Friday, November 10, 2006

Jordan's 9/11....Clear and Present Danger*

The process has become quite automatic; you go to a shopping mall or a hotel and open your purse or empty your pockets and allow a "security guard" to examine their content. If you are one of the unlucky visitors who sets off the metal detector (just when you thought you were finally getting in) you will have to raise your hands in the air, and allow security to manually search you. The familiar procedure rarely takes more than a minute or two, yet oddly, there is no way out of it. Oula Farawati investigates.

This was not the case only a year ago. Inspection at the doors of hotels, cinemas, and shopping malls was an unfathomable concept. The only place where Jordanians were inspected, to the best of their knowledge, was at airports.
Clearly nowadays this is no longer the case. The upsetting incidents of 9/11, when three hotels were the targets of a string of attacks, have changed Jordan forever. The untimely explosions managed to shake the people’s confidence, for at a time when Jordan seemed unsusceptible to attacks, having been the most secure country in the region for decades, an entire nation was suddenly taken aback by the killing of 60 civilians. Not strictly for Jordanians and their families, terror has become an all too familiar word for people worldwide. Since NY's 9/11 five years ago, globally, not a day goes by without the mention of the words, terror, bombings, suicide attacks, interrogations, or Moslem extremists. From London, Spain, and Germany to Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, no place remains safe.
"I never before thought I would be searched and inspected before I enter the mall in Jordan… If someone told me this last year, I would have laughed at the whole idea," Hiba, a schoolteacher said.
Immediately after the attacks, security authorities imposed heavy, not to mention rigid, measures around Jordan. Special emphasis was placed on embassies and foreign offices, non-governmental organizations, government offices, hotels, and shopping malls in addition to some cafes and restaurants.

"I did not realize what an integral part security checks now played in my life until I went away on holiday this summer. I went to malls, hotels, cinemas, and it just felt wrong that nobody checked my purse or that there were no metal detectors. Bizarrely, I actually felt it's not as safe as Jordan," Samar said. Generally, people’s senses are heightened and most find it difficult to be completely at ease in public venues. For Nada Barakat, a cooperate lawyer at a local firm, something as trivial as two people leaving the theater before a movie ended was enough to make her and her family uncomfortable and suspicious.
"We were at the theater the other day and just before the movie ended, two men left… everyone at the theater looked scared… I myself freaked out!" she shared.

Take it or leave it

Despite a general approval of the need to protect Jordan against attacks and prevent any from happening in the future, the overall consensus is far from unanimous. Many people feel annoyed and inconvenienced by the new measures. On the other hand, others feel that these measures are still not enough and that stricter practices have to be implemented in order to really feel safe.

"At the beginning, I was quite irritated by these measures… I am not used to stopping at the doors of more or less every place I want to go to be searched. However, I feel that I have gotten used to them now, sometimes, still, I wish they were not there," added Hiba, the schoolteacher. However, Kinzi Jones, a writer, said the measures were absolutely a must. "I happily plunk down my purse for a search when shopping, and I am thankful when I get pulled over for a random check," she said. "But they seem to be focusing on the wrong people. Just as police are busy giving parking tickets when people who endanger lives on our roads go free," she added. Shaden Abdul-Rahman, a realtor, said that she appreciates the security measures applied at malls. "Sometimes I do wish that they thoroughly search my purse as opposed to just quickly scanning it without checking every item. Occasionally the employee in charge lets you in even though the machine has beeped. He doesn't even bother looking at the screen in front of him. After 9/11 every Jordanian is grateful for extra security," she said.

But Ahmad Hammoudeh, a hospitality student, said he disliked the measures. "I don’t understand this… I never liked it. When I go to Mecca Mall, I never enter through the metal detector, as I believe it is cancerous…Instead I prefer to be searched manually by the guard," he said, after he was searched by security. Like so many other rules and regulations, many locals completely abide by security rules when abroad, but are less cooperative when undergoing procedures locally. Nada Barakat, on the other hand, criticizes people who complain about security measures internally, yet peacefully and quietly accept thorough searches and inspections in European and American airports, although measures taken there are far more undignified and forceful. "The sight of my husband taking off his shoes, jacket, and belt, and sometimes even being dragged into a secluded room because his name sounds dubious whenever we travel abroad, is not a pleasant feeling".

Security… a service for all?!

