What Jordanian Mobs Can Teach Us
By Jared Young
Published in The Joplin Globe (January 24, 2024)
A few days after Hamas’s ruthless slaughter in Israel last October, I found myself watching videos on social media of crowds in the streets of Amman, Jordan celebrating the attacks. The commentators posting them expressed a mixture of outrage, bafflement, and indignation at the videos. As someone who has lived in Jordan and has a deep love for the Jordanian people, I believe the scenes serve as an important cautionary tale that we would be wise to pay attention to here at home—especially as we grapple with pro-Hamas demonstrations and rising antisemitic behavior within our own borders.
In 2009, I spent four months living in Amman, which is just 30 miles from Jerusalem, and 70 miles from Gaza, where so many troubling events continue to unfold. I was a college student studying Arabic and Middle East Studies, and I spent several hours every day simply chatting with people in and around Amman.
The Jordanians were delightful people, and they showed consistent generosity and patience, including to this awkward American student practicing Arabic. But occasionally I would run into topics where we simply could not agree. One such topic was Jewish people. Some Jordanians would tell me things they “knew” about Jewish people that ranged from the ridiculous to the downright offensive. For example, I was once told that every Jew who worked at the World Trade Center was mysteriously not at work the day of the September 11th attacks.
These Jordanians were not otherwise bad people (far from it), but it was clear many of them had developed a deep prejudice against their neighbors in Israel. Part of that prejudice was fed by historical and political grievances—20-30% of Jordan’s population is made up of displaced Palestinians or their direct descendants. But it was maintained through pure ignorance—these individuals had never even met a Jew, let alone had a conversation with one about their beliefs.
Many of us wonder how so many human beings (whether in Jordan or here in the U.S.) can cheer on the brutal and barbaric behavior demonstrated by the Hamas attackers. The answer lies in those baffling conversations I had on the streets of Amman—these cheering mobs have gradually come to view Israelis as subhuman monsters.
People don’t simply wake up one morning and suddenly decide to celebrate rape, murder, and brutalization. They first undergo a process that gradually allows them to see the victims as something less than human. As the process progresses and their perspective becomes more and more warped, evil committed against the disfavored group becomes rational and can even seem necessary.
History is rife with examples of this process ending in atrocity: the Nazis in Germany; the Hutus in Rwanda; the Serbs in Bosnia; even slavery in our own country. Every large-scale atrocity against a specific group of people is preceded by a dehumanization process. It allows the perpetrators and their supporters to ignore or suppress the human impulses that would otherwise hold them back.
In recent years, there have been troubling signs of this same dehumanization process happening in our own civic discourse. The disturbing pro-Hamas demonstrations across the U.S. over the past month are merely a continuation of this trend. We have begun viewing our political opponents not just as wrong or misguided, but as despicable and evil. We apply derogatory, dismissive labels like MAGA, Woke, TERF, RINO, and worse. These titles all technically mean different things, but they’re really all saying the same thing: this person is not worthy of my respect or compassion.
Skeptics will scoff, saying there is a huge difference between political name-calling and the atrocities committed by groups like the Nazis and Hamas. But recent history has shown us how quickly this name-calling can devolve into violence. The events of January 6th, 2021, are perhaps the starkest example. But lest our friends on the Left get too smug, there are equally disturbing examples from left-wing sympathizers: the aborted assassination attempt of conservative Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh; the shooting of Congressional Republicans at a baseball practice for a charity event; the repeated calls from trans activists for violence against so-called “terfs”. More recently, the increase in violence against both Jews and Muslims since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict has come from perpetrators on both sides of the political divide.
To avoid the continued decay of our national discourse and the tragedies that will inevitably come as a result, we need to take proactive measures to reverse the trend. This means calling out the demonizing and insults for what they are. It means consciously connecting with and learning from people who think differently from us. It means giving people the benefit of the doubt and assuming the best rather than the worst about them. And it means electing leaders who are committed to behaving the same way—not with a raised fist, but with an extended hand.
Jared Young is a former CEO and attorney who is currently an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri.