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Middle East: Prince El Hassan Bin Talal Talks To RFE/RL At Forum 2000

Prince El Hassan bin Talal at Forum 2000 (RFE/RL) His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan spoke to RFE/RL on 10 October during the Forum 2000 conference in Prague.

RFE/RL: This is a conference that looks at the challenges and hopes for the 21st century. Have we correctly identified what the challenges are?

Hassan: I believe the challenges were identified by the commission on humanitarian issues which presented this report in 1988 to the [UN] General Assembly and every year has been repeated in the General Assembly. It contains the challenges of man against man, that is to say, the 40 low-intensity wars in the world with their different motivations including religious motivation; man against nature, deforestation, afforestation the melting of the polar cap, in decades, not centuries; and of course the basic challenge of how do we live together in what should become a pluralist world, which unfortunately is not the case. So I don’t think all of these challenges are being brought together in a call for a law of peace yet. That would be my ambition.

RFE/RL: A lot has been discussed at this conference about the challenges facing the West and the Islamic world, that there has been a divide there. Now, you have been a force, I know, to try to bridge those gaps. How much have people like you succeeded and how much work is there still to be done?

Hassan: If we all believed in the 10 commandments, which we all do, we would not be in this mess, anyway. And I feel talking about the West and Islamic world is wrong because you are talking about apples and oranges. Because universal consciousness actually brings us together to respect the concordance of values on which we are actually working. I work with an organization with nine faith groups, I also work with liberal fundamentalists, secular fundamentalists, and we have developed a program called Partners in Humanity, which is producing a "Sesame Street"-type film to promote reconciliation in West Africa with a search for common ground. I am happy to see churches and mosques working as extension services against HIV. So, yes, there is a partnership in humanity, but the good news doesn’t get through, unfortunately.

RFE/RL: Well, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is doing its part to try and get that good news through. One of things we have started doing is actually covering Islam, covering religion, and one of the things we want to do is offer voices from moderates in Islam. So, specifically, I would like to talk to you about the West’s perception of Islam as a religion that encourages terrorism or that teaches a violent reaction to problems. How do you respond to those kinds of ideas?

Hassan: I am a Muslim, not an Islamicist. I am not one of those people who aspires to privatizing religion just to create a cult either for purposes of anarchy and killing, or for purposes of violating the basic laws of decency, humanity and God’s laws. I believe in the sanctity of human life and I think what is best about Islam is giving the greeting of peace and doing something for the poor. Now, having said that, I think the only public strategy that should have been adopted many yesterdays ago, is to take a percentage of the hundreds of billions of dollars that are being spent on weapons, that are being spent on new toys, aircraft, and consumerism in general in the oil-producing Muslim world and to spend a percentage of it on creating jobs for the young. Seventy percent of our population is under the age of 25, from Marrakesh to Bangladesh it is the most populous, the most dangerous, and the poorest region in the world. So, unless we create these job opportunities, the parallel economy of drugs, of money laundering, of extremism, and political sloganery is going to take over. I am very grateful to Karen Hughes for her visit to the region and she speaks about exchange and empowerment and employment and education, but this has to be a two-way process.

RFE/RL: Are you at all concerned about the potential impact of the violence in Iraq on the entire Middle East, particularly on Jordan, but is this becoming more and more a source of destabilization in the region?

Hassan: I am very concerned. I am sickened by the fact that fragmentations -- in the plural -- are visiting our region. I saw the senseless killing in Bosnia. I worked with organizations, Muslim and Jewish organizations, Muslims and Jews were targeted in Bosnia, and today I feel that the level of hatred is rising in the whole Eurasian rim and I think we are at a crossroads -- either fragmentation and destruction of the state system, not that I am enamored of the state system for its own sake, or possibly a Carl Bildt -- you remember the former prime minister of Sweden produced in the Balkans a stability pact. Maybe it started as a mission-empty stability pact, but at least it was a beginning. What we need in our region is an Organization for Security and Cooperation, we need a cohesion fund. And we need to look at the supernational issues, that’s why at this conference we are looking at a community of water and energy for the human environment in West Asia, Middle East, North Africa, and Europe -- 24 countries.

RFE/RL: Is what is going on in Iraq and the crisis in the Middle East simply a sign of a deeper problem especially for the Muslim world? Is this a sign of an ideological war within Islam that will shape its future?

Hassan: I think it is a sign of continued exclusion. Unfortunately, we have adopted the reference to Sunnis, Shi’a, and Kurds, in fact, CNN, I was joking the other day, talks about ‘Sunny’ Muslims -- maybe I am a cloudy Muslim, I don’t know. You know I think we should talk about the Arab Muslims of Iraq, Kurds -- after all -- are also Muslims, and I think we should address the real issue and that is truth and reconciliation which is so important. I mean, if you want to talk about democracy you have to have justice and the legal system in place, and this is the real challenge which has less to do with Islam or Christianity or any other religion than it does with common sense. Justice has to be the precursor to a national dialogue and that is what is needed today.

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