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Monday, November 24, 2008

My Favorite Palestinian

I remember my husband waking me the morning Princess Diana died. I remember the sense of personal loss, which was frankly ridiculous because I never personally knew the Princess of Wales. Nonetheless, despite the ups and downs of her life, I admired her spirit, her empathy with those who had severe challenges in their lives, her willingness to literally walk into minefields in order to lead world opinion against landmine operations, and her concern for people of all ages, nations and races.

I thought then, and still think, the world lost a wonderful woman.

Recently, I have become acquainted through U-Tube with another wonderful woman. A neighbor. A mother -- and a working mother, at that, although I suspect she has more household help than I do. And she's a queen.

Her Royal Highness, Queen Rania of Jordan, wife of H.R.H King Abdullan, is the mother of 4 children and a smash hit on U-Tube -- and with good reason. If you haven't seen the "Top Ten" video, go see it now: http://www.youtube.com/user/QueenRania

She is an attractive, articulate woman with a wicked sense of humor who uses her intelligence and wit to counter stereotypes about Arabs. Her official web-page is elsewhere on the internet: http://www.queenrania.jo/

We all know about antiSemitism -- but some of the videos on Queen Rania's U-Tube site offer interviews with Arab-Americans explaining some of the wierd, and often downright nasty comments made by Average Joes and Janes to them upon discovering that they are Arabs.

I've witnessed this myself. I come from a relatively intelligent, well-educated family which is also widely traveled. In college, I thought nothing of bringing friends home for dinner one evening, two of whom were Libyan exchange students working on their Master's degrees in chemical engineering. Dinner went smoothly, my parents as gracious hosts asking about studies, future plans, how often they were able to be in touch with their families back in Libya.

My sister, a high school student who had traveled to both Europe and the Far East herself, sat goggle-eyed through this meal. Finally, during a pause in the conversation, she steeled herself to ask the question that had obviously been burning in her mind all evening. "Just how many camels do you own?" she blurted out.

I wanted to die.

"I only have five," Nuri replied without missing a beat, "but he," indicating his fellow student with a nod, "is rich and has a whole stable of 12 or 15 camels."

To their eternal credit, both of these young men took my sister's abysmal ignorance in stride, and if there was an annoyance, anger or chagrin at being confronted with such a stereotype at the dinner table, both guys hid it well. Impeccable adab.

Judging from the videos on Queen Rania's site, the world is full of people who know about as much as my sister did about the Arab world and Arabs.

I think one reason I like her is for much the same reason many people like, and voted for, Obama -- her sense of optimism, and her insistence that the world can be different, and can be better. She has focused her energies on improving the lives of her people, something very few Arab leaders bother with these days. She has been in the forefront of education, culture and women's issues in Jordan.

She's no slouch, intellectually, either. After graduating from American University in Cairo with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration, she worked for both Citibank and Apple Computer. Upon her graduation from university, Queen Rania returned to Jordan and pursued a career in banking, followed by a brief career in the field of Information Technology. *

As queen she has been an advocate for Jordan's children and especially for its women, saying "The best advertisement for empowering women is an empowered woman."

Queen Rania has no official role or duties as queen according to Jordan's constitution but she has chosen to use her position to promote a number of social issues and important charities. King Abdullah has been supportive of Rania's work, and named her to head his Royal Commission on Human Rights. In that capacity, the new queen added her voice to those of several progressive Jordanian activists campaigning for change in the country's divorce law. In 2002, Jordan's parliament passed a temporary set of laws that granted women the right to initiate divorce proceedings, but they were rescinded two years later.

Rania has also joined other Jordanian women and human - rights activists in calling for an end to the so - called "honor killings" in the nation of five million. In some cases, when a woman in Jordan is the victim of sexual assault, or is suspected of engaging in premarital sex, she is murdered by her male relatives. Under Jordanian law, these murders are subject to less stringent penalties than other capital crimes. She is also a tireless advocate for children, and even before becoming queen made child - abuse prevention a priority. In Jordan, child abuse cases are thought to be vastly underreported, and the matter was almost never discussed publicly. Rania launched the Child Safety Program in 1998, and also established Dar Al Aman ("Home of Safety") for young victims of abuse. The shelter is the first of its kind in the Arab world. She also she sits on the board of directors of the Vaccine Fund, established the Jordan River Foundation to provide small - business loans for folk artisans living in some of the country's poorest villages, and has worked with education authorities to ensure that every schoolchild in Jordan has access to a computer. *

So why would I entitle this piece "My Favorite Palestinian"? Because Jordan's queen was born to a prominent Palestinian family from the West Bank -- different sources list Tulkarm or Nablus. Her father, a medical doctor, relocated to Kuwait in the early 1960s where the future queen was born, raised and educated. Her advice regarding the conflict: women in the Arab world need to get involved and to take a more active role in the peace process. She distanced herself from the extremist measures adopted by suicide bombers. "Palestinians have to have the moral courage to say killing civilians isn't right," she asserted to Times of London journalist Daniel McGrory. "Both sides see themselves as victims, and when you feel victimised it justifies anything you do, no matter how crazy or out of control it is, so you think it's OK to bomb innocent civilians and it's OK to invade towns and cities."

In a world where every morning I pick up the paper and read about famine, brush-wars, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and how many missiles fell yesterday, and where they hit), Iran's incremental creep towards the Bomb, unimpeded by world leaders afraid of rising oil prices, crumbling education system, a faltering social network, and a world crisis of financial and moral dimensions, she gives me hope for a better tomorrow. Jordan's queen's attitude is "Yes, she can!"

You go, girl!

* courtesy Answers.com (http://www.answers.com/topic/queen-rania-of-jordan). Netglimpse (http://www.netglimse.com/celebs/pages/queen_rania_of_jordan/index.shtml) and Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Rania)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 5:59:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Batya said...

The previous queen was also special. Queen Nur, born Lisa Halaby in the states. We used to watch Jordan TV and really got to know what happened there. Now, there isn't the top programming there once was, and now we also have dvd.

Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 1:05:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Unknown said...

interesting about the current queen... but if you read Queen Noor's book, you will find that she was very biased against the jews, and especially the israelis. her book discusses some of her favorite aspects about Israel, including the fact that we may have poisoned her husband....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 at 9:36:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Schvach said...

But is she Palestinian, or is she Hashemite?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 7:51:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

She is an ethnic Palestinian, albeit married into the Hashemite dynasty.

Thursday, December 25, 2008 at 7:13:00 AM GMT+2  

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