No Half Measures on Jihadist Radicalism

Last year’s Karak Castle terrorist attack, which claimed the lives of nine policemen and one Canadian tourist, reminded us that the threat of the jihadist homegrown radical extremism has become a fixture of our lives and will be for some time to come.

Not since the horrific Amman hotel bombings of 2005 that the public felt the war against these outlaws was now too close for comfort. Moreover, what was especially disturbing was that the overwhelming majority of assailants in the Karak incident and others that took place in 2016 were Jordanians.

We’re only now coming to grips with the fact that we have a real problem with youth radicalization, which won’t be solved through boosting security measures alone.

Those who are interested in a thorough analysis of this phenomenon should read the excellent study entitled Counterterrorism and Youth Radicalization in Jordan: Social and Political Dimensions, written by Katrina Sammour and Sean Yom and published last April.

While the idealistic ideological drives, so-called pull factors, behind religious radicalization are much easier to pinpoint and in many ways have become universally shared, it is the combination of social, cultural, economic and political dynamics that could be peculiar to individual countries that need further investigation.

Daesh is now on the defensive in Iraq and Syria and could well be defeated by the end of this year. But what has been called the fourth wave of religious radicalization could still be in the embryonic stage.

The government says that it had adopted a strategy to combat youth radicalization. But what we have seen so far is a series of timid and shortsighted solutions that barely scratch the surface. Controversial and cosmetic alterations to school curricula and a unified Friday sermon imposed by the Ministry of Awqaf will not do the job. A much more courageous approach to this social menace is needed.

Worsening socio-economic conditions provide the incubator for the young and disenfranchised to become radicalized. A dysfunctional education system produces generations of ill-equipped youth to think independently and resist radical dogma. The absence of an egalitarian structure drives young people to despair and make them easy to recruit by jihadists. The failure of state institutions to perform alienates people whose belief in a civic society is degraded. And the prevalence of supplementary identities at the expense of a national all-uniting identity—a sign of a weakening central state—undermines a concept of citizenship and a belief in the legitimacy of the state itself.

It’s a lot to digest. But we have to confront the various aberrations in our society that together provide the right environment for youth radicalization. Talk about a moderate and centrist Islam that has been hijacked by a few disturbed and ignorant outlaws is not enough. Attempting to introduce superficial changes to school curricula will not do. Enforcing a unified Friday sermon by an Awqaf bureaucrat will have little effect on society. Those who seek radical indoctrination will find a way whether online or through meetings in secret locations. The Salafi jihadi dogma will not be defeated that way. To reverse decades of slow and consistent degeneration of moderate religious beliefs, society as a whole must witness massive transformation. Such change will not happen overnight. It will take many years for a new generation of Jordanians to adopt wholeheartedly a more tolerant, inclusive, and open approach to others.

For that to happen we must first provide the political will at the highest level possible. The march towards a more democratic and egalitarian society must not be interrupted. It has to be a cornerstone of Jordan’s social, economic, and political strategy. It must overcome all sorts of obstacles. It must be clear in its objectives and it must be convincing enough for all citizens to embrace. The endgame must promise a sort of renaissance that unleashes an unprecedented freedom of thought and intellectual discourse.

Despite its immediate challenges, Jordan is an ideal candidate for such resurgence. It has an enlightened and courageous leadership and a buoyant, albeit threatened, middle class. Unleashing a new and vibrant start for this society is possible and doable.

What we should avoid is sinking into a state of cynicism and disbelief. Democracy can still lead us to a safe harbor. We have seen other societies defeat fascism and radicalism through the ballot box. We should believe that radicalism is the exception and not the norm and that eventually a centrist course is the only way forward.