A Trip to Save Lives

The violence in Syria has left waves of sick and injured on the doorsteps of bordering countries. The Jordanian government is struggling to keep up with the massive demand for healthcare services.

One organization has found a way to help.

Atlantic Humanitarian Relief is working to alleviate the suffering of Syrian refugees living in Jordan.
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An Interview with Her Royal Highness,
Princess Rym Ali

Her Royal Highness Princess Rym Ali of Jordan granted an interview in March at the Jordan Media Institute in Amman.

Prior to marrying His Royal Highness Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, son of King Hussein of Jordan and half-brother of Jordan's current monarch, King Abdullah II, Her Royal Highness worked extensively for international broadcasters including CNN, the BBC, Dubai TV, Bloomberg TV, Radio Monte Carlo Moyen Orient and United Press International-UPI.

Her Royal Highness is the founder of the Jordan Media Institute, which offers a master's degree in digital media and journalism. It has graduated six classes, so far. She studied humanities at the Sorbonne in Paris, and holds an MPhil in political science from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris and a master's degree from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

Her Royal Highness has particular concerns about the way Western media has covered the Middle East and the way in which the Arabic language media is evolving, not only in Jordan, but also in the whole region.

Her Royal Highness Princess Rym Ali of Jordan. (Photo courtesy of Joi Ito/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Neha: How is the Western media doing in its coverage of the Syrian crisis? In particular, the focus on the European refugee crisis?

Her Royal Highness: Obviously you can't generalize. There's the good and the bad, if you want to put it in simple terms like that. But there have been a lot of really interesting, in-depth pieces. What is regrettable is when you constantly see headlines using these words like "waves" and "burden. And there's a lot of derogatory words out there that are used when it comes to this refugee crisis. I've noticed a lot of the Western press when it talks about immigrants, generally speaking, it uses very derogatory language. And it's very important to remember that most of us on this planet have come from somewhere. And most of our descendants will end up somewhere else. Especially now that the world is a so-called global village and it's easy to move around.

And then you have the crisis like this current Syrian crisis. So it's been a little bit disappointing to see that not more effort has been put into more dignified coverage. Or maybe I should say a coverage that gives people their dignity. Coverage that remembers that nobody leaves their home unless they're forced to. And that if people had a choice, they wouldn't. Why would you cross a sea on a tiny little dinghy? And risk your life and your family's life? Why would you do that? Unless you really didn't have anything else to look forward to. And unless you thought it was worth risking death to just have this little, little hope of having a better life.

And I think these things need to be highlighted a little more. All that said, I mean, you have to be fair. A lot of attention has been given, rightly so, to their plight. And also to how the host communities have been reacting. And again, the coverage has reflected these mixed feelings among people in the West. Between wanting to do the right thing, wanting to be humane in receiving the refugees. But unfortunately, as you know, there are a lot of extremist groups everywhere who use fear mongering, who threaten people, who make people afraid. I mean a lot of it is just populism and demagogy, but they make people afraid of whatever foreign or different influence they think applies. So it's a shame.

When I grew up, my education was very much geared towards humanism. In the sense that a human being is a human being, and you don't look at their ethnicity or religion. Or you celebrate differences, but you don't discriminate against them. And it's sad to see that thesevalues, which are very much values that were intrinsically part of the European philosophy at some stage, are also sometimes forgotten. So then you have this discourse in the media that tends to say, "we'll let the Christians in but not the Muslims." And that's a bit disappointing and sad as well.

Neha: Are you familiar with how social media is being used in this crisis? Do you see it as something that can be an asset or do you view it as something that might be enabling groups like Daesh [a term used by Arab nations to refer to ISIS or ISIL]?

HRH: I think tools are tools. And tools will always be used. It's the human intelligence that will give them how they're used. It's the same with any tool, by the way. In medicine, in engineering. I mean, you can use your science and engineering to make a bomb or you can use it to build. You can use it to destroy or you can use it to build. And it's the same with social media and electronic media and all this media technology that we have at our fingertips. So I think, again, we have to go back to the origin.

Sadly, yes, [social media] is being used by those extremist groups and that is a huge challenge. Because many of us want to advocate for freedom of expression, and, at the same time, you're faced with this immense challenge that is posed by people who are using this same freedom and these same tools to drag people into an ideology that ultimately bans this freedom.

Neha: It's very ironic.

HRH: Exactly, very ironic.

And obviously it's a very obscurest, nihilistic ideology that destroys rather than builds. And that denies people's humanity. Again you go back to the humanity of people and look at them as to how they worship, how they do this. So what I've always thought is very, very important is that the technology is here. And, again, it can be used for bad and it can be used for good.

I think when people see the reality of what's happening, that's where it's very important to have a credible media because one of the challenges we face at times is people who are a little bit in denial. And when they're told, "this is what happened with Daesh; they cut off people's heads," some people who are a bit in denial and who refuse to believe that human beings of their faith can do this might say, "well that's just in the Western media."

But when you have a media that is credible, then you reduce that possibility of having this kind of denial and you're faced with the reality. Because you have people [reporters] who are on-the-ground, who will cover in the language that is understood and who have this credibility. So that's one aspect that's very important.

There is another aspect that I think we have to remember when we talk about social media. Unfortunately, it's been used as a recruiting tool by a lot of these extremists. And I know I've seen a lot of programs in Canada and the U.S and Britain. They're struggling a lot with this. On the other hand, it can also be used to show somethingelse. What is very important, and that's where we have to go back to oureducation systems, and this is, if I may, in all humility, to suggest for the whole world, it is so important that content come before technology. Again, in the same way that if you have a doctor who has all the fancy, modern equipment in the world and doesn't know how to use it, you worry, right? So you've got this [media] technology. You want people who are going to use it to know how to use it and why. There are ethics that come with that. There are human standards.