Kheir Salah has been working as a security guard for Mecca Mall, one of the busiest shopping malls in Amman, for three years. He said he applies strict procedures when working at one of the gates to the mall. "I get people saying they don’t want to go through the detector and I respect that… but in this case, they have to be searched manually… if they refuse, I would never allow them in [without inspection]," he said.
"Sometimes the metal detector beeps, but it could beep because of a ring, a belt, a button, anything. What many do not realize is that we have grades [of sensitivity] on the Garret machine and the machine tells us when the item in question is of any danger," Mr. Salah said.
Additionally, Mr. Salah noted that the mall has a large number of surveillance cameras installed in the many corners of the mall. These cameras, which are connected to a main control system, have proven successful in unraveling any attempts of sabotage or chaos. Special emphasis is also placed on a select few that security personnel feel are suspicious. Examples include people wearing very big (or loose) clothes. Such visitors are flagged down and are manually searched immediately.
Deputy General Manager of Mecca mall, Salameh Kurdi, recalls the few days after the attacks very well. The mall was completely deserted like so many public venues in Amman. "But gradually we started regaining the confidence of people and customers to go out and enjoy their time without fearing any sort of attacks," said Kurdi.

The mall, he added, increased the number of its security personnel to around 130, and manned every gate with a number of security agents to search people getting in. Female security personnel were employed to search women and children.

"Security for us is a service like all the other services we offer here like car parking and cleaning. We have a special department for safety and security. We need to make the mall conducive for investment and safe for people who come here with their children to shop, walk, and have an enjoyable time," said Mr. Kurdi.

According to Mr. Kurdi, whose company (Kurdi Group) also owns Abdoun Mall; security personnel have received and continue to receive, training on the optimum ways that will make security measures successful without becoming too much of a nuisance to mall visitors, which has become one of the busiest places in Amman, especially during weekends. "Our security have received training by the security authorities and continue to learn the most up to date ways that will keep the mall's environment safe and encouraging," he said.

However, Living Well was successful in entering several so-called guarded places without being inspected. Pushing a baby stroller, pretending to be pregnant, or claiming to be very late were reasons that helped our undercover agents avoid inspection. In too many of these places the search was either mediocre or not conducted at all. A sweet smile from one of our female reporters was enough to get through to a restaurant unattended. But in some hotels, notably the Grand Hyatt Amman (one of three hotels attacked last year), Intercontinental Amman, and the Four Seasons, security was strict. The machines they use are very similar to the ones used in international airports. In these hotels, both machine and manual search were obligatory.

Pseudo politically speaking…

Some have a different take on security and making Jordan ultimately safe.
These security measures may help catch criminals but nothing can stop the act of terror. “Let us face it, these security measures are meant to protect the property of the rich in Jordan, not the people of Jordan. The same applies in the U.S. and everywhere else. Who protects Jordanians in the farmers’ market, lower-end restaurants, downtown Amman, or in funerals? No one. You are on your own out there. But when you enter a hotel or a mall, the owners see you as a threat to their property. That's all. The sooner you face this simple fact the sooner you will realize the whole security thing everywhere is not meant for the average citizen," a Jordanian young man, who refused to be named, said. Indeed, security for many should transcend armored doors and armed guards. People should feel valued in order to feel secure; this helps a nation work for its country and not work against it.
"Our government would be committing a crime against Jordanians if they don't learn from the deadly mistakes committed by the U.S. There is no substitute for dialogue with everyone. A mixture of smart security measures and open channels of communication are Jordan's best security policy. At the end of the day, it's us Jordanians who don't live in forts behind technologically advanced security fences and armored vehicles, who will benefit the most from such a smart security policy," he said, preferring anonymity.

Cultural security

Political analyst and expert on Islamic movements, Mohammad Abu Rumman, noticed a transformation in the way Jordanian security handle things. According to Mr. Abu Rumman instead of waiting for extremists and fundamentalists to come and strike, the security authorities have formed a database on security threats and how to protect the country against any more attacks.
"The General Intelligence Department has realized that the database they had was not sufficient, especially after the invasion of Iraq. This entailed strengthening the database about Iraqis and other expats in Jordan and re-examining and enforcing border security," he explained.
In this regard, he believed the security authorities have made a significant success. The fact that security has foiled many terrorist attack attempts proves their success.
"But they have failed in culturally protecting the society against mental and cultural terror, and they have failed in stopping the continuous recruitment of people by Takfiri and other terror groups. They have made many attempts like the Message of Amman and restructuring the Ministry of Awqaf but these have also failed. This is due to the lack of a vision for a practical plan in this regard. All the laws that have been enacted in the security regard recently pertained to physical security and not cultural safety and security. They have failed to create a social and cultural shield against extremism," Mr. Abu Rumman noted.

