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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Queen Rania to TIME: “ The average Jordanian has much in common with the average American in terms of the values that we share”

One of the Middle East's most recognizable ambassadors, this champion of women's rights recently helped launch a microlending campaign in her region. Jordan's Queen Rania will now take your questions...
 
Do you think that women will ever truly have equal rights in the Middle East? - Ben Buckmaster WABASHA, MINN.
 
Queen Rania: Absolutely, I believe they will. I think that mind-sets are changing in the Middle East. Poll after poll is showing that men see the value of greater female participation and empowerment. We still have a long way to go, but Islam should not be used as a scapegoat. The obstacles that face women today are more cultural. It's not about the religion.
 
My daughters are being abused by other Muslim students at school for not wearing a veil. Your advice? - Meetha Lund, STOCKHOLM
 
Queen Rania: For many, the hijab represents modesty, piety and devotion to God, and I truly respect that. But the hijab should not be used as a means of applying social pressure on people. In Jordan, for example, a woman cannot be forced to wear a veil against her will.
 
What are you doing to eliminate honor killing--the murder of women who allegedly have brought dishonor to their family--in Jordan?
- Nuha Mousa, SEATTLE
 
Queen Rania: As a woman, as an Arab, as a Muslim, I would like to state very clearly that this is a heinous and totally unacceptable practice. It is not condoned by Islam, and honor killings are not limited to the Arab or Muslim world. In Jordan, we are challenging this disgraceful practice. Progress has been slow because we need to build awareness, and that takes time.
 
Will the Arab world ever be free of the kind of mindless violence occurring in Iraq?
- Joseph Southern, BANGKOK
 
Queen Rania: The Middle East is not just about Iraq. The Middle East has both challenges and opportunities. Many countries in our region are experiencing a massive economic boom. It's a very youthful region, and the young by nature are hopeful, optimistic and innovative. The world shouldn't overlook our successes and achievements.
 
Is democracy a good thing for Jordan, and if so, what are you doing to achieve it? - Tareq Salem, AMMAN
 
Queen Rania: Of course democracy is good, but it is a process, not a prescription. If it is going to be effective and long term, it has to be made in Jordan. That's really the starting point. Democracy and monarchy can coexist very peacefully as long as the monarchy believes in democracy. In our case, we certainly do.
 
What is the biggest negative about the U.S. invasion of Iraq? - Christian Paquette, BOSTON
 
Queen Rania: The civilian suffering. This conflict has spared no one. It's incredibly sad to see such a proud and great country broken.
 
Does the average Jordanian consider the average American an ally? - Ryan Wells, SAN FRANCISCO
 
Queen Rania: The average Jordanian has much in common with the average American in terms of the values that we share, the fact that we all value the family unit, our work ethic. If more of us realized this, I think we would all be better off.
 
What's the solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians? - Teri Elmaleh, TEL AVIV
 
Queen Rania: First, start with will on both sides--not just the political kind but the kind that comes from the conscience and the heart. To achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East takes guts, not guns.
 
How will the world benefit from the "village banking" microfinance campaign you are supporting?
-Chunqin Hua, BEIJING
 
Queen Rania: I believe in microfinance because it isn't just a path out of poverty. It's the road to self-reliance. By allowing people to team up and literally become their own bank, you can mobilize people and resources and alleviate poverty on the global scale.
 
What can the average American citizen do to solve the crisis in the Middle East?
-Josh Larkin BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, WASH.
 
Queen Rania: Start by learning more about the real Middle East. Challenge your own assumptions about the Middle East. Lobby for diplomacy and dialogue in foreign policy. And simply reach out to your Muslim neighbor.
 
What are the changes that you have seen in women in your country since your husband became a King and you a Queen? —Donaldo Villalobos in Los Angeles

Queen Rania: My husband [King Abdullah] is a strong advocate of women's empowerment, as was my father-in-law, the late King Hussein. As a result, today women in Jordan are participating in all aspects of civil as well as political life — as female judges, parliamentarians, businesswomen. And the evolution will continue. This is not something that happens overnight. 
 
