Following the Amman Bombings and their Aftermath

Monday, November 14, 2005 | Amman, Jordan

A mosque near our house outside Amman. This act perverting their religion has angered many Jordanians.
Last Wednesday, suicide bombers executed a series of coordinated attacks on three prominent hotels here in Amman, Jordan's capital. I live in a distant suburb, so I was nowhere near the attacks; several friends who live within walking distance were all fine. The images of the bombing sites being shown on Jordanian TV these past few days have been quite unsettling, however. Based on the latest reports, as many as 60 people died in the attacks. Many were attending a wedding in one of the hotels.

Thankfully, nobody I know was at the bombing sites. But for Jordan, the impact of this tragedy seems hard to overstate.

Despite having Iraq, Syria, and Israel/Palestine as its neighbors, Jordan has been able to avoid events like this thanks to a little luck and a lot of security forces. Until last week, it was just about the only country left in these parts that hadn't suffered a major terrorist incident. Now, many Jordanians are worried for the future of their country—including for its valuable tourist industry and trade with the West. After this attack (plus a smaller one on a US military ship in Aqaba back in August) will some tourists want to rethink their destination?

In such a small country, the sudden death of 60 people has had a similar jarring impact to that of September 11 back in the US, though maybe in hindsight Jordan's seems more foreseeable given what a tough neighborhood it's in. On that note, Jordanian authorities have just announced the arrest of four Iraqi nationals in connection with the bombings—a dangerous development. Jordanians already have little love for the many Iraqi refugees, blaming them for all sorts of crime and economic troubles these days. Now Jordanian security forces say they're guarding against acts of anti-Iraqi violence around Amman in the coming days.

Today our study abroad program coordinators called our group in for a security meeting, to share with us a million obvious, common-sense ways to keep a low profile during these unsettled times. Nobody at the program (or, in my case, back at Georgetown) is talking about sending anyone home early, though some of my fellow students are working full time to calm anxious parents back in middle America.

In the past few days, the King and the rest of the royal family have played a very visible role in leading the public in grieving. There have been lots of peace marches around town—not dangerous anti-foreigner rallies but genuine patriotic, anti-terrorist, pro-peace events (or so I hear, since I'm forbidden from getting anywhere near them). My host family have been beside themselves about this tragedy, and we've grown closer in the past few days, them worrying about friends and relatives, as well as how I and other foreigners would now look at Jordan, and me trying to console them in this tough time and reassure them that I wasn't going anywhere.

Among the many victims, one has been getting extensive coverage on some Arab media outlets: Moustapha Akkad, the Syrian-born director of "The Message" (الرسالة), the Arab world's definitive film on the story of the Prophet Muhammad and the birth of Islam. Like every other Arabic student, I watched the film last year in Arabic class. That a bunch of Islamist fundamentalists blew up not only a wedding and dozens of other innocents, but also the man who brought the story of their prophet and faith to life for millions, is all the evidence that many here need to know how twisted were the minds of the perpetrators.

It's been a sad but interesting week to be in Jordan.

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