A We consider this program brain protection or brain gain. The whole point of SRF is to help on a temporary basis so scholars can continue their work and one day go back to their home country. We connect them to universities around the world, help them find housing and give them grants of about $20,000 per year. Some of the Iraqi scholars have been brought to America and Europe, but most want to stay close to their own students.
Q Other Arab countries, however, are not supportive of Iraqi refugees.
A The other Arab countries have not shown the same interest, and the wealthy ones have different priorities. Qatar is spending $4 billion to build football stadiums for the World Cup, and Dubai is investing $13.5 billion in its culture village. It’s fine to build museums, but why not also give the small amount needed to save one of our own Arab scholars?
Q What’s your reaction to the treatment of women in the Middle East?
A You feel your blood boiling. But the only way to respond after the initial anger is by soldiering on. Jordan has made major headway with regard to women. It’s not perfect, but we have equal opportunities in terms of education. Women work as doctors and in government. I don’t know if I can say there is complete equality, but I wonder if you would consider women in the United States completely equal in terms of jobs, either.
Q What are the issues women scholars face in your region?
A They face more persecution than men. Oppressive regimes do not tolerate the idea of a woman existing, let alone writing and publishing. Some of the Iraqi women scholars who were rescued went through indescribable horrors. Many were beaten; they saw their husbands killed or their children kidnapped. About 20 percent of the [SRF] scholars are women. That’s not a bad percentage, because men constitute a greater percentage of scholars than women nearly everywhere.
Q You’re deeply involved with the King Hussein Cancer Center. Is this personal for you?