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Tuesday, May 9, 2006

"Ben and Izzy" Gala

New York, United States

Good evening and thank you, Barbara, for that kind introduction. I am excited to be here to celebrate the launch of Ben and Izzy - a magical feat of children’s animation which has united Arabs and Americans in our joint quest for mutual understanding. As you have seen, Ben and Izzy tells the story of two little boys who meet in Jordan at an archeological dig. From there, they embark on whirlwind adventures that take them back through history and expose the values that we share today.

And standing in this extraordinary setting, looking at these artifacts, I feel like I have been doing a bit of time traveling myself! Few buildings evoke the power of history as vividly as the Met. In fact, if Ben and Izzy were here, or their grandfathers, Omar and Jake, they would be telling us that these stones were once part of a civilization that gave us everything from calendars and clocks to medicine and math… and the paper on which these remarkable achievements were recorded.

Incredibly, five thousand years later, we are still learning from the ancient Egyptians. What a wonderful testament to history’s ability to educate and inspire, even across the boundaries of culture and the passage of generations.

Celebrating the power of the past and its impact on the present is what the Ben and Izzy adventure series is all about. Through the colorful and comical antics of magic genies and gum-popping girls… in settings as diverse as Cordova and Kenya to Petra and Baghdad… with advice from great writers, philosophers and scientists… our animated heroes, and our own children, will learn about their ancestors, about themselves and about each other.
Because, even though the program looks to the past, it is rooted in modern times – designed to appeal to 21st century children. I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember Tom or Jerry or Wily Coyote using Google or PDAs to get themselves out of scrapes. But for Ben and Izzy, as with my own young children, computers are second nature.

This cartoon uses a language that modern children understand – a language that unites them, whatever their background or beliefs, and makes them realize that you do not have to be alike to get along.

The best example of that is the Ben and Izzy production team itself. Thanks to Randa Ayoubi and Fawaz Zubi’s dynamic and creative crew at Rubicon… and the production wizardry of David Pritchard and Glenn Chaika at Fat Rock Entertainment, we have a magical mix of animators and artists, software geniuses and social philanthropists, writers, producers and much, much more. And they all deserve a big thank you.

I am very proud of the intercultural partnership that has led to this great achievement. By focusing on the future of our children, by complementing each other’s strengths, and by harnessing creative know-how, they have not only overcome challenges but they have created a modern treasure.
And, unlike the fiendish Clutchford Wells, who would probably try to sell it for personal gain, they are sharing this precious gift with the children of the world – helping young people to see common humanity within our rich cultural diversity.

We, in Jordan, have long encouraged such partnerships and intercultural cooperation …especially for our children's education. Our soon-to-open Children's Museum is a very good example. I have to confess, it will not house the Astrolabe of Sinbad or The Scroll of the Spinning Spheres. But it will be a place where play and learning literally go hand-in-hand – as children are encouraged to touch, explore and experience the galleries and exhibits.
We could not have done this without the generous support of local, regional and international corporations.

Another example of the strong alliance between global and local, public and private IT companies is Jordan's Education Initiative. Combining some of the best software and IT companies from around the world, this project is not only revolutionizing e-curriculums in many of Jordan’s schools, it is also strengthening our local IT industry. And we are building on this momentum so that all of our talented young people can boot up, log on and link themselves to a global library of learning.

Because whether we are Muslims, Christians or Jews… whether we live in the Middle East or the Upper West Side… we all want our children to be able to make the most of their potential in a secure, peaceful and just world.

There is no magic pearl we can rub to make all the people in the world get along, but projects like Ben and Izzy go a long way to ensuring that the next generation grows up with a mindset geared towards trust and tolerance. Especially in a year when we have seen cartoons used to fuel misunderstanding and division, I am delighted to see this new cartoon explicitly designed to bring people together.

As the 12th century Arab inventor, Al-Jazari, tells the time travelers, "Wisdom can unlock a thousand chains." The wisdom Ben and Izzy passes on to our children does so much more than unlock chains.

It opens the doors to greater compassion and it strengthens bonds of friendship among the children of the world. To my mind, that is one of the greatest legacies we can give them.

Thank you very much.