This past month Jordan has witnessed a lot of grief, as well as a certain shift in politics and popular opinion regarding Da’esh and the government’s position towards it. On 3 Feb, Da’esh released a video of the immolation of the Jordanian air force pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh.
The ensuing shock, grief, and outrage have only just started to ebb. Immediately after the video release, government officials started issuing statements promising “revenge,” appealing to a largely tribal society where values of revenge and “honor” are defining traits. In a matter of a few hours, a mostly male mass hysteria took hold and demands for “revenge” dominated the streets and the local media.
Chants and slogans about the Jordanian people being “all men” could be heard and seen everywhere including on social media. The only “emotion” present was rage, the only masculine emotion. Hardly any women were present in any of the rallies on that day or after. On social media, Da’esh combatants were called “women” for trying to intimidate the Jordanian forces so as not to have to confront them as “men” would and, conversely, “monsters” and “animals.” Some statements called for the killing of Da’esh “women and children” as well.
The government delivered its revenge in two forms: first, the execution of two Iraqi Da’esh prisoners, a woman and a man, and, second, in military escalation. The morning after Muath’s death was announced, Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli were hanged to death. Sajida al-Rishawi’s death, specifically, invoked the most public satisfaction, and – in a much more subdued manner – controversy. She had been sentenced to death for her role in the 2005 Amman suicide bombings that killed 60 people. Unlike her husband, who was also involved in the bombings, she failed to detonate herself and fled only to be captured later. The next day she appeared on TV in what the government and official media called a televised “confession.” I remember how unnatural and rehearsed her speech sounded, how emotionally and intellectually detached she seemed from the words she was speaking, as if reciting a script. Going back to the video now, I still think so.
In court, however, she maintained her innocence and claimed she had no desire to blow herself up and did not even try to operate her explosives before she fled. Her lawyer asked that she be evaluated by a psychologist given a history of mental illness in her family, but the request was rejected. In her supposed confession, she was the scapegoat who was offered to the people to appease them immediately after the attacks.
Whether she meant to detonate herself or not matters, and whether she made confessions under coercion or not matters, but what also matters is the human story that led her to be in a hotel full of people while wearing an explosives belt in the first place. On TV, she said that her husband was the one who organized everything. Was she allowed to voice her opinion on the plan? Would she have been able to reject it, or at least her part in it? Was her “failure” to detonate her explosives her way of saying no? We don’t know for a fact, but she answered these questions and many more in her trial, and the press related to us some of her answers.
But one cannot help but wonder that in a Jordanian military court, where judges and lawyers were all men, and in a time and place where the suicide bombings were seen as an attack against the very national identity of Jordan – which is highly masculanized especially in a war situation–would a supposed suicide-bomber woman’s story have mattered much? Would politics of femininities and masculinities within Da’esh have been taken into consideration? Would her “fear” of her husband – with whom she never consummated her marriage — and al-Zarqawi, who was then Da’esh leader and very close to her family, have made a difference? Her public “confession” seems to offer an answer, but these questions are still important even after she is dead. Many women are still joining Da’esh and many have been joined to Da’esh, and their “truths” and experiences should matter not only so we can give them and ourselves justice, but also so we can understand what we are facing and face it effectively.
On the day of her execution, Sajida became once again the scapegoat needed to appease the people and their thirst for revenge. To most, she was the Da’esh terrorist we had in our hands, one of many others in a monolithic body of terrorist savages. It was not important that she did not kill Muath or that she did not kill anyone for that matter. She was part of that monster we want to vanquish and where all are guilty until proven otherwise.
The problem is, however, this is not the way to vanquish it, as the War Against Terror story tells us. To know the way to defeat that monster we need to look at the human, the men and women, behind these horrendous acts and engage with them.
**Da’esh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (al-Dawla al-Islamiyya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham). In conversation with FAR Project Co-Weavers, it was agreed that an alternative to ISIS is needed for FAR contributors to use when posting. Many of the more common terms for this group are problematic. Isis is the name of a Great Goddess, sacred to some members of this community, while ISIL has colonial connotations to the region, and IS/Islamic State highlights and recognize the group as “Islamic,” which is both controversial and dangerous given the recent rise in Islamophobia. I chose to use Da’esh as a substitute because as a word it does not mean anything in Arabic and it has been rejected by the group itself. It has come to have a pejorative usage in the region. Return to top
Hanadi Riyad is a development practitioner and a graduate student of Human Rights and Human Development in the University of Jordan. She is especially interested in the relationship between Islam and women’s rights. When she is not working and researching, she is traveling and enjoying the world and the kindness of humanity.