Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan is the inaugural recipient of YouTube's Visionary Award for her work combating stereotypes and bridging gaps of understanding.
Queen Rania launched her own YouTube channel in March of this year, saying it was "dedicated to breaking down stereotypes about the Arab and Muslim worlds and to bridging the East-West divide." She began uploading videos and helping YouTubers have a structured conversation about misconceptions concerning Arabs and Muslims.
The award was officially given online
Nov. 22 and presented by Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco, and his wife, Jen Newsom.
"Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan has dedicated her time and extraordinary talents to breaking down stereotypes and combating misconceptions about Islam and the Arab world," said Jen Newsom during the presentation, which was netcast live and in front of an audience. "In March she launched her own YouTube channel that invited viewers to submit questions about the Arab world. These videos created an open dialogue among thousands of commenters and millions of viewers around the world. Nobody is more deserving of the YouTube Visionary Award than Queen Rania."
After Newsom's comments, a brief video played highlighting the queen's work on YouTube. The queen, unable to attend the event in San Francisco, submitted an acceptance video—made in the style of David Letterman's humorous "Top Ten" segment.
The queen joked that the top ten reasons why she launched a YouTube channel included:
No. 10: "Because I didn't have enough friends on Facebook."
No. 9: "Because anything Queen Elizabeth can do, I can do better."
No. 3: "Because what you know about Arabs shouldn't just come from Jack Bauer."
Keifer Sutherland plays counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer on FOX's hit show "24." The action program has been criticized for furthering depictions of Muslims as terrorists.
The No. 1 reason to launch a channel, said the queen, turning serious, was because "suspicion, intolerance and mistrust are driving us apart, and that's why I wanted to kick-start a conversation in the world's largest community. Because we're stronger when we listen and smarter when we share."
"I'm not claiming a video can change the world, but maybe it can help us change some minds, she concluded. "And that's where real progress starts."
News of the award first came in a Nov. 13 press release
issued by the queen's office. In it, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley called the queen's videos "nothing short of inspirational," adding that she "sets the standard for breaking down stereotypes."
Queen Rania, who has a background in information technology, launched her channel with a video
asking YouTubers to submit their questions and stereotypes. That video alone was viewed more than 1.5 million times.
"In a world where it's so easy to connect to one another, we still remain very much disconnected," she said in the video. "There's a whole world of wonder out there that we cannot appreciate with stereotypes. So it's important for all of us to join forces, come together and try to bring down those misconceptions."
The 38-year-old queen said she is always surprised at some of the questions she is asked about the Arab world, like: Can Arab women work? Do all Arabs hate Americans? She said too many people have gotten their so-called knowledge about Arabs and Muslims from popular images, like the show "24."
The queen's initial video prompted more than 6,000 text comments and 80 video responses.
Some of the 14 videos currently on Queen Rania's channel are slick, fast-paced productions, while others are more straightforward, with Queen Rania simply addressing the camera, picking up on YouTube postings, sharing statistics to counter false impressions, and the like.
One of the high-energy videos shows Arab women in a variety of professional roles. In another, Queen Rania simply responds to some of the Internet claims that all Arabs are Muslims, all Muslims are terrorists, etc.
"Do terrorists represent the true teachings of Islam? No. Absolutely not," said Queen Rania. "How do I know that? Because I know my faith. I know Islam. I know the Quran. It was read to me as a child. I learned it in school. I recite it five times a day for prayer. I know my faith. The Quran teaches compassion, forgiveness, charity, pursuit of knowledge and humility."
The Kuwait-born queen married then-Prince Abdullah bin Al-Hussein in 1993, who became King Abdullah in 1999 after the death of King Hussein.
Queen Rania, who has four children with King Abdullah, has long been a voice for social progress, children and youth, and women's empowerment. She also frequently speaks out against violence and extremism.
"We are right to question Western governments when their actions only make it easier for radicals to recruit new followers," the queen said
last year at an economic forum in Saudi Arabia. "But our moral authority depends on our willingness to reject the voices of extremism and violence in our midst."