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A Jihadist's Home

For several years, a trip to Zarqa was an obligatory part of the circuit for reporters covering the Iraq beat. The attraction was to understand the motivations of the town's most infamous export, Musab al-Zarqawi - the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed in 2006 - as well as gain a window into the world of Islamic extremism in Jordan, a country known for its urbane face and pro-Western stance.

I first went to Zarqa in 2004, half expecting to find the grinding poverty and failed government of Afghanistan. The truth was somewhat blander. Zarqa is a town of 250,000 people, 18 miles to the northeast of Amman, Jordan's capital, but couldn't be more different. Instead of the ritzy five star hotels and restaurants of Amman, Zarqa had crumbling concrete apartment blocks and military barracks. Additionally, the city boasted a 30 percent unemployment rate and a burgeoning young population that survives on state handouts and the same sort of Islamic charity I showed you last week. Zarqa, in short, is quite typical of a host of towns and cities across the Middle East - neither too desperate, nor offering much hope - and seeming to trap its residents in the limbo world of unrealized aspirations.

All of this serves as a long introduction to the first ever documentary film about Zarqa called "Recycle," a beautiful evocation of that limbo world, set in the three years of Zarqawi's rise and fall. The film follows the efforts of ex-mujahideen fighter, Abu Ammar, as he tries to reconcile his faith with reality - an ill-paying job collecting cardboard boxes for recycling, and the demands of eight children. In the evenings Abu Ammar, an amateur Islamic scholar, writes books about theology. It's a world of lowered expectations, in which the Koran is the only outlet for idealism and hope, as well as the frustrations of daily life - despite having been a mujahideen during the Afghan war, Abu Ammar gives off an air of resignation that suggests his younger jihadi passions have long since faded.

"I wanted to capture the world of small disappointment people of Zarqa live in," director Mahmoud al-Massad, told me last week. Massad, whose film was shown at this year's Sundance film festival, was born in Zarqa, but moved to Holland 12 years ago.

"This is the authentic backdrop to Zarqawi's extremeism, not the angry Jihadi message on television, and I wanted to show how people live in that environment," said al-Massad. In my estimation he more than succeeds, but check out his film at his Web site.

In an effort to follow-up on my 2004 reporting from Zarqa, I recently went back to the city, which, save for Massad's film, has largely dropped off the journalist radar since Zarqawi's death. I was surprised to find a vast new building project underway, which, when it's finally complete sometime in 2020, will have cost some $4 billion, and cover an area of former military land similar in size to that of lower Manhattan. The government has clearly decided to take on the city's malcontents through this wave of new development east of the current Zarqa,. Some of the new houses have been promised to Zarqa residents, although the exact number has not been agreed upon. For the time being, it seems, Zarqa's congested streets will continue to pulse with the same frustrations and disappointments.

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Comments (15)

Ibrahim Mahfouz:

Anonymous says:
"On a relevant note and I say this(violence) to the simple minded :the whole thing has nothing to do with the Quran.”

Is that so? Well I have news for you. Peruse and enjoy!
Amputations and slaughter of unbelievers: God is acting through the Muslims when they do this
8:12-13,17 Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them." This because they contended against God and His Apostle: If any contend against God and His Apostle, God is strict in punishment. ... It is not ye who slew them; it was God
God wanted Muslims to exterminate non-Muslim army
3:152 God did indeed fulfil His promise to you when ye with His permission Were about to annihilate your enemy,- until ye flinched and fell to disputing about the order, and disobeyed it after He brought you in sight (of the booty) which ye covet.
The importance of military fighting for Islam
2:216 Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But God knoweth, and ye know not.

2:217 They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: "Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of God to prevent access to the path of God, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque, and drive out its members." Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter.

4:84 Then fight in God's cause - Thou art held responsible only for thyself - and rouse the believers.
Fight the non-Muslims to submission or conversion
8:38-39 Say to the Unbelievers, if (now) they desist (from Unbelief), their past would be forgiven them; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already (a matter of warning for them). And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily God doth see all that they do.

9:5 But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.


Over there:

You only see the surface of this this entire region, try being out in it everyday. Not in the big cities but in the villages. The government has abandoned its people. No wonder roadside bombs are placed all the time, it is a quick 50.00 to dig a hole.

Islam has destroyed this region as it has been destroying regions since its ill though inception.

Eight kids when you have a job collecting cardboard boxes, real smart, and you wonder why he turned to the lucrative business of killing people, what business do you thing his sons are in now or soon will be? That is right, terrorist.

