In the gently undulating semi-desert, 10 minutes' drive from the dusty northern Jordanian town of Mafraq and the old single-track Hejaz Railway that Lawrence of Arabia targeted 85 years ago, lies the sprawling campus of an international university which forms part of Jordan's strategy to counter extremist Islam.
In a part of the world often associated in the West with bigoted fundamentalism, Aal al-Bait University has a "special mission," says its president, Salman al-Badur: "To teach students academic subjects; and to create Islamic moderation, Islamic tolerance."
Established in 1993, the university was part of Jordan's answer to the rising regional tide of Islamic fundamentalism.
"When King Hussein dedicated this university, he stated this very clearly," al-Badur said. "We are here to teach tolerance. We're not limited to one point of view -- the Sunni, or the Shia, the Zaidi or the Alawi.
We teach all Islamic traditions."
He explained: "Every student, even those studying subjects such as computer science, physics and chemistry, has to be acquainted with the problems facing the Islamic world, with the differences between Muslims themselves. Every student has to study comparative religion."
Aal al-Bait -- which roughly translates as "family of the Prophet" -- now has some 7,000 students and 300 teaching staff. Most of the students are Jordanian but a significant number are foreign.
"We have students from Malaysia, Iran, Indonesia, Brunei, the US, Russia, Herzegovina, Ghana and Senegal," said al-Badur, a philosopher who has studied and taught at universities as diverse as Damascus, Tehran, Princeton and Harvard.
As in all eight of Jordan's public universities, academic standards at Aal al-Bait are high and competition for places is fierce. The university's preoccupation with Islam does not mean that the students are all Muslims. Echoing the religious structure of the kingdom's 5 million people, they include some Christians.
Islamism is nothing new in Jordan. The country's first King, Abdullah, encouraged conservative Islamic sentiment as a means of staving off the demands for greater democracy of secular-minded Arab nationalists. His successor, King Hussain, while paying necessary lip-service to nationalism, took a similar line. After the catastrophic Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, however, nationalism declined and Islamism became the region's most dynamic political force, threatening the existing order, including the conservative, Western-backed monarchies like Jordan's that had survived nationalist hegemony.
In Syria and Iraq and other states, Islamism was held in check by sweeping and cruel repression. King Hussain took another, arguably more intelligent, road, seeking to tame the Islamists by making them an integral part of the system as the "loyal opposition."
In 1989, Jordan held its first free and fair general election for three decades. The Islamic Action Front (IAF) -- essentially the political wing of the main Islamist movement, the Ikhwan al-Muslimoun or Muslim Brotherhood -- won 22 parliamentary seats, a quarter of the total.
This was a bit more than the regime had anticipated. For the 1993 elections the voting rules were changed in a way that would work against the IAF, whose seats declined to 19. Angered, the IAF boycotted the 1997 elections. The 2000 election was delayed until June this year, when the IAF returned 17 members to parliament, including one woman. In addition, the IAF could count on the support of five or six independent Islamists.
Although far from forming a parliamentary majority, the IAF is the only organized party in Jordan's parliament. All the other members of parliament (MPs) represent tribes, clans or regions.
"In this parliament there are no real political movements except the IAF," said Deputy Speaker Ali Abu al-Sukkar.
His view was endorsed by a well-placed Western diplomat: "The IAF is the only coherent party."
To avoid alienating Islamic sentiment, the monarchy has emphasized its religious credentials, including the royal family's descent from the Prophet Muhammad. It has encouraged moderation by giving Islamists a stake in the system (albeit that Jordan's parliament in practice has only limited powers) and by such steps as establishing Aal al-Bait University.
At the same time, it has used more direct methods to neutralise Islamists (and others) deemed to be beyond the political pale, justifying this to Western audiences since Sept. 11 as part of the "war on terrorism." The kingdom's key internal security agency, the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), stands accused of harassing, detaining and maltreating dissidents. It's a far cry from the brutalities of outright police states but the GID's excesses fit awkwardly with Jordan's carefully cultivated image as an oasis of tolerance and decency in a regional desert of political oppression.
