“The Winds of Strength” — Four Ammaners on ISIS’s Murder of Muath Al-Kasasbeh

On the evening of 3rd February 2015 I was in my apartment in Amman getting ready to meet a BBC journalist for dinner. I was just about to hop in a taxi when my phone rang. It was the journalist.

“Is this Emmeline?” He asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m so sorry but I’m going to have to cancel on this evening. The Jordanian pilot has just been killed by ISIS.”

The news was coming in right then and there. It was leaking out now.

About half an hour later, Amman erupted.

Outside of my apartment I could hear people yelling from their car windows, sounding their horns as they tore through the streets in anger. There were sirens in the distance. My facebook and twitter were filled with people expressing their shock and their anger. Profile pictures were changed to blank black squares of mourning. The hashtag #كلنا_معاذ (We are all Muath, the name of the pilot) was trending.

The protests over the next week or so were as usual focussed in the downtown area, Wasat al-Balad, but this time the whole city felt different. The streets were emptier. People seemed subdued, angry, scared. Across all the radio stations nationalist songs blared. Posters of Muath emerged all over the place. Large slogans appeared tied on to railings and roundabouts: they read, “This is not our Islam”, “Raise your head (Be proud) – You are Jordanian”, “We are all Jordanian”. This was absolute defiance. Soon we began to see planes flying overhead on their way to do reconnaissance work in Syria.

There are already thousands upon thousands of people in Jordan who have fled ISIS, unable to return to their homes (if their homes are still standing) because of the threat of torture, rape, murder and loss of freedom. The statistics for how many refugees fleeing ISIS have made their way into Jordan is still difficult for the UN to accurately establish as many people refuse to register formally, terrified of putting their names on a list from whence their whereabouts could be determined. When ISIS killed Muath it was a reminder that ISIS is very, very close, and for the people for whom this conflict is entirely real, ISIS’s murder of Muath was not a distant news story but a terrifying threat to their safety, a warning that ISIS was following them.

Being in Amman at this time, I found it was possible to get caught up in the mood of the city, to feel like I knew what was going on, like I got what people were feeling. But in reality my relationship with the crisis is one of comfortable privilege, very different from that of most other Amman residents. It’s not my homeland that’s under threat; it’s not my religion that’s being hijacked by extremists on one side and mercilessly criticised by ignorant outsiders on the other; it’s not my freedom that’s at stake — I have that all-important British passport that allows me to get the hell out when the going gets rough. In short, I’m not the person in Jordan from whom you should hear this story.

With this in mind, this post is not going to be me speaking. I’m going to pass you over to four Jordanians whom I interviewed following Mauth’s death. They can explain what Muath’s murder really means far more eloquently and accurately than I ever could.

*Note on translation: I have tried to translate their words as faithfully as possible while also rendering the English plausible. I’ve only included extracts of what they said, although I’ve tried to make sure that the extracts capture the overall message. My level of Arabic is still far from perfect and at times I may have misinterpreted my friends’ meanings. I’ve included the original Arabic and welcome suggestions for improvements to the translation.

A typical poster. This one was displayed on Abdoun Circle in Amman in March 2015.
  1. Muhammad El-Abed

Muhammad is a Jordanian man whom I met through a friend of my father’s. He runs a tour company in Amman, where he lives with his wife and children. He has also written extensively on Palestinian rights, from where his family originally comes.

I don’t think that they are humans like us. For them, slaughtering, killing and punishment are like food and drink. I don’t think that they are defending religion and faith; they are destroying it and pushing people further and further away from it instead. It is as if they are dead and they are the only ones who think they’re living. They are evil souls who have returned to us from the Middle Ages. They were the ones who burnt the scholars, the philosophers and the thinkers, accusing them of witchcraft. Their souls have returned to us in a new form and under a new name, acting in the name of God as though they are his agents on earth. They think that they are the only ones who know the truth…

لا أعتقد بأن هؤلاء هم بشر مثلنا ، الذبح والقتل والتنكيل بالنسبة لهم كالأكل والشرب ، لا أعتقد بأنهم يدافعون عن الدين والعقيدة وإنما يدمرونها ويبعدون الناس عنها أكثر فأكثرهؤلاء ميتون وهم فقط من يعتقدون بأنهم أحياء , إنها أرواح شريرة عادت إلينا من العصور الوسطى ، أولئك هم أنفسهم من أحرقوا العلماء والفلاسفة ورجال الفكر بتهم الشعوذة ، عادت إلينا أرواحهم بحلل جديدة وتحت مسمى جديد ، يتصرفوا بإسم الرب وكأنهم وكلاءه على الأرض ، يعتقدون بأنهم وحدهم يملكون الحقيقة وهم فقط القادرون على  فرضها بالقوة والإكراه  على الاّخرين

إعدام الطيار الأردني بهذه القسوة وهذه الطريقة البربرية تذكرنا بالماضي الذي كان بداية نهايات الدكتاتوريت التطرف الديني ، وبتصرفهم هذا ، أجزم بأن نهايتهم قريبة

  1. Sara El Abed:

Sara is Muhammad’s daughter. She is studying in Amman to become an architect.

