Q: This will be your first trip to India. What are you looking forward to the most?
| PICTURE SPEAK |
"It's really a clash of minority extremist groups against all civilisations. The onus is on us to stop being silent."
"India is a rising star of Asia. We should reinvent a 21st century Silk Route more in knowledge and knowhow."
A: Although it's my first time in India, I feel very familiar culturally.
India is fascinating for all of us. It is a country which is steeped in history, it has been blessed by cultural treasures, where people are really very gracious and have a lot to offer to the world. It's the first time but it really doesn't feel that way. I have had Indian friends throughout my life and I know so much about Indian food, its one of my favorite cuisines, and obviously Indian movies and all those kind of things. I just look forward to being here, interacting with people and seeing everything first hand, the colours of India, the cuisine of India and the customs of India. I feel like an excited tourist and in a way I am. I feel I have a sense of affinity with Indian people, I feel I know where they are coming from, I relate to their mentality and as I said, it's really high time that we fostered this familiarity and use it as a launching pad for something much more substantive in terms of people-to-people exchanges.
Q: Has the relations between India and Jordan reached their potential?
A: I don't think so, because I feel that India and Jordan can be natural partners. Although Jordan is a very small country as compared to India, I think we share so much in terms of values. We are both trying to balance modernity with tradition. We are trying to grasp the best of the 21st century without letting go of our culture, customs and identity. And we are pursuing the same kind of things.
Although you are an old democracy, we are starting on that path to democracy and we have many lessons to learn from India and India will lead the way. In many ways, it can understand the complexity of developing a democracy in a country like Jordan. It has a complex past, it has people of different origins and backgrounds, that's in a tough neighbourhood and has to also deal with issues of development, equity and sustainability and all those kinds of issues. So, I think India is perfectly positioned to understand the kind of complexity that Jordan has to go through. And then in terms of trade, we both have a long history of seeking out faraway lands to do business and I think we can really reinvigorate that spirit and reinvent a 21st century silk road. Not just in terms of goods, silks spices but more knowledge and know-how.
Q: The criticism is that there is no signature theme or depth in our relations. So how can the two governments bring about that?
A: It's got to be about people to people although having government agreements can be useful. We already have a free trade agreement with India which means that there are no tax restrictions, no barriers, I think it is about private sector to private sector, NGO to NGO. We have a very good example of the Jordan Education Initiative. And this is an initiative that is very holistic in terms of looking at the education initiative in a very comprehensive way – redesigning and updating the curriculum, putting computers into schools, training teachers. But the very interesting thing about it is it's the conjunction of the private sector and the non-governmental, so it's not a government-sponsored programme. We found that Rajasthan has adopted the programme and so it's being now applied in India. They learnt from this kind of example. Something like this really builds very strong bonds between the two countries.
We have a lot of private sector presence in Jordan, actually one of the largest bridges now is being built by an Indian company. And there is a lot they can do now to make use of the current boom that is happening in our region whether in construction or other development projects – Indian companies can have a very important role to play.
Government to government, we have to make more of an effort. We have to have teams sit together and realise how much we have in common not only in terms of our outlook and our common agendas but also in terms of sharing experiences between civil societies and between the private sector. I think there is a lot of potential.
Q: What is the role that India can play in the region? We don't seem to have a significant Middle East policy?
A: Actually, I think our part of the world would yearn for a role for India to play. Because as you can see, our region is a very complex region and certainly in the past few years, the situation has not been very stable as there has been escalating violence in Iraq, Palestine and all these things have repercussions on the rest of the world, in a way that they haven't done in the past. Even 10 or 20 years ago, we could just say that this problem is not our problem because it is happening so far away, but today our world has become so deeply integrated that these kinds of conflicts have a direct impact on all the countries of the world. And I feel India is perfectly poised to play a very significant role in dealing with these matters. Because of our history and our background and the fact that we have always had contact with India – whether it is trade relations or other relations and you understand the complex background that exists in our region and the sensitivities, I think in dealing with these issues really a deep understanding of the nuances can make a huge difference, it's not just a matter of gathering information or the facts about what is going on, it's about understanding the cultural sensitivities, the details of the matters and because we have such strong relations in terms of interaction with India, I think India can come and play a very important in role in understanding the issues and putting the priority on finding a just and equitable peace in the region.
Q: How do you view the boom in the Indian economy?
