At Oxford University
4 June 2008
Distinguished Members of the University,
It is a wonderful experience to join you today. For me, only one day at Oxford rivals this one, and that was the day in 1982 that I entered university, and joined this extraordinary community of fellowship and knowledge.
I am especially pleased to receive this honour from the hands of a champion of global dialogue, my friend Chris Patten. But may I say, I see this honour as one for all Jordanians. It is they who inspire me – their achievement and tenacity; their hard work, and their loyalty to our nation. The responsibility I bear as a Hashemite is dedicated to their future. So today, it is on behalf of all Jordanians, that I do most gratefully accept this honorary degree.
Since 1190 Oxford has been welcoming international students, encouraging the most rigorous enquiry and inspiring innovative thinking. This University is the wellspring of a worldwide community of graduates, men and women energised by its standards of excellence and social responsibility. Scholars and scientists here have revolutionised human understanding and advanced human welfare – not for your country only, but for the world.
It is with a deep respect for these global contributions that I wish to speak today. I wish to speak about the urgent need to understand and act upon the threat facing the Middle East today. I wish to speak about the need to prevent global disaster by preventing regional disaster. I wish to speak about the opportunity to make my region a contributor to world stability, rather than a source of radiating crisis.
Today, for much of the developed world, wars are history. For the Middle East, they remain a constant. Our region is in the firing line of extremist ideologies that seek to divide and control. Their strategy is to promote confrontation, break down moderation, and sever cooperation with the West. This minority of extremists have driven conflicts that are now increasing at an unprecedented rate. New actors, new military doctrines, and advanced weapons capabilities are transforming the security landscape. Frustration over the Palestinian situation has fuelled radicalism. There has been no easing of the public perception that the global system has ignored the Arab and Muslim world.
I do not need to say that, for a region as strategic as the Middle East, these trends are a crisis - not only for us, but for you. Our regions are deeply intertwined - in trade, in the movement of peoples, in security, in ideas. And we have a critical shared interest in how the challenge is met, whether we find the right answers, and whether we find them in time.
Powerful models are at hand. Our globalising world has brought opportunity and progress, not just because of economic efficiencies, but because of its expanding partnerships. Here, and elsewhere, people are seeing that peaceful engagement, not hostility, is the way to a better future. It is a path that Europe itself has spearheaded, through historic reconciliations and a pioneering regional community. Today the European Community joins 27 countries and 500 million people, with, by the way, at least six religions, with Islam as the second largest – all forming a diverse community that cooperates under the rule of law for mutual benefit.
It is moderation, not extremism, that opens the way to that future – through co-existence, cooperation, and all the benefits they entail. I believe this path is essential for my region. But to achieve it, we must work together – boldly, effectively – to create the strategic space for peace and progress to grow.
The first step is – must be – peace at the core. Justice and statehood, finally, for the Palestinian people.
We meet here today, on a day – June 4th – that resonates in the ears of every Arab. June 4th, 1967, marks the last day a Palestinian lived free of occupation. The next day, June 5th, began 41 years of whiplashing violence, invasive settlements, a crippled economy, and harsh and multiplying restrictions on life. For Israel, it has been 41 years of incessant conflict. Sixty years after its founding, it is still not recognised by 57 countries representing one-third of the members of the United Nations, with a total population greater than Europe and the United States combined.
While the conflict continues, people on both sides lose. It is time to help people win. For Palestinians, justice and a future, in an independent, sovereign, and viable state. For Israelis, recognition and security – a security that isolation, behind walls and military forces, can never bring.
The groundwork is in place, the opportunity is here. And Europe, especially the United Kingdom, can make a critical contribution as honest brokers in negotiations, as sources of security support and as investors in the Palestinian economy. Your efforts will send a global message to young people, young Muslims especially, that the international community can and will deliver on its promise of justice and hope.
Nothing is more important for the youth of our region – 200 million young men and women – the largest and the fastest growing youth cohort in our history. They see, in a thousand different ways, all this century has to offer, and they want to share in that promise. Yet most of our countries are still developing their way out of poverty. Even in this plugged-in generation, illiteracy remains unacceptably high, especially for women. Our youth face some of the world's worst unemployment rates.
We must respond. Over the next few years, there needs to be wide-scale, tangible solutions to the issues that affect people's lives: community development, access to health care, affordable energy, secure water resources, good schools, gender equality and jobs, jobs, jobs – some 200 million more – for college graduates as well as school-leavers.
We in the region are determined to lead the way. We look to those who understand the stakes to join with us. In Jordan, we have pressed forward, in spite of the obstacles, making a major commitment to development and reform. Our people are participating more actively than ever in the larger world, rejecting the voices of extremism and hatred. Our country is the home of the Amman Message, with its global message about Islam and its call for tolerance, mutual respect, and human equality.
Jordan has taken risks for a future of peace in our region and the world. I hope we can look to the members of this university for intellectual, moral and practical support.
Bonds between the Arab, Muslim, and British peoples go back hundreds of years. In the medieval Canterbury Tales, Chaucer tells us the mark of a learned English doctor: to be “well versed” in the work of Al Razi, ibn Sina, and ibn Rushd. ibn Sina's The Canon of Medicine was a standard text for European medical students well into the 17th century.
Today, such academic cross-fertilisation continues. I treasure this honorary degree as a symbol of the close relationship between Oxford and the Arab world. Academic exchanges and joint projects have brought our people together. Our students have been welcomed here. Alumni make a major contribution. Jordan's Oxonians are in key roles across society – banking, telecommunications, humanitarian work, public service, and more.
Such interactions between East and West are vital today – and we need many more. Not just official delegations, but students, teachers, entrepreneurs, civic leaders, development innovators and others. If we refuse to accept the walls that others would create, imagine what we can achieve. What new thinkers will emerge? What new art and inventions? What new breakthroughs will enlighten our understanding?
Millions of people in the Middle East want to share in creating a century of progress and peace. Let us not allow false divisions to hold us back. Let us not accept polarisation. Together, we can leave old conflicts, old inequalities, old ignorance, in the past. Together, we can confront the attack on reason and co-existence. Together, we can make a reality of our shared humanity - European, Asian, Arab; Muslim, Christian, Jew; East and West.
Thank you very much.