The cowards thought that by burning you they would break us apart and destroy our national unity. No, I swear to God that your martyrdom will serve only to increase our unity and our love for this country that gives birth to heroes like Muath al-Kaseasbeh. Oh hero, your name is engraved on our hearts and on the heart of every human regardless of their religion or their nationality. Although we boast about you as a Jordanian, you are actually a martyr for the whole human race. You taught humankind how to be brave.

Like the rest of the Jordanians, I am suffering with conflict and contradiction inside of me. Two conflicting feelings: one of them pride and glory, the other intense sadness for your suffering in the last seconds before your martyrdom.

You taught us that being Jordanian is not being a number; it’s being a soul and a body, it’s being a human. Oh hero, you lived as a man and died as a man.

Muath, your brutal murder will serve only to increase our unity, determination and defiance in the face of these sinister gangs. Mother of the martyr: have patience — he who killed our martyr is a coward on the run.

ظن الجبناء أنه بحرقك سيفرقوا صفوفنا و يدمرون وحدتنا الوطنية ، لا والله ، فإستشهادك لم يزدنا إلا تماسكاٌ و حباً لهذا الوطن الذي ربّى ابطالاً امثال معاذ الكساسبة, اسمك الان ايها البطل محفور في قلوبنا و قلب كل إنسان بغض النظر عن دينه و أصله و فصله ،و رغم فخرنا بك كأردني إلا أنك شهيد ألإنسانية جمعاء، فقد علمت البشر كيف تكون الشجاعة

كباقي الاردنيين أُعاني تضارب و تناقض داخلي، شعورين متناقضين أحدهما بالفخر والإعتزاز و ألاخر بالحزن الشديد لمعاناتك في الثواني الاخيرة التي سبقت إستشهادك

.علمتنا يا معاذ بأن ألاردني ليس رقماً ،إنهُ روحٌ و جسد،إنه إنسان. عشت يا بطل رجلاً و مت رجلاً

.قتلك يا معاذ بهذه الطريقة الهمجية لم و لن يزدنا الا تماسك و إصراراً و تحدياً لمواجهة عصابات الظلام.صبرا يا ام الشهيد ، من قتل شهيدنا مدان جبا

Another popular poster. This one was displayed on First Circle in Amman in March 2015. The Arabic reads “Raise your head. You’re Jordanian”.

  1. Hasan Al-Sqoor

Hasan studies engineering at university in Zarqa, just outside of Amman, where he lives with his family. His mother is a teacher and his father works in the Jordanian Army.

I am from a military family. Muath was like my big brother. It could have been me or my Dad or my cousin in his place. I am so angry about what happened. ISIS is not connected in any way with Islam and only represents terrorism. What most inspired my anger was the end of the video when the names of Jordanian pilots were given and a reward offered to whoever kills them. One of them was in my class, two others were in my school and another lives my neighbourhood. This made me so angry because I could imagine myself in their place. God bless you, Muath.

انا من عائلة عسكرية معاذ كان يمثل اخي الكبير ، كان من الممكن ان أكون انا مكانه او ابي او أبن عمي
فعليا انا غاضب جدا على هذه الفعلة، داعش لا يمت للإسلام بأية صلة و لا يمثل سوا الارهاب ، ما اثار غضبي اكثر انه في نهاية الفيديو وضعو اسماء طيارين اردنيين و عرضوا جائزة لمن يقتلهم ، احد هؤلاء الأسماء كان ابن صفي و اثنين اخرين كانو في مدرستي و احدا اخر يسكن في نفس الحي ، هذا الامر اثار غضبي كثيرا كثيرا لاني اتخيل نفسي مكانهم.
رحمة الله عليك يا معاذ

  1. Elham Al-Sqoor

Elham is Hasan’s younger sister. She is studying English Literature at university.