"People don’t have to believe in the religious beliefs of Al Qaeda but anyone who holds up a flag against the U.S. will absolutely win support. In protests in Amman and elsewhere, protesters carried posters for Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and not AlQaeda Chief Usama Ben Laden. Which means that a political and cultural shift to an anti-U.S. sentiment was easier. This affects societies with a high percentage of youth, unemployed, and poor people," he said.
"That is why I am saying there should be a very strong societal and cultural campaign that will attract people away from violence and towards peace, tolerance, and acceptance of others," he added.

Columnist and political analyst, Batir Wardam, sees security issues from a different perspective. "I think safety has many faces and physical safety from violence is only one of them. I think Jordan is still relatively safe from terrorism and political violence now, but this may change in the future. My negative assessment against our safety is economic safety and social safety. I feel this country is run by people who do not appreciate it and we may end up with being less safe in terms of education, health, water, and other things we took for granted," he said.
"I fully support security measures in hotels and airports to the highest limits. There are some crazy people who think killing us will get them a ticket to heaven and they will not stop. So I go for security but not at the expense of people's freedoms. Again, I do not think that the Jordanian security forces target anyone who lives peacefully. If you have Takfiri ideas or plan to destabilize the country do not expect the security to shake your hand for that," Mr. Wardam added.

Naseem Tarawneh, a Jordanian living in Canada wrapped it up by saying "Are security measures necessary? With Israel to our west, Lebanon is a mess, people moving in and out of Jordan through Syria to the north, the occupation to our east, terrorists attacking Saudi targets to the south and terrorists attacking Egyptian targets to the south west. So yes...given the circumstances I think so!"

“I never before thought I would be searched and inspected before I enter the mall in Jordan”

“People don’t have to believe in the religious beliefs of Al Qaeda but anyone who holds up a flag against the U.S. will absolutely win support”

“There are some crazy people who think killing us will get them a ticket to heaven and they will not stop.”
*Previously published in Living Well Magazine


Anonymous said...

there is a false notion that security measures in Jordan and in other countries are geared at protecting people. That's most untrue. Security is meant to protect property of the wealthy and the stats.

Fact is, most densely populated public areas in Amman, such as farmers markets, parks, and other population centers, are vulnerable and no security is provided. Not by the state or by the private sector. That's because it's impossible to provide security everywhere.

We can't secure the nation with touch measures alone. We have to address key factors which continue to bring instability to the whole region: social injustice and adventurous foreign policy. The former is a product of repression and corruption, the second is a product of dangerous collaboration between the regime and with Israel and USA such as "contract torture" .

If we do America's dirty work, Bush would have succeeded in taking the war on terror to the "enemy" and, I kid you not, Americans would love to see us go up in flames so long as they are safe.

of course those amongst us in Jordan who make those reckless decisions to collaborate with US and Israel in Jordan are very well protected and may care less should Jordanians suffer negative and tragic consequences.

Batir said...

Anonumous..As you may have heared terrorism occures also in Syria which is not an ally to the USA, at least in public. Your argument, although semi-logical will provide a much needed justification for terrorism. What I do share with you is the fact that the regime should give people more freedom to express their dissatisfaction with its policies of linkages with the USA and that may decrease the grudge developed by such policies amongst the public. However, this should not and never be used as an excuse to terrorism.

Anonymous said...

Batir, You should not, in your enthusiasm for supporting the regime, expose Jordanians to terrorism.

this is what our positions boil down to: i want an end to a Jordanian foreign policy that turns jordan into a client state for the US and a lightning rod for revenge attacks. You want Jordan to become a client state and a lighting rod for revenge attacks.

I think you should learn something from the Spanish, Swedes, Norwegians, Argentinians, etc.

Batir said...

Anonymous can you imagine that you are the King of Jordan and you want tomake a new foreign policy I would love to be "enlightened" by your roadmap of a new foreign strategy that would save us from terrorism?

Anonymous said...

my solution: neutrality, equality, justice. learn from Sweden, if you dare.

and i never had ambitions for any political office. i detest politicians, especially in a non-democratic environment.

Qwaider قويدر said...

