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December 8, 2007

More Than a Pretty Face: Queen Noor of Jordan

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Q. You’re American but deeply rooted in the Arab world. Do you think we can build a bridge between the Middle East and the West? Do you think both sides in fact want this?
I do believe that people on both sides want this. But there has to be the desire to understand - we have to have open hearts and minds. There is certainly fear and insecurity on both sides, and extreme forces that are increasingly intolerant, judgmental, and confrontational. We have to more effectively empower and mobilize the moderates.

Q. There’s a fair amount of confusion in the West about Muslim women and the head scarf. Can you explain what the scarf represents?
Islam calls for men and women to behave and dress modestly. Modest dress for many does not require having to cover up the head. But now, I think, for an increasing number of Arabs and Muslims, there is a resistance to what they see as the Western sexual objectification of women in dress and behavior. So for some, the head scarf is an alternative to that sexual objectification. It is a way of saying, “I don’t want to be judged by my appearance. I want to be judged by what I am.” For others, it is a way of identifying themselves as Muslims, respecting a more conservative set of personal and social values.

Q. There’s been a movement in Jordan to stiffen the sentence for those who conduct honor killings - the killing of women who have “shamed” their family in some way. What’s the latest on that?
Yes, efforts have been made to bring the sentencing in line with normal sentencing for homicide, but they’ve been resisted over many, many years by conservative members of parliament. In fact, we are talking about very small numbers of killings, but none of them are acceptable, and certainly none of them should appear to be condoned in any way. It’s a big struggle. There are so many patriarchal patterns that really run counter to Islam. Islam forbids taking the law into one’s own hands, and it forbids the kind of slander that often comes with condemning these women. Often, tragically, the women are proven not guilty of anything after their death.

Also, I’d like to add something about Muslim women’s rights: Few Westerners realize that 7th-century Islam granted women political, economic, legal, and social rights unheard of in the West. These rights were based on the teaching of the equality of men and women before God - and this is when most of the rest of the world considered women chattel.

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