A: Like the rest of the world, we are viewing India as the rising star in Asia. It's been doing so well. I was just at the World Economic Forum in January and India had such a strong presence there. India is really doing it the right way. It has a lot of challenges and has its work cut out for it in terms of dealing with many of the challenges, whether they are issues that deal with poverty or education or other things. India has a long-term vision of trying to tackle these issues slowly and I feel the private sector and civil society have a very important and strong role and they are playing that role. So, the changes in India will hopefully be very deeprooted and sustainable.
And we do look forward to India playing a greater role to become one of the major players in setting the global agenda.
Q: Do you think India's growth is sustainable?
A: There is no reason for it not to be sustainable but I think India can move faster. The pace of the world has changed so much now and what was viewed maybe as moving fast enough 10 years ago, is probably viewed as slow now. India is on the right track but with a concerted effort and a clear determination by all parties, India could really move faster in cutting through the many challenges that faces the private sector or foreign investors. The vision is there and I believe that the heavy investments you've made in education has been an excellent path too.
Q: How would compare India's growth to China?
A: In India, you have strong institutions, strong democratic institutions. The role of civil society and the private sector is not a new one, it is one that is very much a part of the Indian culture and the way of doing things, so there is a very genuine movement forward. I believe that the changes that are happening in India will be very sustainable and will create a paradigm difference in India.
Q: With the Hamas winning the recent Palestinian elections, how does it change the dynamics of the region, especially given its philosophy of non-recognition of Israel and extreme tactics?
A: First of all, we must realise that Hamas is the democratic choice of the sovereign people of Palestine – it is their choice and it has been a democratic choice and we have to accept and respect that. Jordan's policy is not to deal with political parties and once Hamas sets up a government, then we will deal with them as the Palestine National Authority and then taking it from there, we will see what kind of policies they adopt, but up until now, it's not very clear to us what kind of path they are willing to pursue - do they want to become part of the international community, do they want to pursue a political dialogue. I hope they will become part of the political equation in the world and if they are representing the Palestinian people and if they can have an effect in bringing peace and containing violence and they can be an honest broker and negotiator with the rest of the world and with the Israelis, then I hope we can reach a settlement.
The Palestinian people need to see change in their lives – they have been suffering for far too long. It's one thing to suffer knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel but they have been suffering and they see no end in sight. There has been a lack of leadership for the Palestinians, they have not been able to see the end game. So they go from frustration and suffering and hopelessness from day to day and this is why you see such violent acts and such acts of desperation as well such as suicide bombings etc. The most important thing for us to remember as outsiders looking at this problem is that this is just not an Israeli-Palestinian problem, it has a far reaching impact for the rest of the world whether it's us in the region or outsiders like India. The whole rise of extremism has its roots in problems where there is a real sense of injustice and hopelessness and helplessness and frustration. These are the kind of feelings that extremists prey on so they use these kinds of causes to justify their political agendas. They are not religious agendas. If you really want to defeat extreme ideology in the world, which I think is a challenge that every nation in the world faces today, you have to really take care of these long, unsettled problems.
Q: Do you believe there is a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem?
A: They have to start with very sincere effort to engage and not just manage the problem but to really try to solve it – there have been, over the past few years, so many half measures but they haven't really gone to the heart of the problem, so it needs to be a very genuine and sincere effort to deal with the problem right at its core and deal with it in a very even-handed way. The Israelis don't trust the Palestinians, the Palestinians don't trust the Israelis, the Palestinians don't trust the Americans, the Israelis don't trust Europeans and they don't trust the Arabs to be honest brokers, so it really has to be viewed as we want to reach a situation where both sides are satisfied and where the Israelis can achieve security for themselves and for future generations and where the Palestinians can establish their independent democratic state. As far as I can see, people have just been trying to work around the problem without really getting to the core of it.
Q: Do you think we may end up with chaos and civil war in Iraq, given the escalating violence and the difficulties the new government faces?
A: One of the major mistakes people from the outside do is they look at for example the Palestinian problem as one point, the Iraqi problem as another, they look at them independently without realising that they are very much related because a lot of the resistance against, for example, American presence comes from the perception that the United States is against the Arab World and against Islam. And that is viewed in the light that they say, look, they support Israelis in Palestine, are against Palestinians, so they are against us and this is part of the crusade as Iraq is now and God knows which country is going to be next. So it is viewed within this context. A lot of credibility and trust needs to be established. There really is a trust deficit, and I don't think we can afford to have this. In Iraq, we have been deeply troubled by the escalating violence which is targeting civilians and places of worship, it seems to me although we all understand and we all want to avoid civil war, there is a small minority group of extremists there whose agenda it is to make this country sink in the midst of a civil war, I think that is what they want to do and you can see it from the random targeting, from the barbaric approaches they have been adopting in killing civilians in places of worship and innocent targets from all backgrounds.
