Queen Noor of Jordan

Commencement Address at College of William and Mary - May 11, 2003

Queen Noor of Jordan
May 11, 2003— Williamsburg, Virginia
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President Sullivan, distinguished members of the William and Mary community, proud parents and friends, and of course most important, graduates of the class of 2003.Congratulations.

Congressman Lewis, it's only appropriate that I follow you once again in my life. Once an ardent member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s, which began my life- long commitment to social justice and peace. And now sharing with you the privilege of this great honor from the College of William and Mary, I salute you and it is an enormous privilege to be with you here today. There can't be enough applause for all that you have contributed to our world.

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak with you today and to share in this celebration, especially at this current moment. It is good for the soul to look out at all of your faces, full of excitement, hope, and of course, relief. And that is just the parents.

Before I begin my remarks, let me wish all the mothers here a very happy Mother's Day. And there can't be enough applause for all of you and all that you have contributed to the stars of this event.

Since I married into an existing family, which I then added to, I have been mothering teenagers for 25 years. Motherhood is one long process of letting go; but that simple truth can't capture the complex mingling of joy and pain it entails.

The term "mother" itself has lately fallen into misuse, I think--we hear reference to "the mother of all battles" and "the mother of all bombs." Now, mothers are powerful, as we all know, but no mother I know is interested in destruction. I would like to call for a cessation of hostilities towards such a precious word.

But what I'd really like to address today is another word that has been much in the news lately... coalitions--particularly the importance of building coalitions between nations for international security and stability. ...Since the tragedy of September 11th, unfortunately, many governments have emphasized a defensive, rather than a comprehensive concept of security.

This is one of the themes of my recently published book, "Leap of Faith" which among others tries to provide a more accurate and personal picture of/perspective on King Hussein's lifelong search for peace. He said, "Peace resides ultimately not in the hands of government, but in the hands of the people."

It certainly is a critically important moment for building coalitions, but on very different terms - not an axis of self-interest between states for political ends, but true partnerships between people based on respect for our shared values, needs and fundamental human rights, and also on respect for our differences. And these coalitions would apply not only to the Middle East, important as it is right now, but from Afghanistan to the Balkans, the Middle East to East Timor, Northern Ireland to Rwanda even here in the United States-- anywhere anyone is struggling to overcome conflict and inequity.

Who needs to join forces in these coalitions? Not simply like-minded nations, but all the diverse people whose welfare is central to global security.

First are those whose economic peril is a source of instability. I know that many of you, about to enter the job market, are concerned about the state of the economy here in the US. But it might provide some perspective to hear some figures about elsewhere in the world. In the last 20 years, per capita economic growth in the Middle East has been lower than anywhere except impoverished sub-Saharan Africa. 75% of residents are poor and getting poorer. Worse, political and social inequity create huge gaps between rich and poor, and traditional notions of security have resulted in the highest per capita expenditure on arms of any region in the world - money that, if it could be spent fighting poverty instead, would go a long way towards creating a more secure and stable world.

But it is not only poverty of funds that causes friction, but poverty of dignity. Coalitions for peace must embrace those who feel their individuality and culture are under threat. The Arab world has a long and illustrious history, of which its people are justly proud. Civilization itself was born between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers several millennia ago, and many of the greatest human inventions developed there - agriculture, cities, law, literature, writing, counting and even banking and accounting. (Islam, too, has been a bright beacon of civilization.) Centuries ago, Islam spread enlightenment, justice and equity, intellectual creativity and the concept of a humane society, and through education and the preservation of knowledge helped bring about the end of a dark period in European history. Islamic society protected the rights of individuals, women equally, valued pluralism and discouraged prejudice.