For a month and a half there has been a shroud of anxiety over our house. We forgot to sleep – one of the basic aspects of life. For an entire month and a half we have wondered about Mauth’s state under his captor. How have they treated him?! What did they feed him?! Didn’t Muath long for the food of his mourning, crying mother? What about his wife with whom he never had the chance to spend his life, or even half his life? They didn’t get to finish painting their dreams together, or to decide how many children to have.

For a month and a half the hero’s family and the candles of hope lit our way until the news blew in on a wind that extinguished these candles. For a month and a half, until this news spread, we had been negotiating with blank paper [meaning that ISIS was never really willing to negotiate with the Jordanian government] burnt with the fire of Muath… We will not be able to turn back time and we will not be able to bring back Muath.

Not only did they burn Muath but they also burnt the heart of an entire people, whose tears were not enough to extinguish this fire. This night was one of the worst nights that the Jordanians have witnessed. My mother cried as though it was her own son — what must be the state of Muath’s own mother? Every Jordanian mother lost a son that night, every girl lost a brother and every father lost a son.  It was a collective bereavement for all Jordanians.

This organisation [ISIS] has proven that it is far from Islam and peace in every sense. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, forgave and pardoned the infidels in Mecca after they hurt him and his companions and forced them from their lands. Almighty God says the following about them in the Noble Qur’an “And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from you”. Our Islam is far away from evil and harshness. It is based on tolerance.

Muath, however, is gone, and with his departure came the winds of strength. The wind carried defiance and strength into the souls of the Jordanians. In Muath’s eyes we read the goodbye to his father, the longing for his mother and his wife, and the love for his homeland…

منذ شهر و نصف خيم القلق في بيوتنا ، و نسينا النوم عند احدى منعطفات الحياة ،منذ شهر و نصف لطالما تسائلنا عن حال معاذ بالاسر ،كيف عاملوه ! ماذا اطعموه ! الم يحن معاذ لطعام امه الحزينة الباكية ، ماذا عن زوجته التي لم يحظى بفرصة ليقضي معها عمرا او حتى نصف عمر ،لم يكملا رسم احلامهما سويا ،لم يقررا كم طفلا سينجبا … منذ شهر و نصف اسر البطل و شموع الامال تنير دروبنا الى ان هبت ريح الخبر الذي اطفأ هذه الشموع، منذ شهر و نصف الى ان انتشر الخبر كنا نتفاوض على اوراق فارغة احرقت مع حرق معاذ ، نعم احرق معاذ انتشر الخبر كلمح البصر كذب الكثيرون الخبر و الصور ولكن ما باليد حيلة رحل البطل و لن نتمكن من ارجاع الزمن و لن نتمكن من ارجاع معاذ

هم لم يحرقوا معاذا فقط بل احرقوا قلب شعب كامل لم تكفي دموعنا لاطفاء هذا الحريق . كانت هذه ليلة من اسوأ الليالي التي شهدها الاردنيون ،امي بكت كما لو كان ابنها فما حال امه … فقدت كل ام اردنية ابنا لها في تلك الليلة و كل فتاة فقدت اخا و كل اب فقد ابن. وكان عزاء للاردنيين جميعا .. و قد اثبت هذا التنظيم بانه بعيدا كل البعد عن الاسلام و السلام ، فها هو رسولنا محمد صلى الله عليه و سلم قد عفا و اصفح عن كفار مكة بعد ان آذوه و اصحابه و طردوهم من ديارهم ، و عنه قال الله تعالي في القرآن الكريم (ولو كنت فظا غليظ القلب لانفضو من حولك) اي ان اسلامنا بعيدا عن التعسير و الغلظة قائم على التسامح و التيسير ، ولكن ذهب معاذ و مع ذهابه عصفت رياح القوة …رياح تبث الاصرار و الثبات في نفوس الاردنيين ، قرأنا في عيني معاذ سلاما لابيه و شوقا لامه و زوحته ة حنينا لوطنه الذي لطالما تمنى الموت في احضانه … طلب من معاذ في وقفته ثأرا لما حل به  ، احرق معاذ و زئر وئرة حق ..  فلتشهد روحك الطهارة على ما كان و ما سيكون لاجلك يا معاذ فلتنم يا معاذ باطمئنان و هنيئا لك الشهادة

Third Circle in Amman. The Arabic reads “God. The Homeland. The King”.
Jordanian flags outside the Royal Hotel, Amman, March 2015.

Many thanks to Muhammad, Sara, Hasan and Elham for taking the time to speak to me.

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