Even neutrality is not a guarantee to remain out of trouble!
The issue with the Jordanian ecosystem is that it's a continuous flash point and a melting point for conflicting ideologies. For example, you have ultra right wing Islamists in Jordan and ultra left wings competing for the center which is extremely confused by so many issues. Iraq, Palestine, Globalization, terrorism a million other things.
While extremists see the world in white or black prism. Most others disagree. If a matter is with the US, it doesn't mean its always Bad, it doesn't mean it's always good.
Jordanians should ALL take a step back, and define their priorities. What's more important for the Nation, the country, the family and the individual.
Unfortunately, most just follow what ever trends "Imma3a" if people go left, they go left, if people go right, they go right. Most have absolutely no mind of their own. And can not see the good even if it hit them splat in the face!

Anonymous said...

"The issue with the Jordanian ecosystem is that it's a continuous flash point and a melting point for conflicting ideologies."

So? how is this different from Italy? Israel? Palestine? Nicaragua? Bolivia? There is NOTHING unique about Jordan except the labels. Most democratic countries have their own competing an dconflicting ideologies.

But Qweider what are you proposing instead of neutrality, equality, and justice, and democracy (i forgot that) last time? A continuation of contract torture? More covert cooperation with Israel and US? More repression of political opposition (communists then, islamists now)

As for defining Jordanians' priorities, it's this issue which brought instability to Jordan. The regime thinks it's survival is the number 1 priority and as such is willing to collaborate with US and Israel and meddling in Palestinian, Lebanese, and Palestinian affairs. But again, this regime is not known for its sensitivity for the average Jordanian needs and concerns. The economy is in shambles (i am sure readers of these blogs are not a representative cross section of Jordan) taxes are rising, corruption is rising, inequality of education and health care, and all what we see being funded are expensive bridges and fancy monuments and for-TV humanitarian initiatives.

Qweider, it seems the only priorities that matter for Jordanians are the ones that the regime seems to care less for.

Back to democracy, equality, justice, and neutrality.

Qwaider قويدر said...

A good lesson we learn from the situation of Iraq is that Democracy and Tyranny are not really catalysts of stability. It's funny that I find my self saying this but I've come to believe that democracy doesn't really work!
Anyway, back to what you said about what makes the Jordanian situation unique. What makes it unique is that there are no indigenous group to this land. That's the truth. People can continue to claim that their great grand father was living in Salt of Karak or what ever, but That wasn't even Jordan.
In such a heterogeneous society it will be an ever lasting tug-of-war between all parties concerned and their first and foremost loyalty is not even to the regime but rather to the clan.
Jordan as a nation is a new term. There really isn't a single person who can trace their lineage to Jordan more than ... say 120 years?
What this means, is that we have a unique situation where people are rooting only for them selves. And cause the nation to follow. The Palestinians want more sympathy with the Palestinian cause, The tribal want nothing to do with it, and the list of heterogeneous groups continue
Its enough that there are unwritten laws that govern even marriage and relationships.... You married a Jordanian... you married a Palestinian ... and Batir can attest to other minorities about how the people like to discriminate against everyone else

The point is, the situation in Jordan is unique, and grave quite frankly. Most people don't do things because they're skeptic of the goals .. and everyone learned (the hard way) that people who closed their doors, mouths and minds are the ones who survived.

So yeah, I totally agree with you, Islam-ism is the new communism! I really liked that thought

Ali said...

"Democracy and Tyranny are not really catalysts of stability. "

Not really. You missed the real lesson of Iraq: that occupation will bring instability even if it pretends to promote democracy or to bring civilization.

Qweider you are sounding like a neo-liberal who is just looking for excuses to prove that democracy is bad and authoritarian rule is good.

Iraq is the exceptions not the rule. If you look at the most prosperous and advanced nations on earth (the rule) they are democratic.

Ali said...

"there are no indigenous group to this land."

Qweider, the same is true for US, Canada, Australia, those countries the overwhelming majority of people and the ruling classes are not indigenous. Still, your point proves nothing.

This also proves nothing.

Ali said...

"The Palestinians want more sympathy with the Palestinian cause, The tribal want nothing to do with it"

This is a gross oversimplification of the issue.

The only party that promotes division between west Jordanians and east Jordanians in the regime who is both culturally and ideologically so different from both west and east culture and as such feels only secure so long as those divisions are alive and the regime can play the role of judge. fact is never was there any distinction between west and east Jordanians until the regime played that card to undermine the PLO, by transforming the civil war from one between nationalists and pro-Israelis, to one between Jordanians and Palestinians.

