Fadi is a 23-year-old unemployed computer programmer who lives in his parents’ apartment in a nice, middle-class neighborhood in Amman, Jordan. Down one street is the big Amman McDonald’s , down another is Fadi’s mosque, where he prays several times a day. Stocky, with a big, messy beard, Fadi speaks softly, hunched over, looking at the ground. When he makes an important point, he asks you to repeat it, and when you show you understand, he lifts his head, leans back with a great smile and says, ” Sah ,” ”correct.” One day, he explained to me in careful detail why he wants to be a shaheed , a suicide bomber against the United States, quoting at length from the Koran. But when he’s not talking about blowing himself up and killing American troops, Fadi talks about his other great dream. ”I want to be a programmer at Microsoft ,” he says. ”Not just a programmer. I want to be well known, famous.”
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Fadi gives me a tour of his parents’ apartment: it is long and narrow, with a private living room for the family and another, more ornate one, for guests. Fadi’s bedroom is in the back, and it is small and bare. Everything Fadi has on display sits on a small desk: a copy of the Koran, in blue leather with ornate gold Arabic script on the cover, and a few boxes of audiotapes that he listens to every day.
”This is NLP,” he explains. ”It’s very good. Neuro-Linguistic Programming.” NLP, which originated at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is a sort of modern ”The Power of Positive Thinking,” and Fadi says it has helped him overcome the barriers to his dreams. ”Six months ago, I was much more negative,” he says. ”I would get frustrated.” For example, Fadi says he finds it frustrating that it is so difficult to get a visa to the United States, so he can’t train for a job at Microsoft. But the tapes teach him to remain positive about reaching his dreams.
Fadi doesn’t see anything strange about using American self-help tapes to get a job at an American company, while at the same time harboring hatred of the American government to the point of self-annihilation. Self-help, computer programming, the Koran and jihad are all aspects of the same thing, he says: a search for a way for a good Muslim to live in the modern world.
On the level of governments, Jordan is America’s best friend in the Arab world: the most moderate, most pro-Western Arab state. But Fadi’s Jordan is a different place, where just about every citizen has developed a deep loathing for the United States. I haven’t seen any polls that determine how many Jordanians hate the United States; it seems very unlikely that the king’s government would allow them to be taken. But the estimates never change.
”You can start thinking of a number above 95 percent,” says Laith Shubeilat, a leading Jordanian Islamist.
”I think it’s close to 100 percent,” says Sari Nasir, a prominent secular sociologist at the University of Jordan. There have always been pockets of anger against the United States — you could have found it in any of Jordan’s poor Palestinian refugee camps any time in the last few decades — but that anger has spread to everyone: the poor, the middle class, the upper class, Islamists, the secular, Christians, liberals.
Still, just like Fadi, almost everyone in Jordan sees his own future, his own happiness, tied up with America. American movies and TV shows and fast food have never been more popular. American computers are everywhere. It’s difficult to find a professional who didn’t study in the United States, and harder still to find an ambitious young person who isn’t eager to do the same.
Fadi prays at his local mosque five times a day. But he is never satisfied with the imam’s speeches. Occasionally, there are tame jabs at the United States, but Fadi says — and Jordan’s minister of state for political affairs and information, Mohammad Adwan, confirms — that the government keeps a close watch on imams and won’t allow them to say anything that could incite the population to violence.
Oddly, the place Fadi feels the most free to express his anti-American views is a pizza restaurant near his house that is modeled after one in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It’s small: only room for two round tables, the pizza oven and a counter. It has red and white tiles like any American pizza place. It is run by two brothers, friends of Fadi’s who both lived in the United States for a long time.
Y., the younger brother, is chubby and short. He was the first Arab barber in Brooklyn, he says, pulling out a contact sheet of photos of his customers, all with variants of a stylized buzz cut. ”Bay Ridge is beautiful,” he says.
The older brother, O., says his pizzas are as good as any in New York.
”It’s very good,” Fadi says and orders the special: a large pie with mushrooms, olives, sausage and tomatoes. Fadi comes here about once a week and sits with Y. and O. to discuss jihad and America.
O., who is tall and lean, was an electrician in the United States and wasn’t impressed by the Americans he worked with. He worked hard, he says, but his co-workers loafed around, knowing they would be paid more if the job took longer. He wants to commit jihad against America, but he says it’s too difficult. ”The Mukhabarat are everywhere,” he says, referring to the Jordanian secret police. He can’t find a group to join. But, he says, the biggest barrier to jihad is himself. ”I am too much in love with this life,” he says apologetically. ”I’m in love with my family and my business. I’m too weak. But I’m getting stronger.”
