The latest in a series of gruesome videos showing the murder of the Jordanian pilot held prisoner by the so called Islamic State (IS/ISIS), Moaz al-Kasasbeh, has sparked a new wave of outrage and grief–in Jordan and the region as a whole. Analysts have been quick to point out the growing technical sophistication and special effects employed by ISIS to communicate their messages.
However, make no mistake, the very purpose of this video (and those that came before it) is to strike terror in all those who stand in the way of ISIS, and to foment discord between the Jordanian people and their government. The video seeks to turn the Jordanian people against their armed forces by listing the names, addresses and satellite images of other fighter pilots, and offering a 100 gold coins as a reward for their extermination. ISIS is banking on mobilizing its sympathizers in Jordan (and they do exist!) and scaring the world into submission, both through psychological warfare and cold hard cash. These tactics, which worked for them in the past (especially in Mosul), might now be a miscalculation.
The Jordanian public has come out overwhelmingly against ISIS, in the streets, parliament and social media. And their supporters are mute–for now. The father of al-Kasasbeh–originally critical of coalition strikes on Syria–and the public call for vengeance. Hours after the video’s release, Jordan executed two ISIS and Al-Qaeda prisoners, one of whom (Sajida al-Rishawi) was to be part of a potential prisoner swap with al-Kasasbeh and the Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. And the Jordanian and other coalition forces are poised to wage an even more ferocious battle against their enemy. One can only hope that the Jordanian people’s national unity and determination will help turn a corner in the fight against ISIS. The days ahead will be critical.
As the war rages, Jordanians and others in the region will undoubtedly enter a period of deep introspection and self examination. Some reports show that the highest concentration of foreign ISIS fighter come from Jordan. The presence of Jihadi-Salafists (al-jihadiyyah al-salafiyyah) in the country is no secret. How and why could such groups be given the opportunity to thrive for so long in public, and even join ISIS? Similarly, Jordan has been the staging point for much Syrian opposition activity and arms smuggling. How long can this go on? These questions are long overdue, but finally being asked.
Jordan’s geographical and political proximity to the Syrian conflict have dragged its people deeper into this conflict than anyone anticipated. However, something similar may be said of several other countries who have fueled the warfare in Syria as well as Iraq for a number of years. The death of Moaz al-Kasasbeh underscores the entire region’s political contradictions, military quagmire and potency of using violence in the name of Islam. One can only hope that his blood was not spilled in vain.