- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

That noise in the chicken house is not panic among the hens about bird flu, but of chickens fluttering to roost.

France heard them earlier in the week. The Jordanians, who heard them Wednesday night on hotel row in Amman, until then had regarded the killing regiments of al Qaeda as liberators, not terrorists. Polls had shown that two-thirds of the Jordanians thought so.

Now one pollster says he expects “a sea change” in public opinion, a storm surge to wash away lethal complacency. Demonstrators in Amman ran through the streets crying for divine retribution against those who took the war on terror to the Hashemite kingdom: “Burn in hell, Abu Musab Zarqawi.” (Chanting in unison is not always easy in Arabia.)

Sentiment on placards held aloft in the streets was reprised from the land that many Jordanians had decried as the Great Satan only the day before yesterday: “Jordan, love it or leave it,” and “Jordan’s 9/11.”

This is the hard lesson that was first driven like a stake into the consciousness of Frenchmen, where a fortnight of violence that spread across 300 towns and cities is only beginning to subside. Nobody thinks France and Europe have seen the last of deadly sectarian strife.

The deputy president of Iraq, visiting in Washington, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the growing strength of the new Iraqi government will compel al Qaeda to get out of Iraq, to search for new killing fields in neighboring countries.

“Jordan is only an example of what we in Iraq thought would happen,” said the deputy, Adil Abdul Mahdi. As al Qaeda is weakened in Iraq, as it has been weakened in Afghanistan, “we will see more and more shifting of terrorism from Iraq to neighboring countries and abroad.”

Alexis Debat, a counterterrorism analyst with wide contacts in intelligence agencies in Europe and the Middle East, agrees that more and probably worse is on the way. Lessons learned by al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq will be applied in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. After that, throughout the Islamic world and beyond.

“This is a very thorough, complex urban terrorist organization with complex counterintelligence operations,” he said. Abu Musab Zarqawi, the terrorist once tutored by Osama bin Laden, has gone global. “Zarqawi’s objective is to be the leader of a global insurgency that would energize the Muslim masses.”

President Bush, in his capacity as theologian-in-chief, offered the ritual condemnation of the hotel bombings in Amman — the bombers had “defiled Islam,” and Americans will help bring the bombers to justice. “Today the world saw with horror the attacks on innocent people in Jordan by killers who defile a great religion.”

The bombs sent a chill through Arabia. The defilers of al Qaeda were first unhinged by apostasy in Saudi Arabia, after all, and terrorists who are making life miserable for Iraqis in Iraq are driven by a mad determination to take everyone back to the eighth century with them. The language of the al Qaeda boasts after the blast was ominously familiar: “The Jordan despot” — meaning King Abdullah II — had turned Amman into a back yard for “the enemies of the faith, the Jews and the Crusaders.”

Ironically, or maybe there’s no irony at all, the Islamic nations of the Middle East are not nearly as squeamish as the girlie men of the West in recognizing the true nature of the beast at the village gate. A Saudi newspaper columnist looks at the riots in France with a cooler eye than his counterparts in Europe and America: “The fires in Paris set fire to [the problems] that had accumulated with regard to Arab immigration. … Whoever blames only the French government for the grave situation in these Paris suburbs is mistaken.”

The delicate sentiments of frightened Western girlie men have no currency this morning in Amman or other capitals of Arabia, where there is fear of how the radical Islamists will try to erase the indifference that thrived when al Qaeda seemed preoccupied only with the infidels of Israel and Christendom. Newspapers in France and the West, including the United States, delicately refer to “urban violence” and “unrest” and present the rioters as “youths” who are but innocent and helpless victims of the system.

Those fluttering chickens in Arabia disrupt this snooze of cozy denial. The warfare, now spilling over in unexpected places, has a little to do with poverty, joblessness and maybe even ennui, but everything to do with the Islamist campaign to replace modern civilization with something bad from the Dark Ages.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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