Wake up, look at what really goes on, islam is the cause.

Jerry :

I drove 100 miles round trip on a road into the New Mexico wilderness today. Been there, done that, more than a dozen times. I went to a ranch literally at the end of a road which is surrounded by millions of acres where no more than a few thousand people live, all year round. Multiple elk herds, and many, many ruins of the "ancient ones," and sites of the Apache.
The people at the end of that ranch road are hardy, independent and ... incredibly self-suffcient. I doubt they care an iota about people in Jordan. When I mentioned the Apache, whose land all of this was until just 125 years ago, I got a scufflaw. The land, "the man said, had changed a whole lot since then!"
A sixty or seventy year old Mormon man, I suspect, with a young bride, whose family has broken that place out of the wilderness since 1846. Where that guy sits, Jordan might as well be a galaxy in the night sky. As we begin to see the end of an era (cheap gas), there will be someone to blame. In another five years, a trip to that place with cost $100.00, if not more. At some point, it IS possible that places like that ... the ranch, will disappear as it becomes prohibitive to live there.
Jordan, on the other hand, being densely populated, with probably go on the same way it has gone for several THOUSAND of years. Looking back, we may see these events as just so much trivial minutae. Survival of the fittest will demand we make many accommodations to our own lives, and those of others. I hope by then we will have figured out a way to settle stuff without war.
On the other hand, as Global Warming worsens (unable to stop it's effects no matter what we do), we may possibly become even MORE warlike, as resources begin to dry up, like the streams here in the New Mexico mountains ... often, they go underground, pop back up for some inexplicable reason, and duration, then disappear again ... elusive, and not to be taken lightly.
I dread thinking we might actually care LESS about people in Jordan than now, but then, nothing surprises me about the American mind.

Anonymous:

Have every man, woman and child in the world learn and reflect on the UN Charter of Universal Human Rights as fundamental commandments. All teachings in holy books should be adjusted to the commandments in the UN Human Rights Charter.

DontTypeLies:

Tarik wrote:

Tarik.:
One friend who has many multinationals work for him in Dubai told me :
Jordanians/Palestinians are unpredictable.
Hire a Christian from Egypt or India, a devout muslim from Sudan, father of 4 from Pakistan(usually a Punjabi), a bachelor from Lebanon or Syria, and make sure your driver is either a Pathan or a Sikh... And your business will flourish.

HEY LIBERALS, YOU PAYING ATTENTION TO THESE IDEAS? THEY ARE BEING IMPORTED INTO YOUR COUNTRIES~~~~

Anonymous:

Like the majority of western journalists,Jack only looks at the results,at the outcomes and not the underlying causes.

"Terrorists" and "Jihadists" who are two different species altogther and are the simple outcomes of two factors which apply to Zarqawi as to others like him,oppression from within and from within:

1// Oppression and repression from within in the Arab/Muslim world becuse of the absence of democrcay;Zarqawi and many of the radicalized groups in the Arab/Muslim world such as in Egypt are the product Torture and Jails which they were dumped in in the first place for speaking up their mind-for excercising the RIGHT for Freedom of expression which is taken for granted in the west;

2// Opression from without:the support,nurturing and protection of dictators and tyrants in the Arab/World by the west-normally decribed in western and isralei media are "moderates";add to that the vulagar,devstating and brutal occupation of Arab land of Palestine by jews and Iraq by the Bush gang.

Human beings are not born radical:they are radicalized;dispense justice and liberty and the "terrorists" and "jihadists" will disappear-I gurantee it.

On a relevant note and I say this to the simple minded:the whole thing has nothing to do with the Quran,the bible or any other book-the Quran teaches justice,freedom and liberty-it teaches not to agress on others but it teaches to confront violenec with violence,aggression with legitimate self-defence and to confront occupation of the homeland with armed struggle,be in occupied Palestine or in Iraq;it hardly falls within the recycled "modertaion" and "peace" to accept occupation and oppression.

The Vietnamese were not Muslims and yet they fought back US aggression on their counrty and Americans fought and kicked out the Brits in the war of independnece;the French resisted the nzai occupation with arms as did the Algerians against the French occupation of Alegeria for 130 yeras.

