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Middle East: RFE/RL Expert On Spread Of Iraq Violence To Jordan

Joyce Davis (RFE/RL) Prague, 11 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Jordanians are mourning the victims of the 9 November suicide attacks on three Amman hotels -- attacks that killed 57 people. The Al-Qaeda group in Iraq led by Jordanian militant Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for the bombings, although the authenticity of that claim has not been verified. There are reasons to suspect that al-Zarqawi's group is deliberately trying to spread violence in Iraq to Jordan and other parts of the Middle East. We examine why in this interview with Joyce Davis, an expert on the Middle East and associate director of broadcasting at RFE/RL. Davis is the author of the books "Martyrs: Innocence, Vengeance and Despair in the Middle East" (2004) and "Between Jihad and Salaam" (1998).

RFE/RL: Is there an impact from violence in Iraq upon Jordan and other parts of the Middle East?

Joyce Davis: We know that Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attack in Jordan. And we know that Al-Qaeda is very much involved, or some of its emissaries are very much involved, in the violence in Iraq. We know that it has expressly stated that it will attack those countries that are supportive of the U.S. efforts in Iraq. Jordan has been supportive of that, so it is logical then to assume that this is a retribution against Jordan for its support of the United States especially with regard to Iraq.

RFE/RL: Would it be fair to say this is the largest spillover of violence from Iraq that we have seen to date?

Davis: I think in the region this certainly would be the largest and the bloodiest. It clearly bears all the signs of an Al-Qaeda attack, because it was well orchestrated; it's a multiple attack, they like to do things in threes and with explosions coming only a few minutes or seconds after each other. So it bears all the markings of an Al-Qaeda attack, it bears all the markings of an attack that has a symbol, the symbolic attack on Western or American hotels, interests that are clearly associated with the United States and its allies. So it bears all the signs of something directed at the United States and those who are supportive of the United States.

RFE/RL: Al-Qaeda often speaks in religious terms of attacking the West but also Western-leaning 'despots' and 'unbelievers' in the Middle East. To what extent is the violence a sign of a deeper ideological war within Islam itself?

Davis: That's a very good question. Number one, we should keep in mind that while Al-Qaeda and the Islamic militants absolutely despise and hate the West -- the United States particularly because they believe it is exploiting the resources of the region and dominating the region -- they also despise what they see as rulers and despots, who they believe are not living or not ruling within the bounds of Islamic teachings.

Now, this is strange because the Hussein family, of which the current [Jordanian] king, Abdullah, is the descendant, they consider themselves descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. This in the past has given a kind of coverage or protection to the ruling family in Jordan. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. It seems that they will attack even those people who have some Islamic credentials. This is really taking it a step beyond, and I think maybe taking it too far.
We are very much seeing a battle, a civil war, within Islam. We are very much seeing those people who proclaim themselves to be jihadis fighting those who see Islam as a religion of peace and one that should be in cooperative ventures with people around the world.

We do see that these Muslim militants have no problem declaring someone to be an infidel or an apostate, which is even worse, and we have to realize that once you are declared an apostate, at least to those who consider themselves jihadis, this means that the taking of your life is lawful. Attacks upon you or your family are lawful.

RFE/RL: Is this a struggle for the future of Islam, and the future of the region?

Davis: You know, it sometimes has been called the struggle for the soul of Islam. I do believe we are very much seeing a battle, a civil war, within Islam. We are very much seeing those people who proclaim themselves to be jihadis fighting those who see Islam as a religion of peace and one that should be in cooperative ventures with people around the world.

We are seeing jihadis, the Islamic militants, working against and fighting Christian and Jewish interests. On the other hand, the moderate Islamists see themselves as people of the same Book, they call it "People of the Book," so they have a kinship with Jews and Christians. So, you can see how those two ideals are diametrically opposed. So we are seeing a battle within Islam as to really what Islam stands for: Does it stand for the kind of beauty and peace and tolerance that the moderates proclaim, or does it stand for "only as I [that is to say, militants] see Islam" and this strict interpretation that excludes everyone but militants?

RFE/RL: As this violence continues, are we seeing signs that the public in the Middle East is growing fed up with terrorist attacks?

Davis: If you can see anything positive in what has happened in Amman, this is one of the positive things. We saw people taking to the streets. Now, the West has seen Palestinians cheering and being very happy over suicide bombings that attack Israel. And now what we see is when those suicide bombers, that same tactic, is used against Muslims, in a Muslim setting -- I mean, there were many innocent people killed just, as there are innocent people killed in Israel, but there were innocent Muslims killed this time in Amman -- and when we now see Muslims taking to the street to denounce this kind of tactic, you have to see that as a positive development. They now realize this kind of senseless violence can be turned on their own people. And that is a development that is worthy of taking note.

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