"In all Third World countries, it's the mukhabarat [secret police] who exert control and we are one of those countries," said Abdul Majid Thnaibat, superindendent-general of the Muslim Brotherhood, although he conceded that Jordan was nevertheless "better than any other Arab country."
Elsewhere in the region, he explained, "the president is the head of a party, not the head of state. Here, the king is for everybody."
Asked early this year whether the regime's attitude towards democracy had improved in recent years, Shaikh Hamza Mansour, head of the IAF, declared: "No, it's worse."
He complained of "unceasing repression," inking this to the government's failure to resist anti-Islamic pressures from its key foreign backer, the US.
At grassroots level, Islamism remains easily the dominant political force in Jordan.
"In general, people here don't consider bin Laden's actions to be criminal, but acts of self-defense," said Abd as-Salam al-Fandi, Imam of the small Ahmad Bin Taimiyah Mosque in the village of Ba al-Jadid, 13km west of the capital, Amman.
"We [Muslims] don't attack. We just defend," he said.
He said Muslims deeply resented the West's support for Israel's dispossession of the Palestinians, its drive for hegemony and its appetite for the Islamic world's oil and other resources.
"The people hate the US for what it did and this makes them like bin Laden. An eye for an eye," he said.
Reflecting the majority view in Jordan, al-Fandi stressed: "It's not just a [conventional] fight over borders. The people believe that it's a fight to affirm the existence of Islam."
The extent to which Islamism gathers even more momentum in Jordan will depend on the West's readiness to respect regional sensibilities. The invasion of Iraq and US President George W. Bush's failure to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians suggest that the hardline fundamentalist tide will continue to rise. Whether there will ultimately be a place for the moderation symbolized and fostered by Aal Al-Bait University remains to be seen.
Alan George is the author of Syria: Neither Bread Nor Freedom.
If social media interaction is any yardstick, India remained one of the top countries for Taiwan last year. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has on several occasions expressed enthusiasm to strengthen cooperation with India, one of the 18 target nations in her administration’s New Southbound Policy. The past year was instrumental in fostering Taiwan-India ties and will be remembered for accelerated momentum in bilateral relations. However, most of it has been confined to civil society circles. Even though Taiwan launched its southbound policy in 2016, the potential of Taiwan-India engagement remains underutilized. It is crucial to identify what is obstructing greater momentum
In terms of the economic outlook for the semiconductor industry, Taiwan has outperformed the rest of the world for three consecutive years. This is quite rare. In addition, Taiwan has been playing an important role in the US-China technology dispute, and both want Taiwan on their side, reflecting the remaking of the nation’s semiconductor industry. Under the leadership of — above all — Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the industry as a whole has shifted from a focus on capacity to a focus on quality, as companies now have to be able to provide integration of hardware and software, as well as
US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy on China and the Indo-Pacific region will have huge repercussions for Taiwan. The US Department of State in the final weeks of former US president Donald Trump’s term took several actions clearly aimed to push Biden’s foreign policy to build on Trump’s achievements. Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s announcement on the final day of the Trump administration that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang was welcome, but comes far too late. The recent dropping of “self-imposed” restrictions on meetings between Taiwanese and US officials was
In memory of Diane Baker: one of the last working dance journalists, a true dance aficionado and dear friend. On Friday, through a mutual friend, I received the shocking news that dance critic Diane Baker had passed away suddenly at her apartment in Tianmu, Taipei. The news quickly spread, and messages of concern quickly swarmed in from the dance community in Taiwan and abroad. Her sister Sharon in the US later confirmed that Diane died of a heart attack on Wednesday last week. She was 65. Diane was a dear friend to Taiwan’s dance community. Her frequent appearance at dance performances in