Arab World Unites in Anger After Burning of Jordanian Pilot
Amman, Jordan, Nirapad News : There was one sentiment that many of the Middle East’s competing clerics, fractious ethnic groups and warring sects could agree on Wednesday: a shared sense of revulsion at the Islamic State’s latest atrocity, burning alive a Jordanian pilot inside a cage.
In Syria, the government denounced the group that has been fighting it for months, but so did Qaeda fighters who oppose both the government and the Islamic State. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government for once agreed on something, the barbarity of the militant group for the way it murdered the Jordanian, First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh. And in Cairo, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of the 1,000-year-old Al Azhar institute, was so angered that he called for the Islamic State’s extremists to be “killed, or crucified, or their hands and legs cut off.”
That leading Sunni scholar’s denunciation was even harsher than similar outbursts from the region’s Shiite leaders, theologically the more traditional foes of the Islamic State.
In a way that recent beheadings of hostages had not, the immolation of Lieutenant Kasasbeh set off a regionwide explosion of anger and disgust at the extremists, also known as ISIS or ISIL, or to most Arabs by the word “Daesh.” Even more significant, in a chronically embattled region that bequeathed to the world the expression, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the Islamic State suddenly found itself friendless in the extreme.
Name almost any outrage in the Mideast in decades of them — the Sabra and Shatila massacre, the Achille Lauro hijacking, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the gassing of the Halabja Kurds, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole — and the protagonists would readily find both apologists and detractors. But with one breathtakingly vicious murder, the Islamic State changed that dynamic, uniting most of the region against it.
The sense of anti-Daesh unity made for strange scenes throughout the region. Jordan’s King Abdullah II, caught by surprise in Washington when the video of the killing was released, returned home Wednesday not to anger at his absence, but to a hero’s welcome. Crowds lined his route from the airport to cheer Jordan’s decision to promptly retaliate by executing two convicted terrorists, both with connections to the Islamic State, only hours earlier.
Never known as a charismatic leader, King Abdullah got rave reviews at home for his tough talk in Washington, where in a meeting with congressional leaders he said his retribution would remind people of the Clint Eastwood movie “Unforgiven.” Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, who was in attendance, said the king vowed “retaliation” and “getting after the bad guys.”
The king wasted no time making good on his threat, and before his plane had even landed, he ordered the two prisoners to be hanged by the neck until they died.
The video released Tuesday of the death of Lieutenant Kasasbeh, with its vows to kill other fighter pilots bombing Islamic State positions, was clearly aimed at trying to scare Jordan out of the American-led coalition fighting the extremists. But it seems to have had the opposite effect among many Jordanians, and Jordan’s government spokesman said the kingdom would now step up its involvement against the group.
The pilot’s father, Safi Youssef al-Kasasbeh, an influential tribal sheikh, had earlier questioned whether Jordan should even be fighting the Islamic State. But after his son’s death, his qualms were gone. “I ask the international community to carry out just punishment against those terrorist groups that have no religion or traditional values,” he said in a telephone interview.
“I guess in a way we lost a pilot, but at the same time I think the government gained a collective support for fighting them, in Jordan and from all around too,” said Adnan Abu-Odeh, a former head of Jordan’s intelligence service. “Daesh have made a big error. When you are weakened as they have been, you try to make your supporters think you are strong by being more monstrous, but this time they went too far.”
In Syria, where a chaotic four-year insurgency provided the Islamic State with an incubator, both those supporting President Bashar al-Assad and those opposing him condemned the act, as did their foreign backers.
Iran, the Syrian government’s most important ally and no friend of Jordan, called the pilot’s killing “inhumane and un-Islamic.” Al Manar, the television station of another ally of the Syrian government, the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, called it “the most gruesome” of many atrocities committed by the Islamic State.
Qatar, which opposes Mr. Assad, likewise condemned the killing as “contravening the tolerant principles” of Islam. Turkey, blamed by many in the region for allowing foreign fighters to cross its borders into Syria, where some join the Islamic State, also chimed in. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it an act of “savagery” that had no place in Islam, adding, “I curse and damn the burning of the Jordanian pilot.”
Denouncing the Islamic State as a “diabolical” terrorist group, Al Azhar’s leader and grand imam, Sheikh Tayeb, cited Quranic verses to show that Islam forbids the burning or mutilation of enemies at war.
“This vile terrorist act,” he said in a statement issued by Al Azhar, “requires punishment as cited by the Quran for oppressors and spoilers on earth who fight God and his prophet, that they be killed, or crucified, or their hands and legs cut off.”
Al Azhar, a seat of Islamic learning, considers itself a beacon of moderation and tolerance for the Sunni Muslim world, and the statement offered no explanation for the incongruity of Sheikh Tayeb’s advocating some of the same medieval punishments employed by extremists.
Mainstream Arab leaders reacted to the immolation in a categorically different way to the long string of hostage beheadings that preceded it. Partly that may have been because, according to many commentators Wednesday, burning someone alive is prohibited in Islam as a punishment that belongs to God alone, applied in hell. Beheadings, however, have a long history in Islam.
For all the outrage, some in Syria and elsewhere lamented the lack of a similar level of anger for the hundreds of thousands of people killed in Syria’s civil war.
Human Rights Watch and other organizations tracking the conflict noted that the Syrian government’s barrel bombings of cities kill far more civilians than the extremists — however depraved and attention-grabbing the militant group’s methods.
Khaled Khoja, the president of the main Syrian exile opposition group, linked the pilot’s participation in the struggle against the Islamic State directly to his own country’s opposition’s struggle against Mr. Assad.
“Moaz’s blood has mingled with the soil of our beloved Syria, and whose remains mingled with those of hundreds of thousands of Syrians killed by Assad’s barrel bombs and the terrorist group ISIS,” Mr. Khoja said in a statement. “I strongly condemn this barbaric act, which symbolizes pure evil.”
Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said that both forms of killing should be condemned.
“ISIS’s despicable conduct shouldn’t make us lose sight of the largest killer of civilians in Syria: Assad’s barrel bombs,” he said in an email. “The world has been reluctant to address them out of a misguided sense that nothing should be done that might constrain the fight against ISIS, but barrel bombs have little if any military significance.”