But despite this proud heritage, how do Arab peoples see themselves reflected in Western eyes? The images the US media and Hollywood have created at home and exported abroad over the years certainly don't promote mutual respect. A very diverse population has been pigeonholed into a few stereotypes--oil-rich sheiks in a region where many live in poverty; bloodthirsty aggressors instead of the refugees whose homes and lands have been taken from them; ignorant fanatics--in fact a tiny minority in a land of many cultured, educated professionals; cloistered, oppressed women instead of the doctors, lawyers, government ministers and businesswomen I know and work with; and now, the poor and downtrodden who need to be rescued from their own culture, rather than proud and patriotic people entitled to freedom and self-determination.

We must overcome such misconceptions if we are to build alliances on the common ground of our universal human values and aspirations to resolve the challenges we face.

Our coalitions must also include a group of people whose capabilities and aspirations often seem to be the last on the list--women. For the best and the worst reasons, women have extensive experience with conflict resolution and recovery . Women are often the most vulnerable victims during conflict, and the ones left to pick up the shattered pieces of their societies, as well as their own lives, when it is over. Women bear the brunt of violence, but they are often left out when conflict resolution, community rebuilding and government are discussed. This is not only unjust, but unwise. Women bring key strengths and talents to the quest for reconciliation and stability.

In working for what is best for their families, they can cut across ethnic, religious and tribal lines, using a collaborative approach. Often these women bring in a fresh pragmatism in their response to conflict. They know that in the day-to-day effort to keep their households and their communities functioning, ideology is a luxury they can't afford. They don't agree on everything, but they try to bridge their differences to share the resources and information needed to restructure their societies.

Another group that must be taken seriously in building coalitions for peace and security is youth. In our region, for example, more than half the population of Jordan, Iraq and other Arab nations is under 18. The world over, if young people are ignored and feel disenfranchised politically and economically, they will become radicalized. But if they are included in social, economic and political partnerships, their potential is enormous.

They can also bring valuable perspectives to peacebuilding, having the courage and idealism to reach out to one another and take a chance on trust. I have been inspired by this spirit in meetings with students from all over the world in the United World Colleges, a coalition of 10 secondary schools around the world-the pioneering education for peace network. Even more poignantly in the Seeds of Peace, a program founded after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, to bring together children from conflict-torn regions to begin to break down the barriers of ignorance and prejudice. For a time, they live together, and work to build mutual understanding and respect learning to value communication over confrontation. When they return home, they continue to hold out their hands and hearts to each other. Even now - especially now - Seeds graduates phone or e-mail across conflict lines to comfort their friends in the midst of violence.

They still try to speak of peace, or even just say, "hold on" over the sound of gunfire on the other end of the line. They risk the scorn of angry neighbors for the chance to meet and talk and grieve together.

Sometimes, they risk their lives. But by those risks, they also inspire their families and neighbors to take a chance on hope and humanity. They have stared hatred in the face and refused to succumb.

Successful coalitions, I have found, cannot be simply temporary alliances of like-minded nations, determined to achieve their own ends. They need to encompass a wealth of enduring, committed partnerships - among governments, business, civil society and above all, among all kinds of people. Long before the current definition of coalition hit the headlines, I prized what I call "coalition activism," in which thousands of different groups, from nations to concerned individuals, have banded together for a common cause. These new networks of global citizens have brought about two of the most positive achievements of recent years: the International Criminal Court, which was inaugurated last March, and the Ottawa Landmine Treaty, which entered into force in March 1999.

In just about any profession you may enter, it is possible to join such a coalition. ...You can add your voice to the many other voices around the world calling for peace, justice and tolerance.

Thanks to the power of technology in the service of democratic principles, never before in human history have ordinary people had so much opportunity to do good.

Globalization is connection--for good and for ill. The crucial factor is what we choose to connect. If only money, markets, commodities, then we can expect more of what we have right now--economic and environmental degradation, political and cultural dissatisfaction, injustice and conflict. But if we use the almost limitless power of global networks to connect people, to cross boundaries, the possibilities are just as limitless....

If we break down the walls of misperception and mistrust between people, we will achieve our radically new definition of security--not a fortress for the few, but a safety net for all.

Thank you.

Speech from http://www.beliefnet.com/inspiration/2003/05/successful-coalitions.aspx.