Thursday, 23 November 2017

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There’s more that unites us than divides us

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Image credit: Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation (ICYF-DC).

16 April 2015 – On April 14, the “Europe and the Islamic World Conference” was held in Brussels. Emphasizing, “there’s more that unites us than divides us”, the conference powerfully showcased the work of various organizations, including the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), whose High Representative, H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, delivered the keynote speech.

Set against the critical backdrop of the recent attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, the conference was organised by LINKS (Dialogue, Analysis and Research) and the Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation (ICYF-DC).

A critical analysis of the relation between Europe and the Islamic World

Through its panel discussions, the conference addressed common challenges for building a common future – focusing on islamophobia, radicalization and seeking partnerships – as well as the role played by the media in talking about these topics.

One of the main concerns was the widespread misconceptions on Islam. Dennis Sammut, LINKS Director, asked whether the West has been conditioned by propaganda against Muslims.

H.E. Ms. Ismat Jahan, Ambassador of Bangladesh to Belgium and Head of Mission to the EU, shared personal anecdotes to illustrate the specific misconceptions on women’s empowerment and Islam.

Conceptually, the very idea of there being “two sides” was discussed, with Dr. Ahmad al Dubayan, Director-General of the Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque Trust, asking whether this construction is religious or geopolitical/social.

Other points and debates between panellists centred on e.g. the role of law, anti-discrimination laws, the right to create offense and the misperceptions forged by media.

Belgian civil society activist Mehdi Karimi pointed out that the struggle against islamophobia should be set within a wider context of initiatives against hate speech, so as to prevent polarization and stigmatization.

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Photo: H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, who delivered the keynote address at the conference (Credit: UNAOC).

Putting unity and division into a European context

This focus on context was similarly reiterated in the keynote address by H.E. Mr. Al-Nasser.

Highlighting historical context, he stated that differences do not have to stand in the way of peaceful co-operation and mutual understanding, “Who could have believed a 100 years ago that France and Germany realized there is more that unites, than divides, them?” Mr. Al-Nasser poignantly said.

Within the European context, Mr. Al-Nasser recognized national laws condemning religious discrimination, but stressed that their implementation needs enhancement.

Further referring to historical context, it was pointed out that the world’s “mosaic of diversity” can lead to peaceful coexistence, but this mosaic is fragile and can be destroyed by extremism.

Leading UN platform for intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation

UNAOC functions as the arm of the UN against this destructive extremism, by providing counternarratives. It connects governments, lawmakers, local authorities, civil society organizations, the media, and individuals devoted to promoting understanding across diverse communities.

The organization boasts programmes and projects in the areas of Education, Youth, Migration and Media, bringing together prominent personalities, current and potential partners in its Global Forum, the most recent of which was held in Bali.

Building upon the conference’s topic, the UNAOC will participate in a high-level thematic debate on “Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation: Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Societies and Countering Violent Extremism”, to be held between 21-22 April at the UN Headquarters in New York.

You will be able to engage with this debate by tweeting using the hashtags #InterfaithWorks, #ToleranceReconciliation and #UNGA.

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