Prince Hassan bin Talal is the almost-man. After 34 years as heir-apparent to Jordan’s Hashemite throne, the crown was snatched away in 1999 by his dying brother, King Hussein, and handed to his son, the present King Abdullah II. Never mind; Hassan has other fish to fry. And so I visit the direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed (separated by a 42-generation blip) to discuss the terrorist attacks on London.
In an elegant reception room at his West London home, the desert prince is wearing a pinstripe suit (his tailor would call him ‘portly’). He surrounds himself with family snaps, memorabilia (which include a brace each of sheathed Bedouin daggers and Samurai swords) and his ‘overflow’ book collection (including the memoirs of such former enemies as Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin).
The absence of high office has not diminished Prince Hassan’s appetite for solving global problems. He spends his time, and his considerable intellect, on a relentless round of interfaith dialogues, human rights commissions and conferences on poverty and injustice, religion and peace.
Unlike many of his co-religionists, his response to the London bombings is categorical: ‘I have a very firm position on wanton killing and suicide bombing — a clear and unequivocal condemnation of it, wherever it raises its ugly head.’ He cannot understand people like Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the sometime guest of London’s mayor Ken Livingstone, who condemns suicide bombings in London while defending them in Israel. Such people, says the Prince, hunt with the hounds and run with the hare. He is particularly irked that al-Qaradawi refuses to speak to Jews.
Prince Hassan, by contrast, is intent on dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. One recent project was the creation of the Middle East Citizens’ Assembly, with representatives from all over the region. ‘Israelis and Arabs can scream at each other or cry on each other’s shoulders.