Monday, September 26, 2011

Leap of Faith by Queen Noor

  I remember thinking, when this book was first published, that it might be an interesting read. Lisa Halaby's story seems a lot like that of Princess Grace of Monaco, an American who married into royalty. Her father was an airline executive with strong Middle Eastern family ties, and when she was accompanying him on a visit to Jordan, she caught the eye of the recently widowed King Hussein, and he began to court her. She seemed a little clueless about the whole thing, believing that he was merely being nice to her for her father's sake, perhaps, and spending much of his free time showing her around the country, but eventually he made his feelings known and they were wed.

She certainly provided somewhat of a cross-cultural bridge between the West and Jordan, and has some interesting perspectives on the conflicts in the region. Hussein, according to her account, was always trying to bring peace to the region, often acting as a go-between for warring nations, and who seemed to always maintain strong friendships with his fellow rulers, even when they sometimes turned on him. She also brought a great deal of improvement to the situation of women in Jordan, though it seemed sometimes in the novel that her perception of the value of women in Muslim culture was far more favorable than what we've seen in the media in this country.

"I admired Islam's emphasis on a believer's direct relationship with God, the fundamental equality of the rights of all men and women..."

Certainly the western-educated rulers of the area treated their wives and daughters well, but I suspect that down in the real world where the lower and middle class live, things were far more dire.

An interesting passage revealed to me something I hadn't known before about the lands around Palestine, and the origin of the refugees.
"In 1901 the well-funded World Zionist Organization, set up in Basel, established the Jewish National Fund, which immediately began buying up large tracts of land in Arab Palestine, mostly from absentee landlords in Syria and Lebanon. I would meet Palestinians in Jordan who had farmed for many years in Palestine, only to be evicted from their land and their homes. And so the pattern of Palestinian displacement began."

Queen Noor (and I'm certain most Arabs) see this as some sort of horrible injustice, but I fail to see what was wrong with this practice. If I were to buy a piece of property with tenants, and wished to live there myself, I'd evict them without any qualms. What's wrong with that?

Heh. One little amusing anecdote from Hussein's courtship.

"Sometimes Hussein would sing to me. Though I was not as drawn to Abba as he was, to say the least, I was quite charmed when he would croon, 'Take a Chance on Me.' My heart was melting."

I just can't quite picture it.

On the war between Iran and Iraq:

"It had begun as a border dispute and a preemptive effort by Saddam Hussein to prevent the new Revolutionary Republic of Iran from exporting their revolution into the region. It had escalated into a bloody war that would last eight years, claim more than a million lives, and bring the economies of both countries to a standstill...Most leaders in the Arab world and the West saw the war as essential to stopping Khomenei from exporting his brand of revolutionary, politicized Islam to other countries, which was why Saddam was supported by so many in the international community."

In agreement with something I have long felt to be a problem:

"For all its considerable merits and inspirational principles, the American system is based upon a continuous uninterrupted process of election campaigns, stretching out year after year. Lost in the perpetual scramble is any long-term vision capable of addressing the complex tangle of causes at the root of human suffering, especially in the Middle East."

She nails it. Our constantly changing leadership is unable to be consistent in pursuit of any foreign policy - especially Middle Eastern peace.

Regarding the invasion of Kuwait that sparked the first Gulf War:

"My  husband...told them (the British and Americans)...emphatically, 'you must encourage the Kuwaitis to sit down with the Iraqis and Saudis to resolve the border problems, and the oil overproduction, and any other problems that require negotiation.' He knew that the issues at hand were not just fabrications by Iraq, but legitimate problems...Inexplicably, neither the American President nor the British ambassador seemed particularly interested."

We didn't really get interested until Saddam's forces invaded Kuwait. What's that about 'an ounce of prevention?'

This book was an interesting read from a person with a novel perspective on Jordan, the Middle East, and international relations.

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