Other than the artificial divide being fed and nurtured by the regime, there are NO differences between west and east. People like Batir thrive on the differences for the same reasons the regime does. He is a member of a minority that only feels effective so long as the "Arab-Sunni" block is divided.

Qwaider قويدر said...

"Not really. You missed the real lesson of Iraq: that occupation will bring instability even if it pretends to promote democracy or to bring civilization. "
Really? you want more examples? Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and many others. The issue is. There are levels of stability that are acceptable even under an authoritarian rule. Examples for that? THE WHOLE middle east!
Now some occupation will bring instability and some will not, but I see that as orthogonal to the issue of democracy vs otherwise!

Democracy needs to be home brewed! IF you force it from the outside, it will just not work!

Qwaider قويدر said...

"This is a gross oversimplification of the issue"
This is just an example, to prove a specific point. Not meant as "The Rule"

Now, the PLO were not really saints you know ... They made a LOT of mistakes, not just in Jordan, but also in Lebanon and anywhere they went. Most recently Gaza... But this is not the point

I wouldn't be so harsh on Batir, he is level headed and I doubt that this motives are of ill nature. He's Jordanian and tries to work for what's best for the country from his point of view.

In US, Canada ...etc the new population managed to make a home out of the land they suddenly occupied. While in Jordan this was hardly the case. Had Jordan been a real settlement (for example refugees are allowed to go into the wilderness, farm it ... and call it theirs) as was the case with "new world", the whole situation would have been different.

Anyway, I don't know why we got here, the post is about the Jordanian 9/11 really

I keep hearing that the regime wants to survive ... the regime wants to survive ... well ... so what? Isn't it the goal of EVERY regime in the world .. be it democratic or not!?

Anonymous said...

"Democracy needs to be home brewed! "

n Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, democracy was imposed by the victor or the "mandate" power.

Jordan being more homogeneous than Japan is a candidate for imposed democracy. Thats' why the regime and its thugs are frantically busy brewing the seeds of discord by stealing yousef to give to mustafa to keep this state of division and to secure its place.

Again, the most prosperous and advanced and humane countries are democratic, the most backward and brutal are not.

You keep fishing for exceptions to the rule. I am amzed to see Jordanians living in the west who advocate repression and authoritarian rule and continue to peddle arguments that arabs are not ready for democracy. you must be on a government "makruma" (aka handout) or you father is a government official.

Qwaider قويدر said...

Anonymous, you seem to be bent on making me laugh! Jordan is more homogeneous than Japan!? LOL!

When did I advocated AGAINST democracy? I'm just saying Democracy is not a guarantee for many things. It's not a silver bullet, it's not a wounder drug. It does have it's MANY advantages. But how can democracy stop terrorism?! I find that completely irrelevant! Same goes for prosperity, development or what ever. People do prosper under other regimes and there is no denying that.
Don't take my view as rooting for one way _OR_ the other. I'm looking at the subject objectively, based on what I see as facts.

And next time don't be a little girl in the way you respond to counter arguments. And learn to be respectful in your responses. Turning it to "me" does not make you win the argument. But turns it into "Radi7" Egyptian style. I volley an idea, and you respond with "your father!" ... Sadly laughable!

Anonymous said...

"Jordan is more homogeneous than Japan!? LOL!"

DUH! how many races, ethnicities, languages, and religions does 90% of Jordanians come from? A FRIGGIN DUH!

US is diverse. France is diverse. Jordan is not.

Let me explain it in 101 basics. Lets say Jordan is 20% black, 20% Asian, 20% Arab, 30% Christian, 30% Hindu, 40% Muslims then you can argue that Jordan is less homogeneous than Japan.

But if you consider someone's last name or political ideology to constitute "differences" then this reflects your backward mentality.

You can dress them up, you can take them to America, but the you can't....

Qwaider قويدر said...

Anonymous! You know, let me start this comment by saying that... I ... Agree ... with ... YOU!
I agreed with you already
In my last comment, I was exclaiming what you said in the comment RIGHT before it!

But since you contradicted your self, (or there are more than one anonymous) then I will agree with the very last one!

Now, would you kindly read my comment, a little bit less nervously so that you can get what I'm saying?

You're just too angry to agree, or even see what I'm saying!