Jordanians' support for war on ISIL wavers

Ongoing hostage crisis has some residents questioning whether the country should back away from the war on ISIL.

    The Jordanian government launched 'international negotiations' to free pilot Moazz Kassasbeh [Al Jazeera]
    The Jordanian government launched 'international negotiations' to free pilot Moazz Kassasbeh [Al Jazeera]

    Amman - Rays of midday sunshine sneak through windows of an old cafe, located at the crossroads between the old and the new downtown of Amman. But the sun fails to beat the bitter cold or to clear the grim atmosphere that has been haunting the city since the capture of Jordanian pilot Moazz Kassasbeh by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces in Syria.

    In the old cafe, three young men play cards and chat while smoking shisha. They debate their country's recent involvement in the war on ISIL. One of the young men, Arafat Mohammad, asks the waiter to switch to a TV news channel in hopes of hearing about Kassasbeh.

    Since his capture 12 days ago, the 26-year-old pilot has remained the subject of conversation in cafes, homes and workplaces across the country. As the hostage crisis drags on, opposition to the war has risen, leaving Jordanians questioning whether it is their war.

    "Absolutely not our war. ISIL has not attacked us at our home," 35-year-old Ahmad al-Saoub told Al Jazeera.

    But for a young man like Mohammad, the war on ISIL could prevent the group from reaching to Jordan.

    RELATED:  Jordan vows to free captured pilot from ISIL

    "This group must be destroyed because if they grew, they will come to Jordan and do what they have done in Syria and Iraq," the 24-year-old told Al Jazeera.  

    Jordanian officials have justified the war as a preventive measure to protect their country from the spread of the group, as well as their responsibility to defend the peaceful image of Islam and fight extremism in the region.  

    In September, Jordanians were taken by surprise as they awoke to the news of Jordanian fighter jets participating in US-led airstrikes against ISIL in Syria - just two weeks after Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour denied their country was "part of any coalition or would lead wars for others". Lawmakers were not consulted over Jordan's participation in the war.

    Sending our noble soldiers and children miles away to fight ISIL is actually fighting the war on behalf of al-Assad and the US.

    Assaf Shawbaki, MP

    Although some critics feared that joining the war against ISIL could trigger retaliation by the group, it was not until Kassasbeh was captured that the consequences of joining the war crept into Jordanian homes.

    His capture has created unprecedented support for the pilot and his family, but has also triggered opposition to the war, which many fear could take the lives of young Jordanians.  

    "Sending our noble soldiers and children miles away to fight ISIL is actually fighting the war on behalf of [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad and the US,” deputy Assaf Shawbaki - one of eight MPs who issued a statement calling on the Jordanian government to withdraw from the war - told Al Jazeera.

    According to Shawbaki, the war on ISIL only "serves agendas of foreign forces in the region", a viewpoint shared by many other Jordanians.

    "In Jordan, it is no big secret that certain decisions are not ours but rather imposed on us by our allies," Saoub said.

    On Friday, a group of young men in the northern city of Jerash held a protest called "Not Our War" to denounce sending their army and using their weapons in "Arab countries while the real enemy [Israel] is only metres away".

    Both the Islamic Action Front and the coalition of leftist (communist and Baathist) groups issued statements in solidarity with the pilot and called on the government "to rethink its priorities" and consider fighting extremism with economic and social reforms rather than military power.

    But in Jordan, where the military employs almost 150,000 people, "almost each family" has ties with the army, which makes them "think twice before criticising any involvement of the army anywhere" Saoub says. Criticising the armed forces is a red line for media in Jordan as well.

    RELATED:  ISIL captures pilot of plane downed in Syria

    Meanwhile, Kassasbeh's family issued an appeal to ISIL to treat their son well.

    "He is not a hostage. He is a guest between his Muslim brothers and we hope they will have mercy with him,"  Safi Kassasbeh, the pilot's father, told Josat TV, a local television channel.  

    Disappointed by the " limited" response by the government, Kassasbeh's tribe organised a protest in their hometown of Aii, in the southern governorate of Karak on Friday.  

    "We know the King personally is concerned but the government has not done the minimum to at least emotionally support his family," Jawad Kassasbeh, the pilot's brother, told Al Jazeera over the phone.

    Jordanian officials, however, refused to comment on the progress of any measures taken to free the pilot.  

    "Our priority here is ensuring his safe return and we will share information with the public at the right time," a senior government official said on the condition of anonymity.

    One day after Kassasbeh was captured, Ensour told his tribe that his government had started "international negotiations" to release Kassasbeh but did not specify with whom. A government source told Al Jazeera Arabic there were negotiations with Qatar and Turkey.

    Jordanian Salafi cleric Mohammad Shalabi, known as Abu Sayyaf, said he learned ISIL would demand the release of some prisoners in Jordan to free Kassasbeh.

    In a statement published by local media, Abu Sayyaf named two Iraqi prisoners who are on death row in Jordan for "terrorism" charges: Sajida al-Rishawi, the failed suicide bomber responsible for the triple hotel bombings in Amman that killed 60 people in 2005, and Ziad al-Karbouli, who planned, along with 12 others sentenced to death in absentia, attacks on Jordanian trucks that killed four people.

    But as opposition for the war rises at home, analysts say, Jordan will consider the swap deal to avoid the worst-case scenario.

    "The price is too high, but if Kassasbeh is executed like other hostages, the government will lose the trust of the people," analyst Hassan Abu Hanniah told Al Jazeera. Jordanian officials have made it clear that they will not withdraw from the war.

    "This is not how countries respond. The war is ours," the government source told Al Jazeera.

    But as Jordan wages a war against extremism at home, the swap will be "like swallowing poison for the Jordanian authorities," Abu Hanniah said. The number of Jordanian jihadist fighters in Syria and Iraq is estimated at 2,000.

    Two rescue mission by anti-ISIL coalition forces reportedly failed on January 2 to free Kassasbeh. Sources told Al Jazeera Arabic that two helicopters attempted to deploy paratroopers in Raqqa city on Friday around 2am, but were deterred by fire from ISIL forces. Jordanian sources would neither confirm nor deny the reports.

    Last week, in an interview published by ISIL, Kassasbeh appeared dressed in the style of orange jumpsuit that hostages James Foley and Peter Kassing wore before being executed by ISIL. In the interview, Kassasbeh said he anticipated the group would kill him. He also confirmed ISIL's version of the story about downing the plane with an anti-aircraft missile, which Jordanian and US officials denied.

    Meanwhile, his pictures are still circulating on social media with the hashtag #Weareallmoaz, with prayers for his return. A new hash tag, #NotOurWar, is tending among Jordanians who oppose the war.

    "We have a real battle for a change here," Saoub said. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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