Today, in keeping with changing norms, there is a new message: "Give me your stereotypes." This time the message comes from the Kingdom of Jordan through the voice of their queen, and delivered via the Internet, the new gateway to much of the modern world.
Indeed, in the Royal Court's decision to counter what can only be described as a growing disease -- one based largely on ignorance -- Jordan has turned for help to the Internet and its associated modern technologies, and has chosen charm and humor as the weapons of choice to combat Islamophobia and help dispel false beliefs and misrepresentations of Islam.
Jordan, a close U.S. ally that has cooperated with the Bush administration in what the American president calls the war on terror, finds itself, as a former Lebanese diplomat used to say about his country, "living in a bad neighborhood." The Hashemite kingdom is bordered by Iraq to its northeast, Syria to its north, Israel to its west and Saudi Arabia to its east and south. Additionally, if and when Palestine sees the day as an independent state, the West Bank also will share a border with Jordan.
In the decades separating the time when the message was first inscribed on Lady Liberty and the one posted by the Jordanian queen appeared on her Internet Web portal, much has changed in the world, particularly since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon just outside Washington. Regrettably, this change has not been for the better; rather, the chasm between the Western and Arab worlds has widened and the distrust gained momentum. Part of the outcome has been a tendency, especially among many Americans, to discriminate against all Arabs and Muslims. And some of this ignorance can be seen in messages Queen Rania receives on her YouTube site, established to support the battle against stereotyping.
In one YouTube clip Queen Rania replies to someone who writes: "Arabs = Muslims = Terror = War."
Another one writes: "Arabs are Muslims! Muslims = violence."
So the queen goes to her webcam to set the record straight. She starts by explaining: "Not all Arabs are Muslims, although the majority are. And not all Muslims are Arabs." As the queen points out, in fact only about 20 percent of Muslims are Arabs.
The novelty in the queen's presentation in defending the Arab and Muslim world is her ability to be candid and not fear the truth, or to try to whitewash some of the unfortunate facts.
The queen asks: "Are there people who have committed terrible acts of violence and terrorism in the name of Islam? Yes, there are."
Again, the queen asks if they represent the majority of Muslims. The answer is, "No, absolutely not."
"Do Terrorists represent the true teachings of Islam?" And again, the royal reply is in an unequivocal, "No, absolutely not."
How does she know that? "Because I know my faith," says Rania, who goes on to explain that she knows the Koran. It was read to her as a child, and she studied it in school. The holy book of Islam, the queen explains to her Internet audience, teaches compassion, forgiveness, charity, pursuit of knowledge and humility.
"In a world where it's so easy to connect to one another, we still remain very much disconnected," said the queen, stressing the importance of joining forces to counter stereotyping.
"If what most people know about the Arab world and the Arab people, they've known through programs like '24' and Jack Bauer, I think they're in for a very big surprise," said Rania, referring to the popular U.S. television drama in which Arab terrorists attempt to detonate a nuclear bomb in the United States.
"I want people to know the real Arab world," said the queen. "To see it unedited, unfiltered, unscripted."
But it's in humorous scripts that the Jordanian queen found allies who support her initiative. Joining forces with Rania's efforts is a comedy group known as the "Axis of Evil Comedy Tour," made up of Middle Eastern comedians such as Ahmed Ahmed, Aron Kader, Maz Jobrani and Dean Obeidallah.
Says Jobrani in one of his monologues: "People think that Middle Easterners are all terrorists. They're not. For example, my grandmother; she has never kidnapped anyone or hijacked a plane."
(Claude Salhani is the editor of the Middle East Times.)
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