IF THE terrorists who struck three hotels in the Jordanian capital of Amman Wednesday intended to kill Americans, Israelis and members of the Iraqi elite, as their purported communiques claimed, they failed. Among the at least 59 people who died were 33 Jordanians, including members of a wedding party, two senior Palestinian security officials, two Bahrainis, two Chinese, one Saudi and one Indonesian. Also, two Americans were killed and several more injured. Rather than punishing "Jews and crusaders," the bombers enraged Jordanians, including some who consider themselves enemies of Israel and the United States. Hundreds of people organized by professional unions rallied outside one of the hotels yesterday to denounce Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda's organization in Iraq. As in Iraq itself, the terrorists' indiscriminate slaughter of Arab civilians is alienating the very public they seek to win over, and shattering any illusion that their war is one of "resistance" against foreign "occupation."
Then again, the Zarqawi organization had little to lose. Even as it has bloodied Iraq -- where two more suicide bombings were recorded yesterday -- support for violence and Islamic extremism has been declining elsewhere in the region. Two movements that pioneered suicide bombings, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, have at least temporarily set aside violence and are focused on participating in democratic politics. An al Qaeda branch in Saudi Arabia has found little support, and most of its leaders have been captured or killed. In Lebanon this year, a popular revolution embraced a democratic agenda, and a grass-roots democratic movement has appeared in Egypt. The government most under siege in the region is not the Jordanian monarchy but the Baathist dictatorship of Syria, which has been a tactical ally of the Zarqawi network and the Iraqi insurgency.
The targeting of Jordan can hardly be blamed on the Iraq war: The same terrorist network unsuccessfully plotted to bomb one of the same Amman hotels in 1999. But Iraq has given Arabs across the Middle East a gruesomely vivid demonstration of al Qaeda's real vision for the region: bombings in mosques; the beheading of fellow Muslims; and Taliban-style dictatorship in areas under its control. Now Arabs watch the footage of a wedding turned into a massacre, with no conceivable U.S. targets in sight. No wonder al Qaeda ideologue Ayman Zawahiri is allegedly concerned enough about the movement's image to have dispatched a chiding letter to the Iraqi branch. And no wonder Arabs who demonstrate in the streets of their cities these days most often do so in favor of democracy -- and against the criminals of al Qaeda.