The morning after triple bombings ripped through Jordan's capital, leaving 59 dead and over 100 wounded, Hazem Abu Lughod was busy reshuffling his music line up for the day's radio program. Instead of the usual energetic beats and Arabic top hits, he created a line-up of patriotic music and sombre tunes as floods of demonstrators with red kuffiyehs and flags took to Amman's streets protesting the first ever suicide attacks in their country.
Abu Lughod, a 26-year-old with a masters degree in finance from Brandeis University, decided to return to Amman shortly after graduation to launch a new radio station, Mazaj FM, rather than work on Wall Street with the rest of his classmates. Now, Abu Lughod is wondering how long he'll have to hold upbeat tunes hostage while people come to grips with the violence that has bled across Iraq's borders into Jordan.
Some Americans have dismissed the attacks as yet another set of bombings in a homogeneously violent region. But Jordanians, who pride themselves in maintaining peace in a region ridden by violence, are shocked and outraged by the senseless violence.
“The Hyatt was where we had our wedding,” writes 25-year-old Harvard masters graduate Nora Jarrah, about one of the three hotels that were bombed in the simultaneous blasts. A wedding reception was actually under way in one of the hotels when one suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt, leaving the bride and groom injured and both their fathers dead. “It's traumatic to think it's been the site of such a horrific bombing.”
Despite its precarious position in between Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Jordan is considered to be an oasis - the most stable capital in the Arab world. It has a long-running history of battling Islamic extremists and has thus far experienced few violent incidents. In August, a shoulder-fired rocket attack on US warships in the port city of Aqaba was claimed by Jordanian-born al-Qaida militant Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi. But this is the first time suicide bombs had ever been used in the Kingdom.
“We never expected such a thing to happen in Amman. I was leaving the gym late last night and noticed that the streets were unusually crowded. There were too many sirens flying by for it to be a normal night,” writes another friend, Randa Saleh, a 23-year-old Clark University graduate, whose offices are nearby the two other hotels that were hit, Radisson SAS and the Days Inn.
The three hotels are among the most popular spots for Jordanians to hold wedding receptions and banquets, and the main hub for people from all over the world who are on their way in and out of Iraq. The restaurants and cafés are usually filled with development workers, contractors and journalists who are relishing the break from Iraq's bloody war zone.
“Jordan always seemed so safe, people never thought twice about going out and leaving their homes. Unfortunately, what was once our safe haven has now been polluted by unjustified insanity,” Saleh said.
The security strategy so far has been to close hotel parking lots and use large potted plants outside entrances as barriers so that potential suicide truck bombers cannot pull up to the hotel. But in the case of the Hyatt and the Days Inn, Kristen Gillespie, former colleague and freelance journalist in Amman, says “the perpetrators changed tactics; they didn't use a vehicle, they used themselves”.
This is definitely a wake up call that points to the obvious: the Bush administration has failed in its counterterrorism efforts.
Before the US invasion, President George Bush justified the war in Iraq by claiming it was necessary to prevent Iraq from becoming a training ground for terrorists. But under Bush's watch, the number of international terrorist acts has actually tripled, according to State Department data. In June, the CIA asserted that “Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in al-Qaida's early days”.
Despite the loss of over 2,000 American lives in Iraq, the administration has created an international breeding ground for terrorists that is now spreading across the borders into its peaceful neighbour, Jordan, just as His Majesty King Abdullah warned it might before the occupation. By neglecting to use diplomatic power and leadership, the Bush administration has missed the opportunity to initiate a co-operative security and intelligence network with Iraq's neighbours that would secure Iraq's borders and destabilise terrorist networks.
Although Jordanians have denounced al-Qaida and specifically Zarqawi, who claimed responsibility for the attacks, this is a clear warning that the US' botched actions in Iraq have emboldened terrorist enemies. It can expect al-Qaida to continue to expand its operations outside Iraq, which will likely destabilise the entire region.
Islands of peace all over the world are disappearing. And the US policy in the Middle East is only accelerating their extinction.