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Millennium Voices: Jordanian Prince Says We're All Children Of Abraham

  • Don Hill

Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein, devotes himself to making the world a more humane place. He established and directs the Islamic Scientific Academy. Authored a scholarly book on Christianity. Promotes regional cooperation among Arab countries. Advocates a single international code of behavior that would bind all the nations of the world. The prince talks to correspondent Don Hill as part of RFE/RL's Millennium Voices series.

Prague, 1 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- For Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, there's no contradiction between his ardent promotion of regional Arab cooperation and his equally passionate advocacy of international tolerance.

And, he said, he disagrees with those who believe that the next century inevitably will bring a confrontation between Islamic and Christian cultures.

"We are all children of Abraham," he says, speaking of Muslims, Christians, and Jews. And he adds this: "If we are faithful, we have no essential reason to quarrel."

How the prince came by his broad outlook seems evident. He's a member of the 42nd generation of the Hasehmite family branch, which claims direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad. Private tutors in Amman provided the young prince with his primary education. He then attended schools in England and subsequently earned a master's degree in Oriental studies at Christ Church, Oxford University.

Hassan concedes that the idea of a single world might look out of place cupped in the hands of a Jordanian Arab. In the 20th century, his people -- until they proclaimed an independent kingdom in 1946 -- were part of first the Ottoman and then the British empires. They took the name Jordan in 1948.

But, he said in an interview, he looks beyond purely military and political concerns for his nation's security. He says destabilization is as likely to come from competition for scarce resources, such as water. Or it can result from migration, urbanization, organized crime and, simply, population growth. That's why, he said, Jordanians place high value on regional security and cooperation.

Prince Hassan urges on a global scale that nations look beyond military and political -- and even economic development -- concerns in setting goals. He says development is only an abstraction. It tries to measure conditions in terms like gross national product. This is important, he says, but not everything.

As he puts it:

"But the quality of life also depends on other factors, which are frequently left out of the development equation. One such consideration is humanitarianism and human rights, which recognizes the common humanity shared by each and every individual. Another related concern, which places the individual squarely in the context of his or her community, is culture. Closely related to both is the question of identity."

The Jordanian prince said he is weary of the debate over globalization. It's no longer an issue to be opposed or approved. It's a fact, he said. So it's a waste of time to debate the label. In his words: "Let us strive to craft it to meet our needs, while leaving as many options open as possible to future generations."

He said that bickering over the validity of labels such as social order and global integration is the equivalent of, his phrase, "putting old wine in new bottles."

"I simply wonder whether it's a question of what's in a name -- New Information Order, New Liberal Order, New International Humanitarian Order -- or is it a question of the uni-dimensional way in which we look at things. An economist will see one perspective. A representative of the world's faiths will see another perspective. And there is an absence of an overarching ethic of human solidarity."

Hassan has taken up as a major cause what he calls a universal code of conduct for nations. He says that his interest in regional security and development arrangements is absolutely n-o-t a call for, as he puts it, "new axes, blocks, or new pacts."

He seeks instead, he said, "a new methodology that will be based always on a particular and universal code of conduct." His vision will leave room for nations to preserve their ethnic, linguistic and religious identities while adopting common human values.

The code of conduct, as he put it, "must distinguish between politics and policies, between slogans and substance, must require adherence to international norms with no exception."

The code he has in mind, Prince Hassan said firmly, will not allow countries to excuse themselves for human right violations by citing what he called "copouts" (poor excuses) such as the principles of Asian values, national sovereignty, or noninterference in internal affairs.