The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan stands on the front lines of the war against the Islamic State (IS). The country hosts thousands of US and British troops, and indeed is the logistical hub of joint Western-Saudi efforts to contain the Syrian civil war. Most Westerners see Jordan as an oasis of stability: the government and military functioning well despite the influx of a million Syrian refugees. Yet this oasis hides a dark secret: Jordanian youth have proven extremely vulnerable to the clarion call of Salafist-jihadism, with thousands joining IS and other radical groups.
To explain this, go beyond the Islamic State’s tech-savvy recruitment strategy. The real question is why Jordanian youth have become so susceptible to extremist calls in the first place. Here, a striking answer emerges: young Jordanians primed for radicalization are those who feel desperate amidst a failing educational system and, to some degree, economic hardship. The Islamic State need only drop its seeds into this fertile soil; it does not need to till and plow for many to blossom into militants.
How bad is the problem? Jordan is consistently cited as being a leading recruitment population for ISIS, with among the highest rates of per capita recruitment in the world for ISIS volunteers who travel to fight in Syria and Iraq. This does not include the roughly 7,000 followers of Salafist-jihadi ideals already circulating around Jordan who may not fight abroad but can wreak havoc at home under IS guidance. This past March, security forces raided one such terrorist cell in the northern city of Irbid, killing seven. But even frequent crackdowns cannot catch them all. In June, assailants struck an office of Jordan’s much-feared intelligence services outside Amman, killing five. Hundreds more also remained detained, suspected of contact or collaboration with radical Islamist networks.