Crime and Punishment in Jordan

The Killing of Moath al-Kasasbeh and the Future of the War Against ISIS

A boy holds a toy gun beside the Jordanian national flag during a march after Friday prayers in downtown Amman, February 6, 2015. Muhammad Hamed / Courtesy Reuters

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham’s horrific video of operatives burning alive the captured Jordanian pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh shocked the world. King Abdullah, who was visiting Washington when the video was released, vowed to avenge Kasasbeh’s death and promptly returned to Jordan. Even before he landed, two prominent al Qaeda prisoners with ties to ISIS on death row in the kingdom were hanged.

Jordanians greeted Abdullah’s arrival—and the news of the two executions—with jubilation. But the kingdom’s next moves against ISIS remain unclear. Jordanians want revenge, yet until now the kingdom’s involvement in the U.S.-led air campaign against the terrorist group has been deeply unpopular at home. Indeed, until Kasasbeh’s death, the trending Twitter hashtag in Jordan was #ThisIsNotOurWar.

If the past is precedent, Kasasbeh’s death at the hands of ISIS could signal a change—at least temporarily—in Jordanian popular attitudes toward the war and presage a more robust role for the kingdom in military operations.

For the past six months, opposition to the war in Jordan was broad-based, including both secular and Islamist residents. The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood condemned participation in the coalition as a violation of the country’s constitution and “a campaign against Islam.” Meanwhile, some secular Jordanians worried that the kingdom’s role in the air war would provoke ISIS retaliation. Still others—such as the prominent columnist Lamis Andoni—contended that Jordan had been blackmailed by the United States, the kingdom’s leading donor, into participating. The campaign, she wrote on December 30, represented a “complete subordination to Washington’s policies and wishes.”

For most Jordanians, though, opposition to the anti-ISIS coalition seemed to be driven by dynamics in Syria, where, since 2011, the nominally Shia Alawite regime of President Bashar al-Assad has killed 200,000 people, mostly Sunnis. In this context, many Jordanians saw the Sunni ISIS as an effective counterforce to Assad. Not surprisingly, according to a poll published in September by the Center for

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