When Muslim resist foregin occupation as the cases are in jewish occupied Palestine or in American occupied Iraq-then the Muslims are terrorists-when others do the same thing they are freedom fighters!!!

scepticus:

As somebody has commented the condition is not as bad as many other places like in Africa. All those hungry people are not becoming terrorists. So apart from poverty some other factor is also playing in transforming a normal person to a terrorist. In all probability it should be the fertile mind which has been moulded not to look beyond the the tenets of a religion which has been kept tightly insulated for the last fifteen hundred odd years the reason. For solving any problem if one looks always to what someone advised so long back is not proper. The fifth centuary mindset is the real problem. One should live in present, not in past.

Tarik.:

One friend who has many multinationals work for him in Dubai told me :
Jordanians/Palestinians are unpredictable.
Hire a Christian from Egypt or India, a devout muslim from Sudan, father of 4 from Pakistan(usually a Punjabi), a bachelor from Lebanon or Syria, and make sure your driver is either a Pathan or a Sikh... And your business will flourish.

Mohamed MALLECK,Swift Current, Canada:

While MULHOLLAND argues that : "The journalistic focus on Zarqa seems to have behind it a chastisement for the world, that because there exist towns where a father with 8 children has to collect cardboard there is terrorism. Journalists need to remember that their work becomes propoganda for those who encourage the terrorist response.", CRUSADER pleads : "Then tell us oh wise one, what does cause crime?"

It is fairly well-known to those who have read even only very little about psychology that there is a hierarchy of needs -- first the basics of survial (food, clothing and lodging), then a sense of self-worth or dignity (which includes evidence that the intensity of injustice is not unbearable), then opportunity for the development of one's innate and acquired abilities to improve the lot of those who are dear to us and share similar values, and so on. There is also a little overlap at the edges of successive values.

What causes terror is the willful frustration of these values by a coalition of corrupt and spineless local-elite compradores, cynical super-power politicians acting as salesmen for greedy international corporations' financiers and CEOs, ruthlessly selfish speculators, and sometimes unwitting accomplices among those who are the most vulnerable victims of oppression and all the evil caused in the world by those groups mentioned earlier in this sentence.

The cure for terrorism? Minimize the impact that the dysfunctions caused by the activities identified as the sources of terrorism.

Crusader:

Whatever your religion, whatever your education, whatever your training, if you believe that need and want cause crime, in any shape, form or fashion, then I personally say to you, "You are stupid."

Then tell us oh wise one, what does cause crime?

pk:

the description appears to say that people of zarqa have enough to eat while half the world is famished or malnourished.it also says that while people of zarqa would not allow western culture in their region as it doesn't fit with their religion they retain the right feel hopeless about it and do something drastic to beat boredom.

Have fewer children:

to better raise, nurture and love them.

Wagnon, Eley:

In my hometown of 66 years ago, I lay abed, ill with a very bad cold, warned by my mother to remain there until she retured from a trip. I could see part of the front porch through a slit between the shade and the window frame, as I lay there.

The black woman and her 3 children, known by me to eat perhaps twice a week, and then beans and grits, ran up on the porch to escape a sudden downpour.

There was no one to see that they were on the road, much less to see them on the porch, or to witness their words and actions.

My mother had left 4 dollar bills under a small rock on the side of the porch, to pay someone for something.

It is important to note that this was in the only region of the USA that ranked below the Appalachain Region in poverty. Grinding poverty.

"Look Momma, there's some money."

"LEAVE IT ALONE, IT DOES NOT BELONG TO US."

Whatever your religion, whatever your education, whatever your training, if you believe that need and want cause crime, in any shape, form or fashion, then I personally say to you, "You are stupid."

Mulholland:

The journalistic focus on Zarqa seems to have behind it a chastisement for the world, that because there exist towns where a father with 8 children has to collect cardboard there is terrorism. Journalists need to remember that their work becomes propoganda for those who encourage the terrorist response. Journalists have become unwitting links in the chain of social rewards for terrorism. When they send the message that it is somehow right to respond to desperation by killing others, they endanger the world, they help to start wars and they give corrupt leaders a great way to distract their citizens away from their corruption.

This film making genre is more about the desperation of journalism majors than it is about real desperation.

FunTravelAdventure:

"The film follows the efforts of ex-mujahideen fighter, Abu Ammar, as he tries to reconcile his faith with reality - an ill-paying job collecting cardboard boxes for recycling, and the demands of eight children"

The last four words says it all. When will these religious lunatics, of any stripe, with ill paying jobs realize that the demands of eight children, or even two, put enormous financial strains on someone with a well paying job not to mention a cardboard collector.

No wonder that particular cesspool keeps bubbling.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.