Last week I traveled to Jordan to meet with some of the most incredible young leaders in the Middle East. I went to meet with them, talk about business, and give my own testimony to what it means to be a part of a mentor relationship in the Middle East. As usual when I go to the land afar, IT WAS AMAZING!! I met some of the most interesting professionals. Architects, Doctors, Counselors, and young new professionals. And Jordan…WOW…what a country!!
With each new conversation I asked the questions I felt like America is asking, so I could come back and report to you what’s really going on…on the ground.
Well, this is what I found out.
In Jordan, ISIS is called DAASH. The Jordanians were all very aware of what’s going on in the north part of the region, and they all had different ideas. Some were scared DAASH was on the move to change the course of the Middle East. Some told me they believed in their heart America is behind the chaos. With such a deep distrust with the way America has played in the Middle East over the last few decades, conspiracy theories were on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Even the older statesmen I met with looked at me with an eye of distrust, and declared, “The only reason for Isis is to keep this region unstable. Why won’t the west just leave us alone?”
Of course I didn’t have the answer, because I really have no idea what or why ISIS does what it does. But I thought it interesting enough to let you know. The news we hear over here is not the news they are hearing over there.
Overall, most Jordanians are living their lives, trying to find good/better jobs, and are seemingly unconcerned with what ISIS is doing. Often I found myself more interested in ISIS than even the locals. So that tells you something, right?
I asked more than one of the people I was with, “Why is the nature of Islam so closely related to violence in the West?” I had a two and a half hour conversation with one of the young people and they helped me understand a bit more about how and why someone goes to a path of Jihadi. (By the way, all of the people I talked to think Jihadi’s are a poor representation of their faith.)
In my conversation with the young professional, he highlighted the need for education. “Most Jihadi’s come from places where Education isn’t a top priority. They’re told what to think, how to think, and are invited to an honor position in society. And now that ISIS is actually paying soldiers, it looks like survival more than religious adherence.”
The economy all over the Middle East runs up and down like every other region in the world. But when we were talking about extremism, I was interested to hear how Jihadi’s are either paid by ISIS directly, or some of the groups promise to pay Jihadi families enormous amounts of money for their child to come and participate. In Jordan, specifically, due to the war in Syria, the movement of ISIS, and the left over from the Iraqi War, there are over 3 million refugees in Jordan. And this refugee problem bloats the economy and forces people to fight for jobs that were once left for locals. It’s immigration at the most extreme, and Jordan is doing an amazing job trying to care for displaced people.
3. Iraq’s Successful Demographic Moving
I talked with one leader in the region about the Iraqi refugees he is actually seeing coming into his neighborhood. Most of the group he spoke of came from a village in Iraq with a long history of wealth and land ownership. “They were helping everyone in the surrounding neighborhood, and when ISIS came knocking, everyone left them.”
They were landowners and a very well-educated “Christian” tribe. They were forced to leave with nothing, and now are trying to assimilate in a different country, with different rules, and different culture. “It’s very disturbing when a man who owned a lot now lives to scrape to provide for his family.” he told me.
4. It’s not about religion
Once again, I heard unanimously that Extremism isn’t as much about religion as it is about money. Most extremists aren’t learning what Islam is about. As I talked with another leader in the local religious square, he told me, “There are certain verses in the Quran if taken literally give people the option for violence. But just like you read in your Bible, the interpretation is essential to people’s behavior.”
I thought about that for a while.
I know the Old Testament is filled with terrible violent acts of culture, all justified by “God said so.” And my new friend pointed out how many times Islamic Extremists use the same justification. “Allah Akbar” is simply “God is great” as violence is justified. But with a little more education, there are certainly more verses that talk about caring for people like God cares for people.
Too many times we want to make this about a religious war, and I just don’t find those people. Of course I’m not talking with the leaders of ISIS about their opinions, but the people I am talking with are educated, working, high net income people.
The current opinions concerning America are mixed. Some see America as a wonderful force of good in the world trying to help, and some see America as a selfish monster willing to sacrifice the good of others for its own interest. I think this issue is best curbed as Jordanians actually meet with Americans who can care and love them for who they are. And that’s not that different from the way we operate.
It’s easy to blame someone else for the problems in your backyard. But it takes a mature mind to be able to see the truth of self-criticism where it needs to be examined, versus the easy way of blaming. Most of the people I talked with were excited to come visit America and see how we really live.
And that brings me to our most interesting long-term work.
I believe in my heart to truly change the world, we need to continue to shrink the divide between Us. versus Them. We must engage in places where we can see one another as human and less about the objects we try to reduce each party to when watching the media.
There are wonderful people in the Middle East who are loving, caring, and see the world in a deep way. There are Muslims who care for Christians, Business people who care for the homeless, and a new breed of young professionals who want to see the world spin peacefully.
Tomorrow, I’ll let you know one of the failures I found when I was accused of being “A Man Who Doesn’t know God.” Stay tuned.