“BE­ING A IS A JOB LIKE ANY OTHER” “I be­lieve there is no con­tra­dic­tion be­tween Is­lam and progress or moder­nity”

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - News - In­ter­view by HAN­NAH JAMES

She’s a mother of four, a chil­dren’s book au­thor, a former em­ployee of Citibank and Ap­ple in Am­man – and Queen of Jor­dan. Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Ab­dul­lah, 46 – who, like the Duchess of Cam­bridge, has her ev­ery sar­to­rial step breath­lessly chron­i­cled in the in­ter­na­tional me­dia – uses her pro­file and so­cial-me­dia fol­low­ing (yes, the Queen of Jor­dan has her own Youtube chan­nel: Queen Rania) to shine a light on so­cial causes and is­sues, rang­ing from Is­lam­o­pho­bia to im­mi­gra­tion.

In her first in­ter­view with an Aus­tralian pub­li­ca­tion, Queen Rania tells Stel­lar about the role of a thor­oughly mod­ern royal in a chang­ing world.

You met then-prince Ab­dul­lah bin Al Hus­sein of Jor­dan, your fu­ture hus­band, at a din­ner party – and were mar­ried six months later. To many peo­ple this sounds like a fairy­tale – is that how you see it? We met at a din­ner with mu­tual friends of ours, back in early 1993. He had such a great smile and such in­fec­tious en­ergy, we got on re­ally well. And the rest, as they say, is his­tory! So, how I met my hus­band and life part­ner, His Majesty King Ab­dul­lah II, may sound like a fairy­tale, but be­ing a queen is a job like any other. It has noth­ing to do with crowns, car­riages or cas­tles. I made a com­mit­ment to the peo­ple of Jor­dan to serve them to the best of my abil­ity, and I try to live up to that com­mit­ment ev­ery day. In 1999 your hus­band be­came the King of Jor­dan and, aged just 28, you be­came the Queen. How did you man­age that tran­si­tion? You are known for your phi­lan­thropy. Which causes are par­tic­u­larly close to your heart? Ed­u­ca­tion and com­mu­nity em­pow­er­ment have al­ways been top pri­or­i­ties be­cause with­out them, a so­ci­ety can­not progress or de­velop an im­mu­nity to threats. Ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple and giv­ing them the tools to em­power them­selves is our best bet at meet­ing the chal­lenges we face to­day. It al­lows the poor to stand on their own feet and walk away from the ef­fects of poverty. Sixty per cent of the Arab world’s pop­u­la­tion is un­der the age of 25. This statis­tic is of­ten re­ferred to as a “de­mo­graphic gift”, but with a quar­ter of them un­em­ployed – and that’s dou­ble the global aver­age – if it’s a gift for any­one, it’s for the ex­trem­ists who want to prey on and ma­nip­u­late the hope­less. Now, more than ever, the class­room has be­come our first line of de­fence against ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy. I’m sure Aus­tralia can re­late as it is no stranger to the re­cruit­ment of for­eign fight­ers by rad­i­cal groups in the Mid­dle East and North Africa, and has put com­mend­able mea­sures in place to fight this phe­nom­e­non at home. You can­not kill an ide­ol­ogy with a bul­let. Ed­u­ca­tion is an in­vest­ment we make in our peo­ple to pro­tect them from