Y., the chubby brother, doesn’t want to be a jihadi, he says. He won’t sit at our table; he stands a few feet away, listening attentively and every now and then laughing, a bit derisively.
O. and Fadi say they talk a lot about which jihad would be best.
”We have a few jihads we can do: Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir or Iraq,” O says. ”Palestine is too difficult. You can’t get across the border. Chechnya, they already have enough people. Kashmir is easiest.”
”Yes,” Fadi says. ”You fly to Pakistan, and someone will help you to Kashmir.” But the best jihad, they both agree, is Iraq, which means a jihad against the American troops they expect will soon invade Iraq.
”If I see an American soldier in Jordan on his way to Iraq, I’ll kill him,” O. says.
This begins a long argument between Fadi and O. Fadi says the Koran is strict on this: you can’t kill anyone who came to your country expecting peace. So, an American soldier here now cannot be harmed. O. says this isn’t true. ”If an American soldier comes in to my place, I will poison his pizza,” O. says. ”I will kill him.”
”You can’t do it,” Fadi argues.
”I’d just give him his pizza,” Y. says, laughing. ”Business is business.”
”If you feed an American soldier, I will fire you,” O. tells him.
”You mustn’t feed a soldier,” Fadi says. ”You can’t help them. But you also can’t kill them.”
The biggest blow to Fadi’s Microsoft dream came a few weeks ago. He was let go from his job as in-house programmer for a customer-service call center. Fadi’s job search is not going well. Occasionally he lands an interview, but then he is told that the company isn’t hiring.
Fadi’s father, Rasem, is furious. ”His beard is the main problem,” Rasem says, flicking his hands wildly in the air. ”That’s why he can’t find a good job. They’re afraid he’s a religious Muslim. They don’t want problems. Fadi doesn’t know anything about business. Fadi is very good, but he has to shave. He has to help his brothers.”
Rasem is sitting in his furniture store, a small, dirty, overpacked place, and he’s crumpled into one of the couches he’s hoping to sell. For the past year and a half, Fadi provided the family’s main income. Now that his son is unemployed, Rasem is desperate, he says, living off a 3,000-dinar loan (roughly $4,000) from a bank. He points at a framed photocopy of Fadi’s college diploma hanging on the wall. ”He has to work,” he says to me. ”Tell him to shave his beard.”
Fadi has heard about a job at the University of Jordan, and he takes me along to check it out. It is a massive campus — about 27,000 students, huge utilitarian concrete buildings. He says it will be a good place to work, because many people here wear beards and are religious.
After he drops off his resume at the administration building, Fadi and I sit on a bench at the center of campus and watch a constant parade of young men and women walking by or sitting on other benches. Fadi says this is where he sees some of the worst influences of American culture on young Jordanians. ”They want to look like Americans,” he says. ”They want to go on dates,” he says.
It’s hard to see what Fadi is talking about. About 90 percent of the female students wear the hijab head scarf. About 1 in 10 of those also wear the khimar, a scarf that covers their faces as well. The hijab and khimar are not part of Jordanian traditions. Twenty-five years ago, few Jordanian women wore them, but recently more and more Jordanians — and more young women than old — have put on the scarf. In the last two years, as a form of protest against Western culture, student groups have called upon all Muslim women to cover their hair. But Fadi isn’t impressed; the campus is still too American for him, especially the female students. ”You can tell which ones mean it,” he says, ”and which ones are just doing it.”
He points to one woman in a hijab wearing blue jeans and those overly thick-soled shoes popular among American teenagers. ”She wouldn’t dress like that if she was serious,” he says.
America, Fadi says, is just too powerfully present in the lives of his generation of Arabs. America decides what young people will wear and what music they’ll listen to. America decides whether there will be war or peace. It’s so hard for a young man to feel proud of being an Arab, he says, when it is America that determines his chances for happiness and success.
Every now and then as we talk, a woman or a group of women walk by looking completely Western: no hijab, heavy makeup, a T-shirt, sometimes with several earrings or sexy boots.
”Do you look at the pretty girls here, or just ignore them?” I ask.
”Of course I look,” he says. ”I’m a human being.”
”Do you prefer the girls with hijabs or the Western-looking girls?”
”I prefer the hijab, of course.”
”You think the girls with hijabs are prettier?”
”Let’s be realistic,” he says, laughing. ”Maybe they’re not prettier. Maybe I prefer the Western-looking girls. But I wish they would wear the hijab.”
Adam Davidson is the Middle East correspondent for the Minnesota Public Radio program ”Marketplace.”