Culture and conflict resolution in Europe and the Middle East





Renowned intellectuals call for a global strategy based on education


Shirin Ebadi, Samuel Pisar, Isabelle Durant, Hans-Gert Pöttering, Anne-Marie Revcolevschi, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Ephraim Sneh, Sari Nusseibeh, Nilüfer Göle, Arno Klarsfeld and several other thinkers and intellectuals took part in an international conference in Brussels on February 19.

A stellar panel of intellectuals and thinkers from Europe and the Middle East joined members of the European Parliament for an international conference at the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday, February 19. They debated and highlighted the importance of intercultural rapprochement and education in reducing interethnic and interreligious tensions in Europe and conflict resolution in the Middle East.

Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, Holocaust survivor and author Samuel Pisar, Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun and former European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering were among the speakers at the conference which was organized under the patronage of President Martin Schulz.

Isabelle Durant, Vice-President of the European Parliament, presided over a luncheon in honor of the Aladdin Project in the presence of the speakers, Members of the European Parliament, senior officials of the European Commission, ambassadors and the President of the Aladdin Project, Anne-Marie Revcolevschi, as well as its Executive Director Abe Radkin. She stressed the importance that the President of the European Parliament and herself attach to the Aladdin Project’s initiatives and said the conference provided a good opportunity to present the Aladdin Project to MEPs.

Bastiaan Belder (ELD, NE), President of the Delegation for relations with Israel, chaired the first panel on “the rejection of the Other in Europe and in the Middle East, 70 years after the Holocaust”.

Alluding to the strife between Blacks and Whites in South Africa, Protestants and Catholics in Ireland and other examples of long-drawn conflict, Samuel Pisar said in his speech, “If the so-called hereditary enemies of yesterday could find the path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace, why not Arabs and Jews?” He pointed out that the current conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians “is not genetic, as Arabs and Jews lived side by side for centuries in the Middle East and North Africa.” He pointed out that the political resolution of the Middle East conflict could open the door to a common market in the Middle East that would be of enormous benefit to Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Egyptians and other peoples in the region.

For Enver Yücel, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Bahçesehir University of Istanbul, “the hatred of the Other that can be found in text books for children in different countries is more dangerous than nuclear weapons”, adding that “it is only when we will have more resources dedicated to education than to arms that we shall live in a peaceful world.”

Former Israeli minister Ephraim Sneh expressed indignation that the world is turning a blind eye to serious human rights violations in some regions, particularly in Darfur. “It’s appalling to see the global indifference to the suffering of Muslim civilians in such situations”, he said. “All this leads me to the gloomy conclusion that after 70 years, we still haven’t learned the lessons of the Holocaust.”

Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al-Quds University, focused on the psychological and philosophical dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Seeing the other is first about changing our own perception,” he said, pointing out that it was more important to build “tunnels” of introspection than “bridges” towards the others. “Only then can knowledge become productive and facts are free from any other artificial construction.”

Arno Klarsfeld, lawyer and member of the « Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France », spoke passionately about his personal experience regarding the Middle East conflict. He stressed the necessity of “a long psychological adaptation process through the teaching of tolerance and respect of human dignity.”

Emer Costello (S&D, IR), President of the Delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council, chaired the second panel discussion on the central role of “knowing the Other” in making societies evolve “from conflict to harmony”.

Shirin Ebadi underlined the importance of civil society in the struggle for the values of respect and equality. She strongly condemned “the propaganda of the Iranian regime, which aims to demonize Jews, Baha’is, Christians and other cultures” while emphasizing that “the Iranian people do not agree with the government’s policies” and urging the Europeans “to judge Iran by her 7,000 years of civilization, and not what’s been going on in the past 33 years.”

Tahar Ben Jelloun argued that the rise to power of “Islamist” tendencies in some Arab countries is an ephemeral reaction to totalitarian regimes. “The good news is that Islamism is in decline”, he added, maintaining that the radicals do not offer any real solutions to the profound problems facing these societies, such as corruption and economic under-development.

Hans-Gert Pöttering expressed his « gratitude and admiration for the work accomplished by the Aladdin Project” and reiterated that the European Union has the duty to “do anything it possibly can” to revive the peace process in the Middle East.” He cited the stages of the European post-war construction as an example that could inspire the resolution of the Middle-East conflict.

French-Turkish anthropologist Nilüfer Göle focused her speech on the contemporary situation in Europe as regards the emergence of a sizeable Muslim minority, and ways in which this minority can learn from the Jewish experience to work for better coexistence. She also expressed her satisfaction that “the Aladdin Project can play the role of a bridge between Jews and Muslims in Europe.”

To conclude, Anne-Marie Revcolevschi declared that the Aladdin Project “is at the very heart of today’s reflections”: Education might not be sufficient, but it is indispensable because intolerance and hatred breed on ignorance. “We cannot afford to ignore history, but what our young people need today is more a reflection on history than just being taught history.”

Watch the conference: