Air strikes no way to honour slain Jordanian pilot

Moaz al-Kassasbeh’s murder has united Jordanians – but are we really ready for war?

Jordanian protesters hold up pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah in Amman
For the past six months, our country has been at war, writes Obeidat [Reuters]

Jordan is grieving. We can see it on the streets of Amman, outside the embassies of Washington and London, in the media, and on Twitter. New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof refrained from sharing pictures that showed Moaz al-Kassasbeh burning to death. Instead, he shared a picture of the 26-year-old pilot smiling, with a caption that read: “This is how we should remember Moaz.”

On Thursday, Jordanian jets carried out air strikes against areas controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The locations were not specified, but the Jordan Times reported that the bombs were mostly dropped over the Syrian province of Raqqa. This may be the beginning of what has been promised to be an ugly quest for revenge in the name of our Jordanian pilot. 

As a Jordanian, I refuse to use Moaz al-Kassasbeh as an excuse to legitimise a war. I refuse to consider Moaz’s death as an opportunity to sway a population to support a military intervention that we as a people did not sign up for – a military intervention that we initially considered controversial as it asks us to strike another Arab country that is home to civilians just as much as it is to terrorists.

Painful but inevitable

For the past six months, the United States and its coalition forces, which include Jordan, have carried out 1,689 air strikes in Iraq and Syria. According to a paper published by Brookings Institute, Operation Inherent Resolve has so far waged attacks against more than 3,200 ISIL targets. Prior to the death of our pilot, we considered the US strategy of bombing away extremism to be naive and short-sighted.

Jordan launches new air strikes against ISIL

Let us remember that for the past six months, our country has been at war. A war that our public was not engaged in, partly because we did not approve of it, and partly because as a public we have become accustomed to political disengagement.

We have been involved in this military intervention as early as August 8, and did not understand fully what it actually meant to be part of a military intervention. Fighting a war means that casualties are inevitable. No matter how sophisticated our technology may be, the concepts of war and loss are synonymous. Losing Moaz is painful, but it was also inevitable.

Therefore, when we ask for revenge and rally for bombing the areas controlled by ISIL, let us keep in mind that we are consenting to participate in a war. This does not merely involve abstract soldiers striking abstract areas from their safe airspace; it actually means sending young Jordanians to risk their lives to die, it means risking future retaliation through terrorist attacks, it means allowing the government to assist the US in another one of its attempts to “combat” a force that they can not understand in the first place.

Are we ready for war?

When the US experienced 9/11, the Bush administration used the sentiments of a grieving population to their advantage and advocated for military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. By 2004, the US media began calling the war “a mistake”. Therefore, we should be asking ourselves, are we as a public ready to go to war? If the answer is yes, then we should probably prepare ourselves to lose many more soldiers.

... Let us be honest with ourselves and ask, can we, as a public, trust our governments to keep us involved in the conversation after they obtain our support for a military intervention?


More importantly, let us be honest with ourselves and ask, can we, as a public, trust our governments to keep us involved in the conversation after they obtain our support for a military intervention? Will our media be able to keep us informed with the actual facts on the battlefield? Will our citizenry be allowed to lobby for us to end the war if we make the same American mistake and realise a few years down the line that our war has only given birth to more extremism?

Let us remember that being involved in a war will mean taking giant steps back in our already limited freedoms as a nation. It will mean a decline in political transparency (or at least whatever is left of it), and an increase in justifications to cut back on press freedom and political participation. Can we afford to head in that direction?

Legitimising another war

Therefore, as we ask for revenge and cheer for air strikes, are we really remembering Moaz al-Kassasbeh? Are we actually stopping the sickening trend of atrocities that wears the superficial banner of Islamic extremism?  Or are we simply legitimising another war that the people of our region are too worn out to fight. 

The Iraqi people of Anbar province – Sajida al-Rishawi’s village that is now an ISIL stronghold – were once part of the Sahwa militias that were created to assist Nouri al-Maliki’s troops in combating Islamic extremism. They endured almost six years of a US military invasion and a government that could not stand up for them before they decided to switch sides and fight with ISIL. They were direct recipients of the US’ post 9/11 quest for revenge.

Moaz al-Kassasbeh has brought Jordanians together regardless of religion, background, or political ideology. Let us honour him in ways that show commitment to pluralism, tolerance, and justice. After all, they are three things that go directly against everything ISIL stands for.   

Sara Obeidat is a Jordanian journalist. She has worked on development and human rights projects for the Middle East, with a focus on Syrian refugees. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.