What’s in a jihad?


There is a fine line between jihadist and freedom fighter. In Jordan, we call it “the national border”.


Munir Atalla
29 October 2012

Last week, three jihadists fleeing the Syrian city of Daraa were caught by Jordanian authorities.  The three Jordanian nationals were fighting the Assad regime, which has been condemned by the Jordanian Government.  In arresting these men, the government of Jordan has made it clear that the difference between a noble freedom fighter and a dangerous jihadist is the Jordanian border.  Again – and this is starting to look like a theme - Jordan is conflicted.  Does it hold true to its Saudi and American allies and allow arms to be pumped into Syrian rebel groups, or does Jordan crack down on rebels who are looking to the young kingdom for a stronghold? 

So far, flashbacks to past struggles with the PLO have meant 22 alleged jihadists arrested at the border.  In the past months, the Monarchy has doubled border security in fear of a spillover that could take a heavy toll on the small Jordanian nation.  The compromise is this: Jordan will open its doors to women and children -those who now make up the majority of the makeshift camps that now litter the north - and arrest anyone trying to cross the border with arms.  The government is making it known that arms and Islamists will only be flowing one-way across the Jordanian border: out.  Still, arming militants for momentary gains is a strategy that has not served the west well (see the mujahedeen, Afghanistan).

As if on cue, last week a terror plot was foiled.  The planned bombings targeted a Jordanian neighborhood known for demographic diplomat density.  Eleven were jailed, and ties were confirmed between the suspects, Al-Qaeda, and smuggled arms from Syria.  Jordan needs to stay on America’s good side, but must also be careful that their western sugar daddy isn’t throwing them under the bus by fostering unhealthy sectarian violence in their backyard. 

Foiled plots always elicit mixed reactions.  On one hand, it is a testament to the prowess of the Jordanian secret police.  On the other hand, it is a rude awakening for those Jordanians who have gotten used to the mantra that Jordan is the one stable safe haven in the Levant.  Either way, it is a somber lesson to the public, many of whom are only now realizing how close to home the war is that is taking place.  Meanwhile, the jihadists claim that they pose no threat to Jordan, and are looking only to liberate their Syrian brothers.  Jordan took the opportunity to get rid of some of its more hardline Islamists, but is now inevitably dealing with the repercussions.  In nearby Beirut, a car bomb assassination in the middle of Achrafiyeh - downtown Beirut - signalled the first tangible spillover of violence from Syria into a neighbouring country.  The Jordanian government is taking every precaution to make sure that they are not next.

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