ex­ploita­tion and fall­ing vul­ner­a­ble to re­cruit­ment. A huge fac­tor in the fu­ture of this war against ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy is our nar­ra­tive, and we need to em­ploy qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion to of­fer a coun­ternar­ra­tive, as well as promise and op­por­tu­ni­ties, in or­der to quash the evil forces that are try­ing to drag the whole world be­hind. How do you sift through the many wor­thy causes that are com­pet­ing for your at­ten­tion? I think con­text is a big part of this de­ci­sion-mak­ing process: ask­ing my­self what is most ur­gent, and most needed, in this time and place. For ex­am­ple, the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis has mor­phed into a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter with se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions we can­not ig­nore; Jor­dan has re­ceived around 1.3 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees since the be­gin­ning of the cri­sis. One out of ev­ery seven ci­ti­zens is a Syr­ian refugee in my coun­try. You’ve spo­ken very frankly in the past about the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis and Is­lam­o­pho­bia. What do you wish to say to Stel­lar read­ers about those is­sues? The Syr­ian refugee cri­sis and Is­lam­o­pho­bia are dif­fer­ent is­sues, but I think they are def­i­nitely re­lated in that, faced with the largest hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis and case of mass dis­place­ment of our time, many have re­sorted to fear and Is­lam­o­pho­bia in­stead of em­pa­thy and com­pas­sion. Sadly, the word refugee to­day has be­come so politi­cised and the nar­ra­tive so po­larised, it’s been stripped of all its tragedy and the hu­man suf­fer­ing and sor­row it car­ries. It is heart­break­ing to see some­thing so fun­da­men­tally hu­man­i­tar­ian trans­formed into some­thing po­lit­i­cal, and ex­ploited to garner pop­u­lar­ity and votes. At the core of the refugee cri­sis are hu­man be­ings who have lost ev­ery­thing through no fault of their own. You have as­serted that there is “noth­ing Is­lamic” about ISIS and spo­ken of the dan­ger in al­low­ing the group to iden­tify or cor­re­late its vi­o­lence with Is­lam. Yes, I have said it many times and I’ll say it again: th­ese ex­trem­ist groups have hi­jacked Is­lam to fur­ther their own heinous and vi­o­lent agenda. They have noth­ing to do with my re­li­gion, which teaches tol­er­ance, com­pas­sion, for­give­ness and peace. A re­cent study showed that more than 70 per cent of Daesh re­cruits had only ba­sic knowl­edge of Is­lam, and that many were or­der­ing The Ko­ran for Dum­mies and Is­lam for Dum­mies books be­fore join­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, to­day, per­cep­tions of Mus­lims and Is­lam are al­most ex­clu­sively based on the ac­tions of th­ese ex­trem­ist groups who have ex­ploited our faith to di­vide us. Their vi­o­lence has trig­gered a global wave of Is­lam­o­pho­bia based on skewed per­cep­tions of Mus­lims and Is­lam. Iron­i­cally, this is ex­actly what they want: for the world to marginalise

