King Abdullah II of Jordan addressed terrorism in his remarks to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, portraying the “network of extremist terrorists” as a force seeking “global dominance” so they can “erase human civilization, and drag us back to the dark ages.”
“Will we pass on to our children a world dominated by dread and division?” he asked:
Where safety and security will be at the forefront of their minds as they board a plane, attend a concert or football match or stroll through a mall? Most important, are we doing what must be done to confront and decisively defeat this evil force, so that our children can live in a world where fear and suspicion are replaced by human camaraderie and hope, where they can reach their fullest potential and add to the stockpile of human achievement accrued over the ages?
The King said his answer to that question, sadly, was “no,” in part because “we haven’t clearly defined who the enemy is.”
Abdullah chastised “many Western officials, think tanks, media leaders, and policymakers” for not understanding the “true nature of Islam,” which he proceeded to define:
Muslims – a quarter of the world’s population; citizens of every country – have a central role in the future of our planet. Muslim men and women bring to the world a rich heritage of civic responsibility, justice, generosity, family life, and faith in God.
When others exclude Muslims from fulfilling their role, by prejudice or ignorance of what Islam is – or on the other hand, when the outlaws of Islam, the khawarej, attempt to mislead some Muslims, by deforming our religion through false teaching – our society’s future is put at risk.
Historically, the Khawarej were a sect of Muslims who broke away from the caliphate established by Mohammed; they are often described as the prototype for Islamist extremists such as ISIS or al-Qaeda.
“My friends, when the outlaws of Islam, the khawarej, murder; when they plunder; when they exploit children and reject the equality of women before God, they abuse Islam,” Abdullah declared. “When the khawarej persecute minorities, when they deny freedom of religion – they abuse Islam.”
“Islam teaches that all humanity is equal in dignity. There is no distinction among different nations or regions or races. The Qur’an forbids coercion in religion. Every citizen is guaranteed the state’s protection for their lives, families, properties, honour, privacy, and freedom of religion and thought,” said Abdullah, who further argued that true Muslims “believe in the divine origin of the Bible and the Torah,” noting how often Moses, Jesus, and Mary are mentioned in the Koran.
Abdullah said, “these radical outlaw groups do not exist on the fringes of Islam – they are altogether outside of it,” which is why he recommends the term “khawarej” for them. He warned about both their propensity for civilian bloodshed and their ability to “expand fast and wide through their mastery and exploitation of modern technology and social media.”
He called upon “all elements” of the Muslim community, including “not only mosques and religious centers, but media, schools and community leaders” to “decisively reject the ideas and claims of takfiri jihadists.”
By takfiri, he essentially means what Western politicians call “hijacking the religion of Islam” — jihadists who bully other Muslims into following their creed by claiming they preach true Islam, and everyone who disagrees is an apostate. Interestingly, the term takfiri is a Sunni Muslim concept, and Abdullah specifically mentioned the urgent need for Sunni scholars to reject the jihadis; he didn’t talk about Shiites or Iran at all.
He did talk about Syria where, he said, “a military approach will leave no winners, only losers on every side, and further civilian suffering,” calling instead for a “political process, one shepherded by a global vision and led by all components of the Syrian people.” Unfortunately, there is very little evidence that all components of the Syrian people are interested in such a peaceful process, and the Iranians Abdullah failed to mention are one of the reasons why.
The Jordanian monarch likewise encouraged international support as “the government and people continue to uproot the khawarej” and called for an “inclusive approach engaging all components of the country in the political process, and in state institutions.” This sounds like a lightly veiled slap at the Iraqi government’s indulgence of sectarian politics.
Abdullah concluded with a few demands for the non-Muslim world:
As we pursue these goals, our international community must also take responsibility towards those whose lives have been crushed – millions of refugees, victims, and impoverished.
And we cannot decisively defeat the scourge of terror and violence without decisively roofing out the injustices that provide its fertile ground. From the prisons of Abu Ghraib, to the streets of Kabul and schools in Aleppo, injustice and humiliation have left tremendous human suffering in their wake.
No injustice has spread more bitter fruit than the denial of a Palestinian state. I say: Peace is a conscious decision. Israel has to embrace peace or eventually be engulfed in a sea of hatred in a region of turmoil.
He also emphasized the importance of “safeguarding Jerusalem,” which he described as “a priority for me personally, and for all Muslims.”
“We utterly reject attacks on Muslim and Christian holy sites, and any attempts to alter the historic Muslim, Christian, and Arab identity of the Holy City,” Abdullah said. “As the custodian of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, I will continue my efforts to protect these places, and stand up against all violations of their sanctity, including attempts for temporal and spatial division of the al-Aqsa Mosque, al Haram al Sharif.” (The last is a reference to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.)
“Perhaps the central and most vital battleground for this defining war of our generation is the mind,” Abdullah declared. “The despicable, damaging ideology of hate, murder, and self-destruction, spread in crash courses online and elsewhere, must be confronted with a counter-narrative of hope, tolerance, and peace.”
King Abdullah will return home from the General Assembly to a Jordan where Muslim Brotherhood Islamists, very nearly banned outright by the Jordanian government this year, are faring disturbingly well in parliamentary elections — in part by ditching their most incendiary jihadi slogans and remodeling themselves as “moderates,” with strong organization skills and rural appeal.
According to a Reuters report Tuesday, there is growing apathy and disillusionment among Jordanians because their elected parliament cannot effectively oppose the King and his chosen ministers. The Jordanians are proud of their government’s stability and political reforms, but if they keep reforming toward full representative democracy, the monarchy may find itself having a spirited debate over the definition of true Islam with some very stern domestic critics.