Malika Bouziane, Berghof Foundation, Berlin, Germany
Walking through the Jordanian capital the last days, I was struck by the increased police presence on the streets of Amman; a response to an omnipresent threat being in the air and a demonstration by the regime that security and stability is given a top priority. Indeed, the 2005 suicide bombing of three hotels in Amman, killing and injuring dozens of people is still present in the collective Jordanian memory.
Despite a series of Arab Spring-inspired political protests and its precarious environment, Jordan, a country of 7 million inhabitants, has not faced an open challenge to its Hashemite monarchical rule
Rather, Jordan has been hitherto successful maintaining political and social stability. Nevertheless, the repercussions of the emergence and protests of the Hirak movement(s) have indicated that it is rumbling under the surface of an ostensible stability in Jordan. Today, the greatest threat to (the stability of) Jordan is the growing radicalization of its own citizens, experts maintain.
Since the gruesome execution of the Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh, in February 2015 by the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, public opinion in the kingdom has swung from being halfhearted about Jordan joining the anti-IS coalition to invigorating its participation. Nonetheless, public outrage against IS atrocities does not simply mean that other groups such as al-Nusra Front are also perceived as terrorist groups.. Rather, they are seen as revolutionist or resistance fighters, wherefore concerns about the tacit approval to extremist groups remain prominent in present Jordan. The kingdom, similar to other countries in the region, has experienced rapid growth in radical Salafi movements since the 1990s. Indeed, the Salafi Jihadists movement is gaining new momentum in Jordan, with membership numbers estimated to have risen to 15,000. Regional and national developments, such as the Golf War, increasing unemployment, lack of economic growth, lack of political participation opportunities, and the return of a large number of Jordanians from Afghanistan in the late 1980s and early 1990s have fostered these developments.
Today, according to estimations from last fall, there are about 2,500 Jordanians fighting in Syria and Iraq making Jordan one of the largest exporters of foreign fighters.
The increases in arms sales in the country are an additional challenge working against Jordan.
Terminologies such as “radicalization” and “extremism” are products of the post-9/11 period. Similar to other countries, extremism is used synonymously with terrorism in Jordan. Accordingly, the Jordanian state’s approach to countering extremism is mainly security-based ‘de-politicizing’ motivations of the alleged “extremists.” This includes the amendment of the Anti-Terror Law in April 2014 that cuts down civil and political rights, the prosecution of minors before the state security court, or the detention of returnees. In line with the top priority given to internal security, Jordan has recently established a directorate to counter extremism within the Ministry of Interior and launched Community Peace Centers (CPC) as part of the Public Security Directorate. While the directorate is tasked with developing policies to counter extremism, the latter engages with prisoned jihadists by drawing on expertise of Islamic scholars.
Many of the youth that are attracted by extremist ideas experience political, social and economic marginalization. They often experience identity crises and feel the urge to rebel against their society and parents.
However, one of the main drivers of radicalization is the ideological orientation that provides new recruits with direction, structure and identity. It empowers them with images of supremacy and domination.
Taking on extremism requires policies that erode its societal and political roots in schools, mosques and religious classes.
Recently, the Jordanian government started a process of rewriting school books as a strategy to address the contradiction between its official anti-extremist policy and what is taught in schools. However, these revisions remain superficial and fail to challenge hardline traditions. The first revised textbooks for elementary-school still present Islam as the only true religion, says a Jordanian analyst from the Jordan Media Center. Young people are taught the superiority of men and jihad is hailed as a legitimate means to defend Islam and to fight for Islamic values. “ISIS ideology is there, in our textbooks,” said Zogan Obiedat, a former employee of the Ministry of Education who published analysis of the texts.
The educational system produces young people that are susceptible to extremism.
If militants can make it to Jordan, a large majority “will join IS because they learned in school that this is Islam,” Obiedat argues. Problematic are not only textbooks but also sermons given at mosques. Though its efforts to retrain preachers to promote a “moderate” interpretation of Islam based on the Amman Message of 2004 – a detailed statement calling for tolerance and unity in the Muslim world – the government had to suspend several imams due to the content of their sermons. Currently, Jordan is lacking enough preachers for its almost 6,300 mosques. According to an official of the Ministry of Religious Endowment, Jordan has only around 3,500 trained preachers; a discrepancy that has created a vacuum which some extremist groups use for their purposes.
Several Jordanian intellectuals argue that the retraining of preachers and the cosmetic revising of textbooks is not sufficient. “We cannot counter extremism,” says a Jordanian professor of Islamic theology at the University of Jordan, “if there is not a historicizing and contextualizing approach to the Islamic texts. While jihad was understood as a duty of each Muslim to defend Islamic values in medieval interpretations, today we have modern states and institutions. Today, it is the task of military to defend the country and not that of individual persons. The individual jihad is to pay taxes to ensure that the country’s military can fulfill its tasks.”
What is needed, he continues, “is a renewed Islamic discourse that highlights the humanistic understanding of Islam and that allow the critics of hitherto unquestioned scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah;” a scholar who is the most important medieval reference for IS and Saudi Arabia’s radical Islam.
This kind of self-criticism is a progressive and necessary step for the country to move forward. However, as long as these debates neglect the political motivations of radicalization, the whole debate remains to a certain degree culturalist by ascribing the emergence of extremism to religion
 Jean Aziz: Islamic Extremism on Rise in Jordan; 18 May 2014. Available online:
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/jordan-fears-syria-war-islamists.html[accessed on 27 January, 2016].
 Policy Brief (MercyCorps): From Jordan to Jihad: the Lure of Syria’s Violent Extremist Groups. Available online:
[accessed on 27 January, 2016].
 Mona Alami 2014: The New Generation of Jordanian Jihadi Fighters. Available online:
[accessed on 26 January, 2016].
 Middle East Monitor: Saudis most likely to join ISIS, 10% of group’s fighters are women; October 20, 2014. Available online:
https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/14758-saudis-most-likely-to-join-isis-10-of-groups-fighters-are-women, [accessed on 26 January, 2016].
 Elham Manea 2015: Tackling militant Islamism means also confronting its non-violent forms; 05 May 2015. Availabe online:
 Alghad: ‘Zogan Obeidat reacts to the Ministry’s response: Yes, our curricular are daesh’; 11 July 2015. Available online:
 Al-Arabiya English: Jordan tries to stem ISIS-style extremism in schools, mosques; 08 August 2015. Available online:
 Personal conversation with the author in Amman, 22.01.2016.