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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Queen Rania Visits Los Angeles

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Jordan's queen talks of women and education in L.A. visit

Queen Rania seeks to dispel stereotyped images of Muslim women
By Carla Hall, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 25, 2007
Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan listened Wednesday morning to students at Taft High School in Woodland Hills chronicle their attempts at bridging multicultural gaps in their diverse student body. They talked of their organizations, their successes, their personal stories.

Then, microphone in hand, she sat on stage and, without so much as a note card, praised their various programs by name. The strife-torn Middle East could use a few of them, she mused.

"In my opinion, people who don't see eye to eye are standing with their backs to each other," Rania said.

"Ooohh," murmured the crowd.

"So you have to start with turning them around to face each other."

In the modern-day annals of royalty, women tend to fall into the category of the stately, matriarchal Queen Elizabeth or the paparazzi-hounded Diana, Princess of Wales.

Now Rania, the well-educated, multilingual wife of King Abdullah II of Jordan, is crafting a new sort of image. At 37, Rania chairs a variety of non-government organizations working on education and women's issues, as well as a micro-lending initiative, and has a website detailing it all.

She travels Jordan and the rest of the world speaking on issues that concern women, education and international relations. It's not unusual for royals to have portfolios thick with nonprofit deeds. And, to be sure, Rania owes something to her predecessor, Queen Noor al Hussein, the widow of the late King Hussein, Abdullah's father. Noor, too, is beautiful and versed in foreign policy. (The two women keep in touch by e-mail.)

But Noor is an American. Rania, born in Kuwait of a Palestinian father, is an Arab woman, a practicing Muslim on a mission to show the rest of the world that Arabs, particularly women -- "Muslim women are the biggest victims of stereotypes," she says -- are not the oppressed, terrorist-supporting, American haters that some people think they are.

In a day and a half of visits in Los Angeles, she moved with ease from the California Governor and First Lady's Conference on Women on Tuesday afternoon to a Q&A with Arianna Huffington that evening before an audience at Creative Artists Agency, and on to the Wednesday meeting with Taft students.

Although her messages were always about dispelling stereotypes and promoting multiculturalism, she subtly shifted argot for each appearance. She got a laugh when she said to a crowd of 14,000 gathered at the Long Beach Convention Center for the women's conference: "To hear some in the West, all Arab women are backward and oppressed -- while some Arabs assume all American women are desperate housewives seeking sex in the city."

At Taft, the Jordanian queen invoked Facebook and YouTube and lamented: "We have all this technology, but understand each other less."

At CAA's glistening marble and glass building in Century City, startlingly beautiful and dressed in Alberta Ferretti, she didn't flinch from foreign policy questions, whether they came from Huffington or a member of the audience, a well-heeled crowd that included the talent agency's staffers, invited guests and a sprinkling of celebrities -- producer Quincy Jones and director Taylor Hackford among them.

On honor killings of women, she said, "In Jordan, we have about 20 cases a year. For me, one is too many. This has nothing to do with Islam. . . . It's a misguided cultural undertaking."

Ever the diplomat from a country that prides itself on being modern and nonaggressive, Rania spoke of how Jordan -- a country of modest means at best -- takes care of its citizens and scrambles to cope with the 700,000 refugees of the Iraq War. "Jordan doesn't have any oil unfortunately -- or fortunately," she said at CAA. "It's made us focus on our human resources."

Everywhere she goes, she talks about her decision not to wear the hijab, the veil that Muslim women often wear. (In Jordan it is not mandatory.)

"I always say it's more important to judge a woman by what's in her head, not on her head," she told the Taft students, repeating a line she uses often.

Asked why she made the choice not to wear it, she said: "For the same reason that any woman decides how she wants to wear her hair or how she wants to dress. It's a personal choice.

She also thinks people in the West "attach some political implications to this item of clothing. To many people's minds, it represents oppression of women and powerlessness of Arab women and backwardness. . . . That's a misperception and something that needs to be corrected."

Rania was in the midst of a fledgling banking career in Amman when she met then-Prince Abdullah at a dinner party. She married him in 1993. Both she and her husband were caught by surprise when the dying Hussein decreed that Abdullah (and not Hussein's brother) would ascend to the throne of the constitutional monarchy.

Now she has her work -- she's fond of saying that being queen is a job -- and she watches over her four children, rationing their television and Internet time. "I think all parents have a responsibility to really know what their children are up to when they re on the Internet. . . . It's a dangerous place," she said. "It's a great medium, but like everything else you have to understand the pitfalls."

She has a nanny and a tutor to help her with Prince Hussein, 13; Princess Iman, 11; Princess Salma, 7; and Prince Hashem, 2. And when she's out of town, her mom stops by to check on the kids.

When she's not traveling, she and the king relax with their "House" and "Grey's Anatomy" DVDs or go to their beach house in Aqaba in south Jordan. She admits she enjoys shopping. "It's about self-expression," she said.

Some in Jordan think she should be more traditional. "Some people would like to see me be in a more conservative situation, where I'm not playing such a public role," she said. "But the point is representing my country is part of my job. . . . That means I have to go out and tell Jordan's story."

Queen Rania's Website

Video: Queen Rania; growing rift between East & West

Video: Defining Global Citizenship: From Philantropy To Activism: (Queen Rania is the moderator of this forum) World Economic Forum On The Middle East
Defining Global Citizenship: From Philanthropy to Activism
Contributing to the common good takes many forms, from individual acts of philanthropy to ongoing pa... (1hr15 minutes)

Queen Rania was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents from Tulkarm. She truly is not only brilliant but lovely, truly truly a roll model for all women

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