The Ninth General Conference:Islam And The West Past - Present - Future
A Promising Dialogue for Understanding and Peace By: Amb. Lars Lonnback
A PROMISING DIALOGUE FOR UNDERSTANDING AND PEACE EXPERIENCES FROM THREE YEARS OF THE SWEDISH PROJECT "EURO - ISLAM"
BY Amb. Lars Lonnback SWEDISH Abstract
A contribution to the 9th General Conference of The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Cairo, July 13 - 16, 1997.
“A promising Dialogue for Understanding and Peace. Experiences from three years of the Swedish “Project Euro-Islam”
Entering its third year of operation, the Swedish "Project Euro-Islam", a programme of academic conferences and dialogues on culture, religions and civilizations as well as political analysis and planning, is hoping to make a contribution to the improvement of long term relations between Sweden / Europe and the primarily Muslim countries in the Mediterranean basin, thus also a contribution to the Euro-Mediterranean (Barcelona) cooperation process.
Its basic objective is to help reducing cultural and religious tensions between European countries and the primarily Muslim countries to the East and South of the Mediterranean. It should be looked upon as a preventive, diplomatic peace project that takes advice from academic and NGO quarters to build constructive policies and programmes.
This, however is only one side of the coin. The Muslim mind on the other hand, has its own perplexities. One group of the Muslim elite, representing the upper middle class, educated and brought up in western secular intellectual tradition subscribe to a hoard of doubts and misgivings spread by the western media about Islam. And in the name of human rights they want to see liberation of Islam from its “unjust” Shari’a regulations. For them everything in the western secular society is ideal, modern, and efficient. They prefer their children to study and even migrate to the west for personal security, comfort, and high standard of living. They feel more at home in western capital cities than in their own towns and cities. Perhaps we can call them "adoptionists".
A second category of the Muslims looks toward the west with contempt, suspicions, rather enmity, they regard the west no less than a satanic world. Aware of the recent past, of the western exploits in the form of British, French, Dutch and Italian Colonialism, which reduced Muslim presence to a slavery of the west, they speak up their mind against the west. Since Islam and Jahiliyyah cannot co-exist, therefore, they believe in a total break down of relations with the west. Perhaps we can call them "exclusivists".
A third category of the Muslims looks toward the west with mixed feelings. They believe in globalism as a fact of the matter, but the calls for a so-called New world order, creates serious doubts in their minds about the ultimate purpose and interest of the west, in control of economic resources and markets of the world. They have their apprehensions about development strategies of the west in the name of globalization of economy, media, and education. They can feel an important network and base for the Swedish project.
4- Extensive reports from these conferences are available. A summary of proposals made during the two conferences and later directed to governments and involved organizations in both Europe and in countries of the Muslim world give, in our view, a base for a strategy for a peace-supporting cultural, religious and political dialogue between the countries of Europe and the Mediterranean region.
A Two-track Effort:
In cooperation with other EU member countries and bilaterally, Sweden has concentrated her efforts on two tracks:
1- Urging our European and Mediterranean partners to start forming a strategy for cultural dialogue m a support of peace, and
2- Continued cooperation on cultural projects with several partnership countries, among them Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Turkey.
The first track involves studies, political analysis and political agreements on how a strategy should be developed and implemented, on how to encourage and support independent institutions to develop their dialogues and how these dialogues should be allowed to promote understanding, tolerance and peace.
Areas that- according to advice from our two academic conferences- should be chosen for such a strategy would include:
- a continuation of cultural and religious dialogues on relevant and contemporary issues,
- improved educational systems on all level,
- encouraging better mass media performances,
- research on and actions against prejudice against Muslims in Europe.
- coordination of existing programmes in this field,
- modern information methods to be used,
- studies of common history, and
- studies of common cultural and religious heritage.
The second track involves a continuation of earlier and new cultural and political contacts and projects in the following countries:
A process has been started to support existing conferences and to create new forms of dialogues with Egypt. Among these projects are:
1. A major conference was organized m Cairo in March 1997 under the title of “Clash of Civilization” or “Dialogue of Cultures". Sweden participated with four leading experts.
2. Two Egyptian journalists visited Sweden in June and Swedish journalists will visit Egypt in the Autumn, followed by a seminar on mass media coverage of the two regions.
3. Sweden will participate officially in the 9th General Conference of The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Cairo, July 13 - 16.
4. The Swedish Institute (for cultural relations abroad), in cooperation with Al Ahram Strategic Centre, Cairo, is planning a conference entitled "Religious Institutions, Civil Society and the State", to be held late autumn, 1997, in Alexandria, Egypt.
Quite recently contacts have been made in order to facilitate Swedish- Tunisian cooperation with academic conferences, exchange of educational and social sciences experts, cultural exchange, etc.
Plans are being drawn up to create, in the university city of Fés, Morocco, a dialogue institute to promote exchanges between the Muslim world and Europe.
A project to support the exchange of children's literature and to improve the use of school libraries has been started in Jordan, where also the second conference of Euro-Islam was held in 1996 and new conferences on cultural dialogue are foreseen for 1997.
A long list of cultural and political projects in Turkey involving Swedish experts and academicians is being prepared for 1997 and 1998. Among these projects can be mentioned.
1. An exchange of visits by experts in social sciences, especially concerning the role of men and women in society has resulted in seminars and research projects.
2. The Swedish Institute is planning, in cooperation with a Turkish university, a conference concerning democracy and civil society in Turkey and in Europe.
3. A conference next September in Ankara will introduce the book "Islam and Europe", written by Swedish Ambassador Ingmar Karlsson and recently translated into Turkish.
4. An increased cultural exchange between Turkey and Sweden will take place in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Ottoman Empire. Experiences of these efforts are, so far, generally positive. The large and growing number of new Swedish citizens with a Muslim background have welcomed the efforts to try to stem prejudice and other problems facing newcomers in Sweden.
Internationally, the Swedish Project Euro-Islam has been welcomed as a contribution to other similar efforts in many countries in Europe. Many Muslim countries and institutions have voiced their appreciation of these initiatives.
Any comments or contributions to this our effort to support a much needed between our cultures and civilizations are very much appreciated.
Coordinator, Project Euro-Islam.