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Duke University

Publication Date

Fall 2005

Program Name

Jordan: Modernization and Social Change


The whole discourse of globalization has been revolutionized by the recent events within and without the Middle East. Within the space of two tragic 9/11’s – the massacre of the World Trade Centre in New York City on the eleventh of September, 2001, and the bombing of three Amman hotels on the ninth of November, 2005 – a reality still in its beginning stages of materialization has, consciously or unconsciously, descended upon the governments and people’s of both East and West. It is a realization that reflects the evolutionary nature of life on the planet as a whole, while also acknowledging the ultimate importance of mankind’s most basic unit: the individual. And it is perhaps the development of the individual that we need to examine in order to understand our collective life. Globalization in its political and economic manifestation has undoubtedly made it easier for us to conceptualize the interrelatedness of not only policy issues and standards throughout the world, but also the values, cultures, interests and beliefs of the billions that constitute our planet. What the injustice, tyranny and oppression that characterizes our world today points to is the understanding that not only are we passing the formative – or nation-building – period of our life, but that we are experiencing the peak of our adolescence, bright with the passions, desires, confusion and chaos that accompany this most essential era of life. While this metaphor itself adds little knowledge to the larger equation, it can prove insightful, and rather hopeful, in that it implies the approach of a stage of maturity or adulthood hardly expected amidst the recurring crises that afflict us day to day. In this examination of the roots of Islamic fundamentalism, we will trace the development of the Salafi Jihadi movement in Jordan and enquire as to how, through political, economic, cultural, religious, psychological and ideological factors – and almost always a strong mix of all – extremism has come to be an issue influencing and affecting all. Adjusting the rhetoric here is important. While the current approach to understanding violent Islamist groups provides insight on their structure, strategies and tactics, it does little to address the crucial issue of why and how they exist, nor does it answer the question of who, in fact, “they” are. While the discourse of jihadis is seemingly blunt and alien to us, the “free world” operates on similar, albeit opposing terms. Yes, this is a facing-off of ideologies, a “clash of civilizations”, but it is also a socio-economic crisis answered only by the best listener. The eventual victory of one, or consolidation of both, will ultimately be validated and confirmed by the masses purely because they constitute society itself. In the eyes of jihadis, and many others who sympathize with them, this battle is “fair game” and this is something that needs to be acknowledged by those who believe that liberal democracies are not only a human right but a human necessity. Ultimately, the aim of both sides is the establishment of a certain way of life, the existence of a social condition satisfactory to each respectively. If human lives are truly the concern, the only legitimate approach is one in which the conditions necessary to make such a decision exist in the perception of the beholder. Extremism, in any form, is not a security problem, it is a human one. It is understandable for people who are not familiar with the Middle East region and Arab culture in general – and this includes many Muslims who have lived all their lives in other countries - to see the development of Salafi Jihadism, and extremist networks in general, as some kind of crazed, sporadic phenomena of bitter, hateful people who have nothing better to do but destroy other people’s lives and countries. Having grown up in the West, I myself have been “normalized” by largely Christian-based Western liberal traditions. This normalization has established, however consciously or unconsciously, the social, political, religious and psychological values, trends and problems that I have grown up around, as basic to individual and social life. This fact became increasingly apparent during my half-year spent in Jordan. The question to ask here is “why?”. The basic reality surrounding this issue lies on two levels. The first is that the Arab experience in the greater Middle East has been entirely different from the experience of Europe and its subsequent colonial by-products (such as the United States, South Africa and Australia). Parallel to this, the second level represents a truth that we sometimes find hard to recall or acknowledge during times of crisis or affliction: the members of radical groups are also human beings and therefore influenced by religious and political ideologies, social trends and powerful individuals; all of which are strong characteristics of both ancient and contemporary European societies. In this vein, it must be acknowledged that they, like all other people in the world, have feelings of ambition, love (for their families, colleagues and more generally those that share similar beliefs and goals), hate (for those that they feel have intruded or threatened their lives and societies), and suffer from human weaknesses, psychological and social difficulties, as well as issues of individual and group identity, among many others. All the issues mentioned above have been deeply elaborated on by scholarship throughout the ages and in all regions of the world. That they need to be addressed collectively is a trend that has been compelled precisely by collective human experience and the “shrinking” of the world as a whole, the realization of which was a feature of the turn of the millennium. In our retreat from the “trap” of Orientalism, we from the West have deliberately, albeit benevolently, moved away from the cultural discourse we find so hard to sensitively and wisely address; and in so doing have reallocated it to a more familiar domain of institutional battles, of international political interests and an even subtler, but perhaps stronger, “Us” vs. “Them” paradigm. As the current conflict is based essentially between [Jihadi] Muslims and Western powers, our failure in this sense has been the negligence of still fundamental cultural gaps that exist between “our” societies and “theirs”. It is my hope that this paper will, at least partly, fill in some of those gaps that hinder us from holistically approaching and talking about the issue of extremism. The analytical part of this document covers the development of Salafi thought as separate from the Salafi Jihadis themselves, tracing the roots of their thought through major figures influencing their ideological discourse. Following it is a developmental examination of the movement itself, covering their ideology, political thought, recruitment process, and historical roots, touching finally on the influence of major Jordanian figures on the movement in Iraq, the main arena of their current operations.


Political Science | Religion | Social Psychology and Interaction



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