In Interview with La Repubblica, Queen Rania Says Women Will Change the Arab World

June 28, 2006

INTERVIEW. A conversation with the wife of Abdullah II, selected by TIME among the 100 most influential people on the planet

The appeal of the queen of Jordan: "Help the Palestinians"

"One says 'the Arab woman' and one speaks about an unexplored universe. Our Western guests were surprised to hear the Arab women at our conference of the Global Women's Action Network: they are an unexplored reserve of talent, an essential motor for the development and peace of the region. But above this now lies the challenge of the conflicts at our borders, the Holy Land and Iraq that continue to suffer. Regarding Palestine, I hope that the world will not simply neglect [the possibility of] peace."

Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan appears, and the room lights up with her smile. Graceful and slim, in light pants, high heels, complexion of shiny ivory, her raven hair straight to her shoulders. And then the ancient oriental kindness, her ebony sparkling eyes, the flair of a person who relishes challenges, embarked - so it seems - on elaborating a new way of bringing harmony to the relationship between East and West.

Much has been written about her grace, less about her power: about the effectiveness with which she addresses the meetings of the powerful, about the strong will with which she addresses the leaders on the lofty ethical and pragmatical issues of their mission. At her ascent to the throne, seven years ago, King Abdullah II made clear that Rania would have reigned at his side in ushering the kingdom into modernity. This year TIME magazine selected her among the 100 most influential people of the planet.

The liberals would object that the pace of reforms is not as fast as one would like. You have expressed at times impatience at that pace, Your Majesty?

Queen Rania: I think we just need to realize that when it comes to cultural perceptions and social attitudes, these things don't change overnight. It's a process and it's a long term process. Jordan has been committed on this path of democracy. Unfortunately, we live in a very turbulent neighborhood and that sometimes hasn't made us move as fast as we'd like to move. We don't like to use the regional conflict as an excuse but as much as we'd like to say that we're working on our own thing, you are affected by what happens around you so sometimes the progress hasn't been as fast as we'd like it to be.

Are reforms and democracy the right prescription to counter Muslim extremism?

Queen Rania: I would like to object to using the words Muslim and extremism in one phrase because extremism exists in all religions. The majority of Muslims by nature are not extremists. In fact, the widening misperceptions about Islam are an unfortunate aspect of our times. I think reform and democracy are the right thing to do in order to provide our people with the right kind of future and to give them more positive prospects for the future because wherever there's frustration, wherever there's lost hope and no chance for a better future you will find that people will walk down the wrong paths—whether it is a path towards crime or the path towards extremism, or the path towards anything negative.

Would you explain, Your Majesty?

Queen Rania: Well I think that in the recent past, Islam has really been the victim in terms of its image being distorted because you find that a lot of people associate the whole of Islam with its rich heritage and its rich culture and all of its achievements, with the actions of a minority of extremists. So we let the minority of extremists dictate to the world what Islam is all about and that I think that is unfair because we are ignoring the one point two billion Muslims and what they represent and what their discourse is. We ignore that and we let the platform be dominated by those few extremists. So, we as Muslims can not let that happen. We must not let the extremists dominate the podiums and speak for the majority of us because they do not represent us. We have to speak out and say that these extremists do not represent us. We don’t agree with their actions. We don't agree with their thoughts. We don’t agree with the things that they say and it's our job to present to the world what we think is the true essence of Islam.

Your Majesty, you are of Palestinian origin, you lead a march of solidarity with the people of the occupied territories. What is your message?

Queen Rania: There are many who don't know enough about what's going on between the Israelis and Palestinians and I think they need to know more about what's going on; however, there are those who do know about the conflict and who are quite cynical about it and say there's absolutely no way they're ever going to find a settlement and so they just give up and the point is you can't afford to be too cynical and say they'll never reach a peace agreement because that is not an option.

How central is the resolution of the conflict in your opinion?

Queen Rania: [It is absolutly central]. Our world will continue to pay the price for it…when there are such frustrated hopes; when there are people living under such difficult conditions; mothers not being able to send their children to school because they're worried about their safety, husbands who are unable to provide for their family, watching their own children and not being able to feed them. You see pregnant women who have to walk for miles to make it to a hospital in order to have a baby. And people see family members humiliated day in day out. On the other side you have Israelis who worry about the safety of their children from suicide bombings, etc. that is not a satiation that can continue and that is not a situation that is isolated. This kind of situation leads to anger and this anger lives inside the borders and also travels outside the world and the waves of this anger will resonate in any country in the world because you get the mentality of anger, extremism, and some people want to take the action of violence. So you know it's not an option for the world to just ignore the situation in Israel and Palestine. I think the urgency is something we really have to bring to the spotlight and I'm not sure a lot of people understand the urgency. I think a lot of people just look at the situation and just give up. You can't afford to give up on people. I was around at the time listening to King Hussein saying that he wants peace for his children and his children's children. Well, we are his children and his children's children are here and they're already grown up. So how long are we going have to wait? With each day that you wait, you are breeding more hatred in the country. We have the means and the tools at hands to make it a better place. What we need is just the political will and determination.

Some time ago you sent a letter to the Times of London in which you stressed the delays by the Coalition forces in Iraq in allowing the access of the humanitarian organizations. Today, if you were to send it again, what would you write?

Queen Rania: If I was to write another letter I wouldn't write my own words, I would try to get some of the words of the Iraqi people and put them in the letter because I think they are the ones who understand more than anyone else their reality. We just see images on the television. We just see snapshots. We know of numbers, we hear 30 Iraqis are being killed a day, but we don’t understand the human stories that go beyond that. And I hear some terrible human stories. Women not being able to walk down the streets, children not having access to education or health. A great number of unemployed. Electricity is a luxury in Iraq- who would have thought! Even months like now where it's boiling hot there they only get a couple hours of electricity a day. The hardship there is something that really needs to be highlighted. So we have to look beyond the politics and the military and look at the human side of this conflict. So if I was to write a letter, I think I'd talk to a few of the Iraqi men women and children and take notes of what they're saying and I think I'd present that in a letter because I think they're words are more important than mine at this stage.

© Copyright, La Repubblica Newspaper