Our kids are exposed to the media whether we like it or not. They're exposed to all sorts of media. Our kids will be exposed to people preaching violence and hatred and crime. Not just from Daesh but from all sorts of weird corners and areas, unfortunately. But if they have been given the tools inside of them, the means, the content to handle that, to ask questions, and to reject that kind of ideology, then you don't fear the tool. You don't fear that technology. You fear it when you can't control the message because you don't have enough of a solid value system that allows you to reject it. But when you don't have that, and again, that's what's happened around the world When you see what happened in Paris? These kids who went and did these awful things were very young. They were born and raised in Europe.

So it's all about really investing and giving the next generation a proper and solid value system. Ethics. How to use the media. How to ask the right questions. Of course, we're all struggling with that because it's relatively new still and we're learning as we go along. But it's very, very important that we don't neglect values And it's not a luxury. It's fundamental. Again, if people are exposed to that, you really have to deal with it.

Neha: The refugees in Jordan are not allowed to work, which may contribute to the perception that they are just sitting around and eating up international aid. At the same time, it's a complex issue for a country like Jordan that has a growing unemployment rate and is just pulling out of the global recession. What are your thoughts on the rules against refugees getting employment in Jordan?

HRH: I mean very often I see headlines that really make me cringe like, "Electricity Prices Are On the Rise Because of Refugees." I think, again, it comes from really being reminded of a certain value system in which it's not enough maybe to say you're accepting refugees, if I may say so, and I don't want to offend anyone by that.

Jordan has been extremely generous in doing that. We're very proud of what Jordan has done and continues to do for refugees. But I think one of the key things when you accept refugees, and I think Jordan has tried to do its best in this sense, although it may not be always reflected by the media, but in reality, it has to be remembered that you also have to make sure that people maintain their dignity. Nobody wants to leave their home. Nobody wants to sit around getting coupons. People want to work. But of course it's difficult because there is already a lot of unemployment among Jordanians.

You may have seen what happened at the London conference [Supporting Syria & The Region Conference, held in London in February 2016]. His Majesty has proposed a very good plan and we were very excited because it looks like it's been accepted. And if it works out as His Majesty and the Jordanian government have suggested, then it does mean that we will be able to give work to Syrian refugees and match the employment that is given to Syrians by giving employment to Jordanians as well. I'm not an economist. I don't know how that works. But I know that this was the goal because the King was very concerned about having a proper balance and not leaving his people, our people, behind in this whole equation. So that's very important.

But again, I really wish I could see a bit more concern about that in the reporting, but in a positive way. Because the reality isn't always black and white. And you see this all over the world. Every time there's been immigrants, refugees, anywhere, you've had fear mongers shouting and screaming and saying, "We can't handle this," and, "We don't have enough jobs." And, by the way, half the time it's not true.

But there's also a need for certain labor. Jordan is not a wealthy country. We do have a huge economic issue and we do have a lot of unemployment. So it is more challenging probably for us than it is for Europe, by the way, and for the United States. And yet we do our best.

But again, the media should be more precise in translating this reality in a way that anybody can understand. Otherwise it really just fuels more resentment, and that's not necessary. We're very lucky. We've had people who have been very patient. Who, in the beginning, welcomed their families and people from Syria with open arms. And of course, things have become very challenging for everybody.

I think we just need to keep in mind that we're doing our best. Everybody's doing their best. We did a big conference last year at JMI [the Jordan Media Institute] on covering the Syrian crisis. And I think we need to keep putting regular efforts into reminding the media how to look at this story. The media is a very important part of this.

Neha: As a foreign correspondent with an impressive background in international reporting, what advice would you give to someone like me who wants to cover crises like this in a responsible manner?

Neha Wadekar interviews Her Royal Highness Princess Rym Ali at the Jordan Media Institute.

HRH: First of all, I think, it's fantastic that you've been able to travel here. Many people cover stories without actually going to the places they talk about. And, I think, keep an open mind. You've been taught this in journalism school, I'm sure. Talk to everybody. Always look for the other story that nobody's talking about. There are so many stories out there.

I think, for me, what I would have done [if I were covering the Syrian crisis], is look at the people. The human story. The family. How the family lives.

I've known people, like a refugee family, where one young man works for everybody because his father isn't capable of working. He's had health issues. [This young man] has brothers and sisters that need to go to school, and he's supporting his entire family. You have families with incredible stories. You have so many stories. Uplifting ones. Sad ones. You have the women's issue, which is huge. How women come and have to deliver in the middle of [a camp]. It's not only the fact that they deliver in a camp, or in a situation where they're far away from anything that they know, but what future do they hold for their babies? You have the early marriage story of young girls. I think in one of the camps I understand...They're even thinking of not having 8th grade because they don't think there's going to be enough girls in that school. Because there's only seven in the 7th grade. And this is a camp that hosts a community of 30,000 people. So that's a big story.

So there's a lot of stories out there. But I think these are things you will learn and I don't need to give you advice on that. One thing I would say is what we were always told. Do your homework. Just read up. Ask questions. Don't assume that things you've heard are true of the culture necessarily, because there's a lot of cultural misunderstanding out there. See for yourself. Just see for yourself and get in there.

Just a little bit of respect goes a long way for anybody who is covering our region. And a little bit of openness and understanding. In the same way that we would do if we went anywhere else.

Neha: Thank you for speaking with me today.