Samar Saeed explains how the burning alive of a Jordanian fighter pilot at the hands of ISIS has shifted public opinion firmly behind King Abdullah’s war stance
On Tuesday, February 3, Jordanians were deeply shocked by the release of a video revealing the burning alive of a Jordanian Air Force pilot, First Lt. Muath Al Kasasbeh. Images of this atrocity, committed by what is known as the Islamic State or ISIS, went viral on social media.
Jordanians were outraged and saddened by the loss of the Jordanian pilot. They stood united to mourn this loss while uncertainty and fear loomed over. Rallies against ISIS were organized and candlelight vigils were held to commemorate Jordan’s hero, Muath. The gruesome death of Muath has sparked a heightened sense of nationalism and patriotism which could be observed across the country.
Last September, Jordan’s armed forces joined the US-led coalition airstrikes, to beat back the ISIS advance across Syria and Iraq. The 26-year-old Muath was a pilot in the Royal Jordanian Air Force. His F-16 fighter jet reportedly crashed for unknown reasons near Raqqa, north Syria, on Dec. 24 last year while on a bombing raid. He was captured and remained in captivity until he was burned alive early last month.
Upon the release of the highly produced ISIS video, the first public impulse was a call for revenge. Jordan’s Army spokesman, Col. Mamdouh al-Ameri, promised that “the revenge will be equal to what happened to Jordan,” and that the retaliatory response would be “earth-shaking and decisive.” King Abdullah stated that “the blood of the martyred hero Muath Al Kasasbeh will not go in vain. ISIS will be hit hard at the very centre of their strongholds.”
Jordanians demanded the immediate execution of two Iraqis already on death row: Sajida al-Rishawi, a female suicide-bomber who was part of the 2005 hotel bombing in Amman and whose explosive belt malfunctioned; and Ziad al- Karbouli, an Al Qaeda lieutenant. In less than 12 hours, the tit-for-tat executions took place. The Jordanian Army then led aggressive air strikes against ISIS training camps and weapons storage sites.
Against the backdrop of the heinous crime and consequent retaliation, Jordan has found itself in direct confrontation with ISIS. But this raises a number of questions that Jordan needs to address. First of all, how will the country ensure the safety of its people and its internal stability against the transnational threat of ISIS? How will it proceed following the airstrikes against ISIS?
If Jordan decides to escalate bombing raids, will the rest of the US-led coalition agree to support it?
The Jordanian Interior Minister, Hussein Majali, vowed that “as far as we [Jordan] are concerned we just opened the gates of hell on them [ISIS] and they have not seen the best of it yet. There will be combined operations, security operations, and we will not stop until these forces of darkness are eradicated completely.”
He also affirmed that the war against ISIS is a Jordanian war now, not a Western-led war.
So far, the political decisions made by King Abdullah and the army have garnered support from the vast majority of Jordanians. People made it clear that they stand behind their King in the fight against what many view as a terrorist group posing an imminent threat to the country.
Before the country joined the US-led coalition, Jordanians questioned whether this war was theirs to fight and many were wary of the decision to participate. There was a fear that Jordan was being dragged into a war that will result in further fragmentation and instability; a war that was started by the United States’ invasion of Iraq and its constant meddling in the region’s affairs; a war that is not ours. However, after this incident, public opinion has shifted. Currently, there is a collective belief that this war is now ours and we need to partake in it, actively and aggressively.
Jordanians are now watching closely as events unfold. There is a fear that ISIS may retaliate and attack Jordan from within.
Many are afraid that Jordan will be forced to engage ISIS with ground forces. The weeks ahead are critical for Jordan, and hasty decisions which are made through the prism of revenge may have costly consequences for the country and its people.
Samar Saeed holds a BA from George Mason University and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies. Her research is focused on Palestinian and Jordanian politics and history. Samar currently resides in Jordan.