Mus­lims and for th­ese Mus­lims to fall vul­ner­a­ble to their re­cruit­ment cam­paigns. That’s why we Mus­lims face the tremen­dous re­spon­si­bil­ity of re­claim­ing our faith from th­ese out­laws. As Mus­lims, we have to win the moral nar­ra­tive; we need to work harder at re­veal­ing ex­trem­ists’ false­hoods for what they are, and de­stroy their moral and re­li­gious le­git­i­macy to their po­ten­tial re­cruits. There are still many stereo­types about the Mid­dle East held by West­ern­ers. What would you say to peo­ple who be­lieve Mus­lim women are op­pressed? Let me clar­ify the false as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween Is­lam and the op­pres­sion of women: when Is­lam emerged over 1400 years ago, it gave women rights they didn’t have, like the right to own and in­herit prop­erty and to par­tic­i­pate as lead­ers within their com­mu­ni­ties. It is usu­ally cul­tural and so­cial con­straints that hold women back in my re­gion. The strug­gle isn’t unique to the Mid­dle East, as women ev­ery­where cam­paign for equal op­por­tu­ni­ties. De­spite th­ese chal­lenges, we have seen break­throughs. In Jor­dan, the so­cial, le­gal and cul­tural process of change takes time be­cause many con­flict­ing val­ues are at play. There are dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween mod­erni­sa­tion and tra­di­tion, de­vel­op­ment and con­ser­vatism. This may come as a sur­prise, but in Jor­dan we have fe­male judges, pi­lots, am­bas­sadors, min­is­ters and par­lia­men­tar­i­ans. In many Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries, the ma­jor­ity of univer­sity stu­dents are fe­male. The prob­lem is what hap­pens af­ter th­ese am­bi­tious young women grad­u­ate. Women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the work­force is still low – which means their tal­ent and pro­duc­tive po­ten­tial re­main largely un­tapped. You are an out­spo­ken op­po­nent of hon­our killings. Can you tell us about your work in this area? Hon­our killings are a ter­ri­ble and to­tally un­ac­cept­able and un­jus­ti­fi­able prac­tice. We still see cases ev­ery year in Jor­dan, and it is an is­sue we take ex­tremely se­ri­ously. Civil so­ci­ety net­works and lo­cal ac­tivists, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with ju­di­cial and law en­force­ment agen­cies, are work­ing closely with the grass­roots to chal­lenge mind­sets and com­bat this phe­nom­e­non. Our me­dia is also play­ing an im­por­tant role in rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness. Ad­di­tional puni­tive mea­sures have been im­posed, and we’ve been see­ing a re­duc­tion in the num­ber of vic­tims. Still, one vic­tim is one too many. You are one of the most prom­i­nent Mus­lim women in the world – have you en­coun­tered any crit­i­cism for your pro­gres­sive views? As a pub­lic fig­ure, pro­gres­sive or oth­er­wise, there will al­ways be crit­i­cism. It comes with the job and is part and par­cel of be­ing in the pub­lic eye. My faith is very im­por­tant to me and I be­lieve that there is no con­tra­dic­tion be­tween Is­lam and progress or moder­nity. My re­li­gion chal­lenges me to work hard, to stay true to my be­liefs and prin­ci­ples, to have pur­pose, and to be at peace with my­self and my place in the world. For me, progress can­not hap­pen with­out that kind of an­chor­ing. You were re­cently in Aus­tralia for a state visit and have met and con­versed with many world lead­ers. Are there any favourites? His Majesty and I are so grate­ful for the warm wel­come we re­ceived. Con­sid­er­ing how far away from home we were, it’s amaz­ing how close we felt to your coun­try and its peo­ple. I think one of the things that has al­ways been spe­cial about Jor­dan is its ex­cel­lent re­la­tions with many coun­tries around the world. Much of that is due to our un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to re­li­gious co­ex­is­tence, moder­a­tion and peace. We con­sider all world lead­ers who share th­ese val­ues as friends and al­lies. And we al­ways look to build new bridges and part­ner­ships with more na­tions. Prince Harry’s re­cent let­ter to the world’s me­dia high­lighted that pub­lic life can be a bur­den as well as a priv­i­lege. What ad­vice would you give to whomever he mar­ries? The line be­tween per­sonal and pub­lic bound­aries can some­times be blurred by the con­stant at­ten­tion – es­pe­cially with the preva­lence of so­cial me­dia and smart­phones th­ese days – but it’s im­por­tant to stay on track. My gen­eral ad­vice to those in the pub­lic eye is to do their best to take it in their stride and fo­cus on what re­ally mat­ters. One of the things I most ap­pre­ci­ate about this pub­lic role is that I get to meet so many of my fel­low ci­ti­zens – peo­ple I’d oth­er­wise never get to know – in ev­ery part of the coun­try, to lis­ten to their as­pi­ra­tions, un­der­stand what they need, and do what I can to make a dif­fer­ence in their lives. For me, the priv­i­lege of th­ese en­coun­ters al­ways far out­weighs the bur­den of pub­lic life. You’re very ac­tive on so­cial me­dia – you’re on In­sta­gram, Face­book and Twit­ter and have your own Youtube chan­nel. How do you use the medium to incite change? Some­times it can be hard to con­nect with peo­ple when you’re a queen. To some ex­tent, I think so­cial me­dia has opened a win­dow into my life and helped de­mys­tify who I am and what I do. It tones down the sen­sa­tion­al­ism and shows that we all just lead or­di­nary lives. It also helps spread ideas and shed light on the causes I’m pas­sion­ate about. Through my so­cial me­dia chan­nels, I hope to reach peo­ple who care about change, peo­ple who want to strengthen the uni­ver­sal threads and com­mon ex­pe­ri­ences that con­nect us – ir­re­spec­tive of age or geography. So­cial me­dia has changed the way we live our lives and has rad­i­cally given voice to

THE ROYAL FAM­ILY (from left) Prince Hashem, Princess Iman, King Ab­dul­lah II, Queen Rania, Princess Salma and Prince Hus­sein.


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