Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Scott Pelley
60 Minutes
25 September 2016

On how the war against Daesh/ISIS can be won:

King Abdullah: I think this is the challenge that we have had over the past several years, where people look at, you know, is it Iraq this year or Syria next year? Well, what about Libya? What about Boko Haram or Al Shabab in Africa? We have to look at it from a global perspective.

Scott Pelley: All of these things need to be attacked at the same time. You can’t concentrate on Syria one year and then deal with Boko Haram in another?

King Abdullah: Well, the prime example is as you see certain military successes in Syria and Iraq against Daesh, the leadership, they are telling their fighters either, “Don’t come to Syria or Iraq,” or moving their command structure to Libya. And so are we going to wait to get our act together to concentrate on Libya? And then, you know, do we wait a year or two to start helping the Africans deal with Boko Haram or Shabab? So we’ve got to get ahead of the curve because they’re reacting much quicker than we are.

Scott Pelley: The American strategy in Syria and Iraq, as you know, is to use U.S. air power and to train forces on the ground to fight the battle. That has not worked. How do you move forward from here?

King Abdullah: I think the problem with the West is they see a border between Syria and Iraq. Daesh does not. And this has been a frustration, I think, for a few of us in this area with our Western coalition partners, for several years. You know, the lawyers get into the act and say, “But there’s an international border.” And we say, “For God’s sake, ISIS doesn’t work that way.” So if you’re looking at it and want to play the game by your rules, knowing that the enemy doesn’t, we’re not going to win this.

Scott Pelley: Within hours of that video [of the killing of Jordanian pilot Muath Kasasbeh by Daesh] you hanged two convicted terrorists here in Jordan. What does that tell us about you?

King Abdullah: I think they had to understand that there was no messing around with Jordan. And a lot of those that were involved in killing Muath in that video and those that were responsible for detaining him and processing him through his captivity have been taken down since.

Scott Pelley: You’re going to hunt them down.

King Abdullah: They have been hunted down, quite a lot of them, and those that are still involved if it takes us another 50 years we will get them.

On President Bush Sr. in 1990 and President Bush Jr. in 2003 ignoring advice regarding Iraq from the Late King Hussein and King Abdullah II respectively:

Scott Pelley: It seems like American presidents think they know this region better than you.

King Abdullah: They seem to understand us better than we know each other. And as a result you can see the train on the track coming to the wreck and we do advise that, if we keep going that way, it is pretty obvious to some of us what is going to happen. And you know, you can only express your views as much and as emotionally as you can.

Scott Pelley: You’re frustrated by that.

King Abdullah: The ethnic makeup of the region is pretty glaringly obvious for us that live in the region; that advisers and think tanks in the West seem to know us better than we supposedly know ourselves. I mean, Syria, when it started, everybody was saying six months. And I said, “Look, you know, if you’re saying six months, I’m saying six years.” We’re in for the long haul, not only in Syria and Iraq, but for the whole region and for the world, unfortunately.

Scott Pelley: But isn’t there going to have to be a Western army of some kind on the ground in order to take the territory?

King Abdullah: Enablers. Enablers. Because, at the end of the day, you can’t have Western troops walking down the street of Syrian cities and villages. At the end of the day, you need the Syrians to be able to do that.

Scott Pelley: Why did you allow nearly a million and a half Syrians to come into your country?

King Abdullah: Well we really didn’t have much choice. They were flooding across the border, being shot by the Syrian regime. And you know Jordan has always been a place that opens it arms to refugees from many countries, unfortunately. But then it got to a point where, you know, we’re now at 20 per cent increase of our population. And the huge burden on our country we’re in dire straits.

Scott Pelley: What’s the breaking point for your people?

King Abdullah: About a year or two years ago. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Our health sector is saturated. Our schools are really going through difficult times. It’s extremely, extremely difficult. And Jordanians have just had it up to here. I mean, we just can’t take it anymore.

On the economy and unemployment:

King Abdullah: If anything keeps me up at night, it is giving the younger generation an opportunity at life. And on the flip side of that, if radicalisation is going to embed itself anywhere in the world or in this region it’s going to be disenfranchised youth. And so if young people in this country are not going to have an opportunity because of the pressure on the economy again, that’s my concern.

