response to Muath’s death. Strong words, and the exact reaction wanted by locals. He cut short his visit to the US, wanting to demonstrate leadership and unity with his people. The swift retaliation with the hangings of Rishawi and another militant will serve some kind of temporary justice for the Jordanian people, but it doesn’t answer any questions about Jordan’s future involvement in the war against Daesh.

Tough decisions remain and a rocky path no doubt lies ahead for the country’s leadership. Protesters in Amman and Muath’s hometown of Karak are calling for Jordan to pull out and unsurprisingly, many are ashamed, believing their country’s reputation is being smeared with western values by fighting a war that isn’t their own.

While wanting to please his allies and project unity with coalition partners, King Abdullah also has to appease the Jordanian people. So far he said that Muath’s death will unite Jordanians. In many ways he’s right.

Protesters came out in their hundreds in support of Muath, social media was flooded with messages of condolences for those close to the pilot. Some messages also called for Daesh prisoners to suffer the same agonising fate that Muath had to endure.

The government will not escape the anger that is boiling among the public members and will have to carefully calculate its next steps. The King will be pulled in two directions: On one side there will be calls for him to relinquish Jordan’s role as an Arab partner in the coalition, while simultaneously there will be demands for him to deliver a strong message to any terrorists that Jordan will not tolerate the killing and humiliation of its citizens.

It’s unlikely that Jordan will pull out. It won’t want to be seen as giving in to a terrorist group. Jordan has been placed in unfortunate position, meaning it is too heavily reliant on the US and the West.

Remaining a close ally to the US might not be the preferable choice for some politicians and citizens, but it’s one that is guaranteeing aid, security and intelligence assistance. US aid to Jordan reached $1 billion last year - with much of this going to fight the war against terrorists in Iraq and Syria. But while this might be funding ‘moderate’ rebels, it is arguably also fuelling further sectarian violence in conflicts that Jordan is getting drawn into.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has its own internal problems with extremism, although well-contained so far, and will have to be carefully watched. A surge in Syrian refugees, rising unemployment and increasing prices in some areas all start to suffocate any ideas of human rights and tolerance. Often, the Jordan is seen as a voice of modernity and a beacon of at least partial democracy.

There has been limited response to Jordan’s decision to hang extremist prisoners this morning. It was only in December that the country re-introduced the death penalty following an eight-year moratorium. While international criticism of the death penalty flutters into the debate of how to deal with Islamic extremists, the mood of the nation speaks volumes in support of killing anyone related to Daesh.

By Catherine Ellis

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