How much change can you effect, and how fast, given that religious extremism and aversion to the West is so entrenched in the culture you are trying to alter? —Mohammad Shamsuzzaman in San Bernardino, Calif.
 
Queen Rania: I don't necessarily agree with your assumption. Extremism is not endemic in my region, nor is anti-Western sentiment. No doubt there is discontent and distrust. That is towards more the American and some Western policies, and not toward the American people. Polls show that Arabs admire a lot of the Western values, cultural aspects in the West. It is more about policies than about way of life. 
 
What do you think about hijab [veil, or headscarf], in relation to Islam and modernity?
—Nese Yilmaz in Madison, Wis.
 
Queen Rania: For many, the hijab represents modesty, piety and devotion to God, and I truly respect that. Unfortunately, too many people in the Western world mistakenly perceive it as an expression of powerlessness and oppression. And increasingly it is being turned into a political tool. Modernity is not about dress codes. Religion and modernity are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In Jordan, a woman cannot be forced to wear a veil against her will. 
 
How do you think the role of the Jordanian Queen has changed over time, and do you expect it to change greatly in the future?
—Latu Lolohea in Salt Lake City, Utah

 Queen Rania: The job description for a queen changes with the times. Ten years ago, for example, the need for cross-cultural dialogue was not as pertinent as it is now. Today it is an integral part of what I do. Having said that, many aspects of the role remain unchanged — primarily to listen, to care and to serve. 
 
What would you say is the single biggest challenge Jordan must overcome in the next decade and how would you address it? —Waheed Din in Houston

 Queen Rania: With 70% of our population under the age of 30, creating opportunities for our youth is one of most pressing challenges, and is the overriding motivation of everything that we do. Because the youth are the catalysts for real change. For that reason, our main priority is innovation and education. We are focused on achieving excellence and pushing the boundaries of education, and giving our young children not only the skills to know what to think, but how to think. 
 
Is the clash between cultures stressful for you and how do you cope? —David Colclasure in Conway, Ark.
 
Queen Rania: I don't believe there is a clash between cultures. I believe there is a clash between perceptions of each other. As someone who knows both sides well, I find it incredibly frustrating to see the gaps in the narrative. If both sides would come together and communicate a little bit more, I think a lot of the tension that exists would be dissipated. It is a clash of perceptions of our cultures, but not real clashes in our cultures. 
 
What role should a Muslim woman play in reducing tensions between the Muslim world and the West? —Asghar Mayo in Lahore, Pakistan

 Queen Rania: Muslim women must stand up and speak out about who we are, what we believe and where we are going. I think we need to know that our counterparts in the west are also willing to listen and reciprocate. 
 
How "easy" or how "hard" is it to be Queen Raina? —Anand Srivastava in Hyderabad, India
 
Queen Rania: It's hard and it's easy and everything in between. It's a cause, it's a project, it's a journey, with lots of fun and laughter. It's my life and its unique just like everyone else's. The hardest [part] is some of the misperceptions that are leveled against me as a person and against Muslim women. There are so many misperceptions and stereotypes out there that I would love to see clarified one day. 
 
Which misconceptions about your life in any of your roles would you like to erase so that we can better understand not only you, but also your culture and values? —Nalini Saxena in New York City
 
Queen Rania: My position attracts a fair amount of rumors and gossip and misperceptions, but I'd rather not focus on that. I'm amazed by the misconceptions about Muslim women and the Arab world that I hear, and that really does hurt me. I don't believe that there is fair enough understanding of either our status as women or the total context of our lives, which is very rich and multi-faceted. It is all too easy to draw conclusions and make sweeping judgments about millions of Muslim women based on fleeting television images. That is not right. I think we have to try harder.

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