Terrorist blasts echo in lives of the innocent

November 14, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

When I heard the news of the bombs that hit hotels in Amman, Jordan, last week, I couldn't help but think of the little Bedouin boy I met two years ago.

It was in the Jordanian city of Petra, the country's most popular tourist attraction. The boy, trying to hawk wares to tourists, couldn't have been more than 5 years old. He had a look of pleading desperation in his eyes, as if selling his goods were the key to his survival.

That was probably the case.

Tourism in Jordan had been in a downward spiral since Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists flew two hijacked jets into the World Trade Center twin towers, flew another into the Pentagon and would have done more damage with a fourth one if passengers on board hadn't taken matters into their own hands and forced the hijackers to crash into the woods in Pennsylvania.

Arthur Murphy, a Baltimore political consultant, often arranges for Americans to take trips to Jordan. He's been doing it for years. He last went to Jordan in March 2004. Murphy remembers how many of those who had signed up for trips to Jordan canceled after Sept. 11. He expects the same now.

"Jordan is in for a rough time," Murphy said. [This] is going to affect [tourism] dramatically. I have 200 people scheduled to go to Jordan next year. The deadline for getting in down payments is Dec. 1. I expect half of them not to go."

Murphy was on the phone all last week, talking to Jordanians and getting their reaction to the bombings. He estimates that he talked to about 50 people. Reactions to the bombings, Murphy said, "are all over the place," in terms of who bears the most responsibility. There is, however, a common theme.

"They're mostly [ticked] off it happened," Murphy said. Most of that anger is directed at Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq. Murphy said his conversations with numerous Jordanians has led to one simple question.

"If you're going to pick on somebody," Murphy asked, "why them?"

Why, indeed, pick on the Jordanians? Speculation has it that the bombings were carried out by Iraqi "insurgents" angry at Jordanian support for the U.S. war in Iraq.

I was one of the Americans on a trip Murphy organized in June 2003. And from my conversations with Jordanians and reading their newspapers, which are partially controlled by the government, I can say there is no across-the-board Jordanian support for the U.S. war in Iraq.

"They [Jordanians] don't support it," Murphy said. "Killing innocent people is one thing. Not supporting the war is another. Jordanians are about business. They want Jordan to become what Beirut once was: a center for international business. You can go to Jordan for anything."

Dalia Dajani, a newspaper reporter in Jordan I talked to during my trip, said her views of the American war in Iraq might be the most common among Jordanians.

President Bush "is viewed with suspicion," Dajani said. "This war is not justified." Many Jordanians, Dajani said, believe the war in Iraq is so America can control the Middle East and its oil. And this came from a woman who didn't care for deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"In the Arab world, nobody liked Saddam," Dajani said. "Everybody hated Saddam." Dajani's family experienced living under Hussein's rule when Iraqi troops occupied Kuwait just before the first Gulf war. She and other members of her family hopped in a vehicle and headed for the Jordanian border to escape a Hussein-ruled Kuwait.

"I couldn't wait to see that border," Dajani remembered.

Dajani might be the one Jordanian I remembered most from my trip, if it weren't for that little Bedouin boy at Petra. His feet were bare, covered with dust. He didn't speak a word. He just held up a box with some black stones in it, stones common in the region of Petra but popular with tourists.

Then there were the eyes, the quiet but discernible desperation in the boy's eyes. They weren't like the eyes of the boy I met in Jerash a few days earlier, whose eyes were full of wonder and inquisitiveness as he tried to sell me some postcards. When he learned I was an American, that boy, a few years older than the Bedouin lad, had asked "Americans are very smart, no?"

"Some are, some aren't," I'd answered.

The Bedouins near Petra must rely more heavily on tourism bucks to survive, which might explain the look in that Bedouin boy's eyes as he held up his box of black stones, pleading, supplicating with anyone to spare just a few Jordanian dinars.

I remember thinking at the time that it was Osama bin Laden who had most caused the suffering of such boys. Now, thanks to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it looks like their suffering will continue.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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