Q: You have had problems in Jordan as well with the bomb blasts in November 2005?
A: Jordan is not alone. It is not that Al Qaeda has an active presence in Jordan.
Despite Zarquawi being a Jordanian?
Originally Jordanian but I don't think he sees himself as Jordanian and certainly Jordanians don't look upon him as Jordanian – his own family has disowned him but despite that whether it is in Bali, London, Madrid or New York, I think each country today is susceptible to terrorist acts. I don't think any country can claim to be 100 per cent safe and therefore, this is a global problem. Our security forces are quite active and as you know they just caught a terrorist cell last week. But the impact it had on Jordanians is the fact that it has really united all of us and made us more determined and more resolute against extremism and for moderation and peace. I don't think I've seen the Jordanian people as focused or as determined to defeat extremism as now. So although these people think that they can weaken us or scare us, all they do is strengthen our resolve.
Q: We have had a spate of violence all over the world over the publication of the cartoons denigrating Islam? What can be done to bring about more religious tolerance and curb extremism?
A: It comes from an understanding. What this cartoon episode illustrates is really the lack of an appreciation and understanding for what Islam is and what it stands for. We view all Prophets with great reverence and anything that sort of vilifies that is hurtful and insulting to us, it's not just the Prophet Mohammad, it's all prophets. So its very hurtful for the Muslims to see their entire religion with its history being reduced to such crude caricatures of Islam. On the other hand, I think it was wrong for there to be violent demonstrations by the people for them to lose their lives as a result. I think the Muslim world can take a stand, can explain its anger, can take measures without resorting to violence, because I think that violence only reinforces the stereotype of Islam being associated with violence, this is something very dangerous, something that we need to avoid. To answer your question about how do we ca overcome it, I think what this problem is about it brought to the fore the issue of the lack of understanding and lack of communication. Now the question is how do we get the moderates to come together because a lot of people talk of a clash of civilisations but as my husband said, it is not a clash of civilisations it's a clash of a minority group of extremists against all civilisations. Or you can call it the clash between the uncivilised extremists of all sides. The onus is on us, the silent majority, to stop being silent, to really come out and say how can we build these bridges of understanding, how can we communicate, how can we explain what it's all about and its only through this contact that we can hope to defeat, these extremists. We have advantageous on our side. We are larger in number, we have more resources, we have more networks, but what the extremists are counting on is the fact that we can be complacent, the fact that we don't act or communicate or we don't coordinate. But we should be doing that.
Q: How does one improve the status of women in Islam?
A: I strongly believe that first of all, gender inequality is a global problem and one that many countries face in different contexts and for the Arab world, it's one of the most pressing challenges that we face.
However, I don't believe the status of woman has been negatively affected by Islam per se. It's not because of Islam that women's participation is so low and women's rights aren't met because Islam does provide them with their rights and historically, we have had many female personalities who have been active. Also, you will find that there are many non-Muslim societies where women are also deprived of their rights, even in places like India and other countries, you find that women are not being treated as they should, so it's a global problem. Islam provides for women. It's more about changing mindsets and I think it's a more difficult thing to do. For example, you find that according to the World Bank, the Middle East North Africa region is among the biggest spenders on health and education for women – so we are doing a lot to close the gender gap. The question is what happens after women graduate, you find that their participation in the workforce is very, very low. So although we are making huge investments in education, we are depriving ourselves from the returns of that investment. And according to another study, if women and women's participation increased in the workplace in parallel to gains in education, then the household income could rise by as much as 25 per cent. So you could imagine how we are depriving ourselves from a whole pool of talent. A whole pool of energy remains untapped. At the end of the day, changing mindsets, challenging deeprooted and deeply ingrained attitudes towards women and really explaining the fact that as a society that we would all benefit from increased female participation is necessary. It's a long uphill challenge and not something that is going to change overnight. It is something that is going to take generations but you have to have a clear vision and make a concerted effort and most importantly, you have to have very strong communication.
Q: How have you been able to improve the situation of women in Jordan?
