AMMAN, Jordan — As Americans come to terms with the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas that left 13 soldiers dead and wounded dozens more, Arabs in the Middle East are bracing for the inevitable backlash that comes when a Muslim commits a violent crime in the U.S.
U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who allegedly carried out the attack, is a U.S.-born Muslim whose Palestinian parents came to the U.S. from Jordan. This attack marks the second time in a month that a Jordanian Muslim has been implicated with a violent crime in the U.S. — Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19-year-old Jordanian, was charged in October with trying to blow up a skyscraper in Dallas.
While many Jordanians worry that this latest incident at Fort Hood could tarnish the country’s reputation and drive away much needed tourist dollars, most Jordanians are confident that the event won’t affect their daily business or lives.
“I don’t think it will affect tourism at all because it was an individual act. It’s not like he went and blew himself up at a tourist site,” said Mohamed Mahmoud, who works at The Palace Hotel, a popular destination among Western backpackers. “Americans already have the worst image possible of Arabs, so it cannot get any worse.”
At least in the U.S., there is already a very real concern about a potential backlash against Arab and Muslim communities. Across the country, many mosques have increased their security and on Sunday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey spoke on several major television news programs where he urged the military to protect it’s 3,000 Muslim servicemen.
“And frankly I am worried, I'm not worried but I'm concerned that this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers,” said Casey on CNN’s “State of the Union."
In Jordan, the event has been reported by many local media outlets, but most did not mention the shooter’s Jordan ties. The Jordanian government has also remained quiet about the incident, although one anonymous government official told the Jordan Times, a local English language daily, that Hasan had no verifiable ties to Jordan.
The Jordanian government may be attempting to stay out of the public sphere with this issue to avoid creating the appearance that it’s taking the defensive and may be partially to blame, said Mohammad H. Al-Momani, a political science professor at Yarmouk University.
The Jordanian government is taking it at “face value that most people think of Jordan as not associated with terrorism,” he said. “It seems that they aren’t taking a defense posture here because they don’t think they should be doing it.”
Many Jordanians are in shock that any of their fellow countrymen could carry out such a violent act.
“Jordanian Muslims don’t have this mentality. Maybe he got brainwashed by [fundamentalist] Muslims,” said Qais Abbasi, a Jordanian Christian who works at a local cafe and bookshop.
Still, Jordan is not unfamiliar with terrorists rising from their ranks. Most famously, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, came from the Amman suburb of Zarqa. Many Jordanians point to this connection and the limited fallout from it as evidence that their lives will go on despite Hasan’s ties to the Arab world.
“Maybe people will be afraid to come to Jordan, I don’t know,” said Hisham Miyba, who owns and operates one of the oldest bookstores in Amman. “But this is an internal problem for America. It is not our problem.”
Those trying to turn this incident into a reason to suspect Muslims of potential wrongdoing are peddling propaganda for the likes of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, said Basil Ahmad, who owns a lamp shop in Amman. Of the millions of Muslims in the U.S., why let one “crazy” one ruin things for the group. Additionally, Ahmad argued that it’s wrong to even think of Hasan as Jordanian.
“He was American-born and his father was Arab. Obama’s father was Kenyan, and now he’s the president of the United States,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where your father was from.”
Despite the Jordanians who are confident that this latest incident, bad as it may be, will not have lasting consequences on their business and image, a number of people in the tourism industry are worried that their business is bound to suffer.
“Already very few tourists come to Jordan from America,” said Omar, who owns a souvenir shop in downtown Amman. He added, however, that he doesn’t blame Americans for not wanting to come to the region after events like this one.
“If a Jordanian was killed in Egypt, for example, I wouldn’t go to Egypt. Maybe Americans think like me,” he said.