At the Anglo-Arab Organisation
2 July 2004
The Anglo-Arab Organisation has a critical mission at a critical time. Never has it been more urgent that the British and Arab people reach out, celebrate our shared values, and work together for prosperity and peace.
There was an era when the world's countries were genuinely isolated from one other. Before instant communications and global mobility. When East and West knew each other only at a distance. And what we knew, we often learned by hearsay.
In 1154, the Arab geographer, Al Idrisi, described a mysterious northern place called Angleterre. “This is a great island,” he wrote, “shaped like the head of an ostrich. … Its people are hardy, resolute and enduring. … The winter there is permanent.”
Stories about bad British weather began in the 12th century – who knew?
Well, today, there are more direct opportunities to understand each other. My father, His Late Majesty King Hussein made lifetime friends here. So have I. Our days here opened our eyes, as my father said, to “a different world.” And in turn, I hope, we helped others see something of the proud heritage of the Arab world.
My friends, for all of us, these bonds are vital. Ours is a time of tremendous possibilities. Today's global relationships – trade, investment, communication, cooperation – can help our countries meet urgent needs. For new jobs and stable, growing economies. For the benefits of new knowledge. For hope. But our global system is not, cannot be, monolithic. It depends on the strengths of every region; the wisdom of every country; the creativity of every person. We cannot afford misunderstanding and division. We must work in a partnership of respect.
The people of Jordan and Britain have much in common. We believe in the rule of law and the equal dignity of people. We want the best for our children: a world of opportunity and security. We want to make this new century deliver on its promises: justice, prosperity and peace.
We stand together in support of a lasting, comprehensive Middle East peace. That means a free, sovereign, viable, democratic and contiguous Palestine. And it means security for Israel to live in peace with its neighbours. A process that will allow for a comprehensive settlement to emerge; one that will also address the Syrian and Lebanese tracks.
And today, especially, Jordan and Britain stand together in supporting a legitimate, inclusive political process in Iraq – and a new era of peace and freedom for that historic land.
Peace, freedom, tolerance – these ideals are deeply rooted in the British democratic tradition. But they are also the deepest, humanistic values of the Arab world. It is a heritage that created the golden age of Islam – a multi-ethnic civilisation that made historic advances in scholarship and civic development. And today, this Arab Islamic heritage is driving a new era of progress in the Middle East.
In Jordan, an extensive reform programme is well underway. We are determined to help our people achieve their potential in every sphere. In the economy, we have encouraged innovation, enterprise and partnership with the private sector. In education, we are empowering youth to compete on a global basis. In the public sector, we are cementing human rights, streamlining services and building transparent, accountable governance.
Our agenda has one main goal: to meet our people's expectations and needs. But we believe Jordan's path can also show others what a home-grown Arab-Islamic model can accomplish. This is essential if our region is to find an effective path towards economic development and democracy.
Today, most Arabs agree that reform is vital. We also agree that for reform to succeed, it must emerge from within our own societies. And leadership for reform has emerged. Creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, humanitarians and risk-takers are opening new doors to hope. I believe that their dynamic voices can and will drown out the preachers of cynicism and hatred who prey on our youth.
In the Arab world, our future is our own to shape. But our friends here in Britain and elsewhere have a vital contribution to make. International support is essential to resolving the core Arab-Israeli conflict. Until that happens, the forces of division and despair will fight regional progress. When you help right wrongs, when you invest in development, when you encourage reform – you create a climate for positive change. You tell our young people: “Global justice is real – the system can work.”
Many years ago at Sandhurst, I was told a story about Field Marshal Alexander of World War II fame. A friend of mine told it, I think, to illustrate typical British understatement. Towards the end of the war, General Alexander paid a short visit to London. He went to his club, where he ran across a very old member who had known him when he was a young officer. “Well, well, Alex”, said the elderly gentleman to the general, “I haven't seen you around in ages – what have you been up to?”
Now this was Field Marshal Alexander – who helped save the British army at Dunkirk – who led the Allied forces in Tunis – who commanded the allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. But when this kindly gentleman asked him, “What have you been up to?” – The general answered, “Oh, I'm still soldiering.”
Well, the fact is, understatement isn't the only message of this story. I think it just might illustrate a man who knew his job.
My friends, today we are all still soldiering: to make our global system work – to create hope and end despair – to defeat terror and renew peace. This is our job, and it deserves our full attention.
It is in our hands to create a world in which every human being can thrive, a world in which all share the promise of our century. This is the hope, indeed the right, of men and women throughout the Arab world.
With God's blessing; with faith in humanity; and with a collective will to act, I believe we can succeed. I ask your help.
Thank you very much.