A: When it comes to the women's situation in Jordan, we have an equal number of females graduates to male graduates. We have women who have occupied very important positions in our ministries. For example, today our minister of planning is a woman. There are women judges, women in the Army etc, women in the workplace but I still think, especially in the workplace, women can do a lot more but it's not just about changing laws, it's important to change laws in order to remove the impediments that stand in the way of women's advancement. I go back to the point about changing mentalities and the way to do that is by showing examples of success and also demonstrating the benefits a family can gain from female participation whether it's improving the quality of life or improving the kind of exposure the children get because if children have a mother who is well-educated and participating in her community and in her future, then she passes very important values to her children and opens up their minds So it's really about communicating the benefits of women's participation because whenever you want to make such paradigm shifts in the way people do things, they have to have ownership of the process and they have to understand that and they have to believe that. People don't change when you tell them they have to change, but they change when they realise that they must change because they understand that the change would bring positive things.
Q: You yourself are a successful blend of the traditional and the modern? What did you do break the stereotype?
A: I didn't feel at any point in time that I was embracing the stereotype because I didn't grow up outside the Arab world. I am very much a product of the Arab world. And there are many women who are like me.
This is who I am, this who I have always been and this is the way the society has made me become so I am a product of this society. I hope I can demonstrate that one doesn't come at the expense of the other. To be active and to engage in a modern world doesn't mean to let go of your traditions and your values. I think it's a sign of confidence to know who you are, what your values are, you know what you stand for then you will not be threatened by anything from the outside. So to me, those people who close themselves and shut themselves out from the rest of the world, have no strong sense of confidence or strong sense of identity. India has done very well, you have a very strong sense of identity and tradition and customs in India, but I see all the time how you have never been in conflict with the outside world. In fact, you go and seek the best of opportunities and bring them home or you go and participate outside your country without ever compromising your beliefs.
Q: Much of the region expects women to be veiled. Have you faced criticism over the way you dress?
A: I think whenever you are in a public position, you will face criticism. You receive negative comments, but you also receive positive comments and you always find that people will have different opinions about such issues. I don't judge other people based on how they dress and whether one is wearing the veil or not, I think it's a very personal choice and I hope that people respect that for me too, it's a personal choice and it shouldn't say anything about who I am or what I believe in.
Q: Apart from being a queen, you are a mother of four and are involved in social issues. How do you balance your time with your various responsibilities?
A: It is a very, very tough balance and I don't want to even suggest that I do it all perfectly because actually the secret to being able to do this is not to be a perfectionist because if you try to be everything to everyone all the time, then you will not be able to achieve anything because you reach a point where the pressure becomes too much. So I try to surround myself with very qualified people. I try to delegate as much as I can and I always reprioritise every day according to the circumstances. So if we're going through a phase where one of my children is not feeling well, then that becomes my priority for the next few days. If I am working on a very important project,then I would do that and I always realis that other things can wait so its really trying to understand that it is a balancing act and you just can't do it all, all the time.
Q: How does one bring modern education to children in the Muslim world?
A: One thing that India shows is that modernization does not necessarily mean westernistion, you've done that very well in your education system and we are trying to do the same thing, we are doing the basics in terms of modernisng curricula, in terms of bringing in technology, in terms of training teachers but everybody understands the need to do that. I think the most important thing is fostering the kind of environment inside the classrooms that encourages children to question, debate, create again. It is not a matter of how many graduates you produce but how many of those graduates will go on to become innovators and thinkers and entrepreneurs. It is this kind of culture that we would want to. After we finish this interview, I am going to go to a session where we are working to establish a teachers'
award and we want to select the best teachers and evaluate them on different things. Not just teachers who can get the best grades out of their students but the ones who inspire, motivate, create a curiosity in the classroom. I know the generations ago teachers were viewed with great reverence, now people who go into teaching are viewed as people who couldn't get jobs elsewhere. We need to reverse that perception.
Q: What does the Jordan Education Initiative hope to achieve?
A: To be part of the 21st century, you have to be very literate in the 21st century tools and these tools are changing all the time, so it's important for our children to grow up speaking the language of the 21st century, and that very much depends on providing them with the technology to be very well-versed in dealing with the internet and all these other things. I think you have a prime example of how investing in that has brought tremendous opportunities towards India and I think it has ignited a lot of the changes we see today, the fact that you have such a well-educated population that speaks English and at the same time the focus on technology has opened up many opportunitie to become industry in itself that is very profitable and has added a lot of value to your economy.