On whether the people of the US having a stake in the Jordanian economy:

King Abdullah: I believe the world has a stake in the Jordanian economy, because we are the success story of stability in the region. If there wasn’t a Jordan, we would have had to have created one. So I think the story of Jordan is bigger than the borders of our country.

Scott Pelley: When you do interviews in Arabic on this subject, you call ISIS the khawarej. What does that mean?

King Abdullah: Well in Islam, us traditional Muslims it is not our right to call people heretics. God decides at the end of the day. The jihadists take it upon themselves to call the rest of us heretics – us Muslims; you are in a completely different and worse category. And so in our traditional history, the outlaws – the khawarej –appeared, really, in the early part of Islam.

Scott Pelley: They were a sect that splintered from Islam in the first century.

King Abdullah: Yes. And they did horrible atrocities. And as a result the Muslim communities rose up against them and exterminated them. So they appear throughout history from time to time. And they always meet their end. But as extremists throughout all of our religions, you know, they appear from time to time.

Scott Pelley: Well, in the United States, many people ask, “What has gone wrong with Islam?”

King Abdullah: So if you look at the spectrum and understand that 90 per cent of us are traditionalists and have an affinity for Christianity, Judaism, I mean we’re all the three monotheistic religions, us being the younger one, and that our faith decrees the understanding of Judaism and Christianity, then we understand where we all are. It’s that misperception with the takfiri jihadists, that’s where the fight is. And they represent probably two per cent of Sunni Islam. That’s where the problem is. And if we’re being pushed into the corner through Islamophobia, that’s where the danger is, where we as allies, are not understood.

Scott Pelley: Your concern is that, if Islamophobia takes even greater hold, Muslims who are not radicalised today will be forced into that corner.

King Abdullah: Well, they are going to feel isolated. They are going to feel marginalised. They are going to feel victimised, which is exactly what ISIS, Al Qaeda want. I mean, why fly two aircrafts into the Twin Towers in New York? It is to create hatred from the West towards Islam so that you can panic the majority of Muslims to feel that they are victimised and push them over into the extremist camp.

The following questions were also uploaded online:

Scott Pelley: Did the United States play a role by destabilising Iraq?

King Abdullah: Well, a few of us felt that the issue of Iraq was the day-after scenario. And I think that was the concern that a lot of us had. I still think that the overarching problem with Iraq is, and I have said it before, we do have Kurdistan. By definition we have a Shiastan. What has never been articulated is a Sunnistan. The Sunnis don’t feel that they have a political future and therefore hope. And what we are beginning to see as a result is Daeshstan.

And so, if we don’t get the politics of Iraq right and give a future to the Sunnis there; and what you are seeing with the sectarian play inside of Iraq, as non-state actors and state actors in the region, the role of sometimes Iran playing inside of Iraq, as certain forces or a mix of forces come towards the Sunni held areas, the Sunnis are saying, “Do we want these liberating forces to come towards us or are we better under ISIS authority?”

And that is where the danger is. I think there is some challenges in the way that Iraq was formed originally, and if we don’t find a political solution to the future of the Sunnis, then solving Iraq is going to be much more complicated. And politicians don’t really want to touch that because it is so complicated, unfortunately.

Scott Pelley: I found a Hadith, one of the ancient commentaries on the Qur’an that predicted: “There will come a people from the east that will recite the Qur’an but it will not go beyond their throats. They will pass through the religion just as an arrow pierces its prey and will not return to it just as the arrow does not return to the bow”. Is that ISIS?

King Abdullah: That is ISIS. This is the misunderstanding I find in the West, which is really disturbing. And that we as Muslims hate Christianity and hate Judaism. Well, we have six pillars of faith inside of our religion: number three is to believe in the Scriptures, the Bible and the Torah; number four is to believe in all the prophets. We believe in Jesus as the Messiah. He is actually mentioned in the Qur’an, I think, about 25 times. The Virgin Mary is mentioned, I think, about 34 times. And so, this misunderstanding I see in the West about how we interpret Judaism and Christianity for me is really disturbing, unfortunately.