BLOG 313 August 1, 2016
A new concern about the jihadi threat has alarmed the public in Jordan. An assault at the Syrian-Jordanian border checkpoint killed seven Jordanian soldiers in June. Then an attack on Jordan’s General Intelligence Service in the Baq’a Palestinian refugee camp near Amman killed five members of the security force. The deaths resulted in a crack down on even an appearance of sympathy with the incursion.
Jordan’s Muslim population are Sunnis. In the past, more than 2,000 Jordanian youth left for Syria and joined the Islamic State radicals. Of course, with high levels of unemployment and poverty, the lure for young men to join the ISIS fighters is strong. I met many of these young people when my two of my sons taught at different times as professors at the University of Amman. I watched heavily veiled young women coming into the campus to study a wide range of subjects. One of my sons also lectured in their medical college. I found that Jordanian young people take their education, their futures, and their faith quit seriously. Their sympathies run deep for the Sunni minority in Iraq and the Sunni elements fighting the Alawi ruler Bashar Assad and the Iranian supported Shi’ite regime.
But the big question across the entire region is what do everyday Arabs really think about ISIS.
Political science professors from prestigious universities as well as the director of the Arab Barometer ran an in-depth investigation and study of this question in five Arab countries. They added several important questions to the standard battery of Arab Barometer surveys to find exactly how the ISIS campaign and agenda is sitting with the Arab public.
The results are unexpected and surprising.
The highest percent agreeing with the Islamic State are 6.4% in Palestinians territories. However, in Jordan only .4% agree. Interestingly enough, 1% in Jordan agree that the ISIS tactics are compatible with Islam while the highest agreement came with the Palestinians at 8.9%. These numbers for agreement with ISIS are remarkably low.
In the five Arab countries surveyed, the tactics of ISIS using extreme violence compared with Islamic teaching had almost no support. The exception is Tunisia. This country has also sent the largest number of fighters to join ISIS.
However, when ISIS’s stated goals were published, a reduction followed in the number of young, poorly educated man who approved of these goals. The realization that ISIS is fighting and combating Shiite influence had a major effect on reducing support for their cause. Support for radical Islam diminished as men in the five Arab countries realized that the goals of ISIS were not relevant for their own societies.
The Arab Barometer results suggest that ISIS influence is far more limited that the media has generally indicated. Possibly, their days could be numbered. When information on their jihadist violence and brutality is available and the goals of ISIS are fully known, the extremist appear to be running out of gas.
Who actually supports ISIS? A rather small crowd.