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Queen Rania, Oprah and the Post-Colonial ‘Other’ (Part II)

May 25, 2010

This is part II of a post representing two very different perspectives on the cultural (in?)significance of Queen Rania of Jordan. Part I of this post can be found here. In Part II, another guest contributor argues that Queen Rania’s contribution to positively representing the Middle East should not be underestimated.

Queen Rania in the Media: Culture is Not a Zero-Sum Game

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Reading the articles in this blog, I came across an excellent article titled “How to Write About the Middle East“. It was a half tongue-in-cheek, half factual article on how the West portrays and perceives the Middle East. And, quite frankly, the outlook is rather bleak: a collection of Big Brother states where children’s TV revolves around advanced chemistry with fertilizers, engineering geared towards bomb-making and the latest fashion in suicide belts. Oh, and let’s not forget that it’s all shrouded in mystery…and camels.

Having grown up in the Middle East and having lived and worked abroad, I can testify to how distorted the views of the West are towards the Arab world. The saddest thing about this is that we in the Arab world have allowed the West to dominate the debate and have even internalized them to some extent, then we grumble when they don’t present the nuances and differences and variety one can find in the Middle East, under the broad banners of either “they don’t understand us” or “they’re ignorant”.

And so I thought to myself, thank God that there are people like Queen Rania and Sheikha Mozah who can connect in a meaningful way with Western audiences and show them that the Arab and Muslims worlds are vast and varied. That actual people live there: people with dreams and aspirations for themselves and their children, aspirations such as providing a better education than the one they received, which is one of the Queen’s main messages. People who want prosperity, stability, peace, health, happiness. You know, ‘normal’ people.

What Queen Rania has portrayed should not be underestimated. She has portrayed the growing number of Arab women who are better educated, more ambitious, more independent and striving to gain greater acceptance in all fields of life, while still retaining the essence of Arab culture. Queen Rania does represent a section of society that is already advanced in terms of education and, but she also speaks on behalf of those she sees struggling to advance themselves and want a better future for their families.

The idea that she represents an elite Arabs’ worldview, and as such is disqualified from trying to present a more positive view of the Arab world, is false and self-defeating. For example, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was a leading activist for women’s suffrage in the USA also came from a wealthy and influential background. Should that have disqualified her from pursuing her cause?

There seems to be this stigma in the Arab world where progress is associated with Western values and is as such foreign, alien and harmful to the national character. This stigma has been largely responsible for the lack of progress that Arab world has seen. The Queen shows that there is a way to progress without losing one’s culture or traditions; one can have the best of both worlds – it is not, and it should never be, a zero-sum (cultural) game!

The reason Queen Rania speaks mainly to western media, and directed to the western world, is because she’s doing much needed outreach to the west to help them understand that the Arab world is not some monolithic Islamic bloc that has Jihad on its mind, night and day.

Would we rather have a burqa-wearing spokeswoman on the virtues and freedoms Islam grants women? Or perhaps her husband, since she shouldn’t speak publicly in front of men? The Queen of Jordan represents a way forward for women in the Arab world: modern, educated, intelligent, yet faithful to her beliefs and culture. Sure clothes can signify a person’s cultural leaning, but on the other hand, does wearing pyjamas at night mean you are culturally Persian?

Reaching out to the youth of the Arab world, who are mostly connected to the Internet through such sites as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter is quite ingenious, as the Queen has directly appealed to Arab youth. Her online presence has allowed people to comment on her work, where she can receive direct feedback from the people without it being filtered through official channels (like state-controlled newspapers for example, or pundits with an agenda). She can really test the pulse of the youth and show that she is forward thinking and not some patronizing monarch out to score brownie points. In a world that is fast becoming known as the Knowledge Economy, it would be foolish of her not try and connect through such social networking sites, and purely rely on such traditional media as radio, newspapers and television.

Finally, we should not beat down every Arab representative that tries to show a positive side to the Arab world. Yes, there is much that is wrong with the Arab world, but whining about it and fuming against others who try to improve it are not going to solve the problems we face. Unlike what the Western world often portrays, there is no magic lamp in the Middle East that, with a rub, will fix all the problems in this beleaguered region: instead we should be encouraging those who work for change, whether they are commoners or royalty.

And hell, does it hurt to have some good publicity?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. xyz permalink
    May 25, 2010 6:56 pm

    interesting choice of photo coinciding with requirement “be sure to include a warm and beautiful veiled woman who has a shy laugh and who is concerned for her country” of how to write about the middle east. speaking of internalizing the portrayals of the muslim/arab woman. Haha.

    • sysh permalink*
      May 26, 2010 11:02 am

      omg that’s hilarious I didn’t even notice that!!! hahaha

  2. April 16, 2011 8:37 am

    Walking in the presence of giants here. Cool thkninig all around!

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  1. Queen Rania, Oprah and the Post-Colonial ‘Other’ (Part I) « err…whaterverz

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