Queen Noor Photo Op

Queen Noor couldn't catch anyone's attention.

Queen Noor couldn’t catch anyone’s attention.

After 9/11, I received an email asking for volunteers at the Arab-American Family Support Center. I had worked on the 105th floor of World Trade One until March ‘01, knew hundreds of the dead, and could have been among them.

I emailed back to say yes, deciding to volunteer in order to reach out to Arab New Yorkers who suddenly found themselves at the bottom of society. African-American friends said for the first time, “We’re not the ones being stopped and frisked in the street.”

It was healing to meet Christian and Muslim Arabs and Muslim South Asians who were in mourning with all of us and to feel their anger at anyone who would murder in the name of Islam.

When Queen Noor, the American wife of Jordan’s King Hussein, arrived at the center in Brooklyn to show her support for Arab and Muslim New Yorkers, all the staff and clients in the center--including volunteers who were not from Middle Eastern backgrounds--were suddenly electrified. Although the queen was trying to talk with people and ask them about themselves, everyone just wanted their photo taken with her. Only the cleaning lady, in her cotton smock over jeans, stayed on the sidelines, pleased to be there but keeping her place away from the excitement.

So round after round of photos ensued, as the queen tried to connect on a human level, and everyone looked back at her with a blank face as they posed to keep the moment for posterity. I made sure the children and teens, crowded out by the adults, got to meet her. Then I left, aware of the isolation of celebrity.

Try as she might, Queen Noor couldn’t catch anyone’s attention for even a moment of small talk. They were all focused on smiling for the camera.

I turned on the six o’clock news at home to see the coverage of Queen Noor walking down Atlantic Avenue with all the people from the center and others from the sidewalk surrounding her. But there she was, walking arm-in-arm with the cleaning lady, and finally having a two-way, human conversation. And I realized that the queen, despite the royal trappings, is still a true American.


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