The Aladdin Project
|How it came about||Funding|
|Why Aladdin?||The first steps|
|Our vision and strategy||Aladdin in the Muslim World|
|Organization||The way ahead|
The Aladdin Project is an independent, international non-governmental organization based in Paris. The twenty personalities on its Board are from different countries, cultures and religions, united in the belief that the power of knowledge and education and the primacy of history and moral values can vanquish the chasms created by ignorance, prejudice, hate and competing memories. We are equally convinced that a lasting intercultural dialogue can only thrive in an interchange that is at peace with history. Our goal is to promote harmonious intercultural relations, particularly among Jews and Muslims, and we seek to facilitate mutual knowledge by producing and translating books, films, documentaries, Web sites and other sources of information in the languages of the concerned populations and by using the modern media to reach out to those who yearn and work for peace and mutual respect.
The Aladdin Project was launched under the patronage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in March 2009, and has since been supported by more than 1,000 intellectuals, academics and public figures from over 50 countries in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America. A number of world leaders and international bodies, such as the European Union, have also declared their backing for the project.
Aladdin’s founders were initially inspired by the need to counter the falsification of history in the shape of Holocaust denial and trivialization. In launching the initiative, France’s Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah sought to address the dearth of objective information in the main languages of the Muslim world, starting with Arabic, Persian and Turkish, on the Nazi genocide in societies where Holocaust history has never been taught and where it has remained largely a taboo subject.
True to its mission of promoting “knowledge of the other”, Aladdin also set itself the task of highlighting the historical evidence concerning the role of Muslim rulers and citizens who helped the Jews during the Nazi reign of terror. The reception it received, particularly in the Muslim world, encouraged Aladdin to enlarge its mission to include the centuries-long history of relations between Jews and Muslims. At the same time, it continues to study ways of better acquainting Western audiences with the cultures and societies of the Islamic world.
The initiative was so named because Aladdin, both as a Middle Eastern folk tale and a name, is shared by different cultures and thus symbolizes an intercultural bridge, while the genie lamp, a symbol of light of knowledge against obscurantism and ignorance, reflects the hope that the magical power of knowledge will eventually destroy age-old myths and superstitions and break down seemingly insurmountable barriers.
The Aladdin Project’s originality is its method of familiarizing peoples of different cultures with the history, religion and culture of the other in their own mother tongues through culturally adapted resources and the use of modern technology. Aladdin’s credibility has been enhanced by the declarations of support from prominent political and intellectual personalities, including many in the Muslim world. Aladdin’s capacity to implement educational and cultural projects is boosted by an impressive network of experts, academics and civil society activists in over fifty countries hailing from different religious and cultural backgrounds.
The Aladdin Project’s goal is to promote greater mutual knowledge among peoples of different cultures and religions, particularly Jews and Muslims, in order to bring about changes in attitudes and perceptions and develop a culture of peace and tolerance. Such changes will ultimately come about through a long-term strategy focusing on education and diffusion of knowledge. To meet the challenges of overcoming deeply-imbedded misperceptions and mutual mistrust in a politically-charged environment, we have developed a strategy that combines concrete, measurable educational and cultural projects (translations, syllabus development, distance-learning courses, educator training, summer school programs...) with public events (conferences, exhibitions, visits to memorial sites...). We are developing an international network of academics, civil society activists and educators that provides us with essential feedback on the impact of our projects on the ground.
The founders of the Aladdin Project established one independent body in the summer of 2009: the Aladdin Project Association, a non-profit organization, with Anne-Marie Revcolevschi as president and Serge Klarsfeld as vice-president.
The Board of Directors consists of twenty members - ten men and ten women - and is complemented by an international advisory board, the Committee on Conscience, chaired by veteran French diplomat, Ambassador Jacques Andréani.
The project’s expert committees focus on specific areas of activity and projects, including the Academic Committee, chaired by Professor Abdou Filali-Ansary, the Book Committee, chaired by Jean Mouttapa, the "living together" Committee chaired by Anne Hidalgo and the Interfaith Working Group jointly chaired by René Samuel Sirat, the former Chief Rabbi of France, and Egypt’s Dr. Aly Elsamman, president of the International Organization for Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue and Peace Education.
Each project, once approved by the Board, is led by a project director, who works under the supervision of the relevant committee of experts. Progress and evaluation reports are periodically submitted to the committee and the Board.
The Aladdin Project’s executive director is Abe Radkin, former executive director of the UK Human Rights Foundation.
Our sources of funding are grants from foundations, governments, international organizations, as well as corporate and individual donations. Funding for projects is based on the Board's considered review of the prospects and promise of the proposed programs for impacting the goals of the Aladdin Project. We will also consider the potential for replication of the programs by other interested organizations or persons.
Donors and funders expect excellence in planning, management, and evaluation of our projects, which is why financial transparency and accountability are extremely important to us. All budgetary and financial matters of the Aladdin Project are under the supervision of Hakim El Karoui. The Board of Directors exercises fiduciary control over the use of all funds. External financial audits are conducted annually.
The diffusion of knowledge being the focus of the project, we began by launching a multilingual Web site that provided historically accurate information on Jewish religion, culture and history, particularly the Holocaust, in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, as well as English and French.
Four important books on the Holocaust - including Anne Frank’s Diary and Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man (or Survival in Auschwitz) – were translated into Arabic and Persian for the first time. In a special arrangement with the publishers, we set up an online library that allowed Internet users to download the books free of charge.
Both the multilingual Web site and the online library have met with success: they have received hundreds of thousands of visits from around the world, with Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria being among the countries with the most visitors.
More than a thousand intellectuals, political figures, educators and civil society actors in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have expressed their support for the Aladdin Project. Their involvement, recommendations and feedback have been indispensable to our efforts to overcome cultural and language barriers and to make a real impact on the ground.
Using this extensive network of indigenous contacts, the Aladdin Project and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized a series of unprecedented conferences on the Holocaust in ten cities in the Middle East and North Africa in January and February 2010. Dedicated to the readings of Primo Levi’s “If This Is a Man”, the meetings in Cairo, Istanbul, Baghdad, Tunis, Rabat, Amman, Casablanca, Erbil, Nazareth and Jerusalem offered a welcome opportunity for face-to-face discussions and exchanges between Holocaust historians and literary experts and Arab/Muslim audiences. In frank and open debates conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect, a wide range of issues related to Jewish-Muslim relations and Muslims’ perceptions of the Holocaust were discussed.
The widespread coverage of the Aladdin Project’s events and activities in the Arabic-language media has contributed to raising its profile as a credible cross-cultural platform for free exchange of ideas and implementation of projects. The unprecedented level of support it has received from Muslims and non-Muslims alike provides Aladdin with an opportunity to contribute to conflict resolution, with particular focus on the younger generations.
The way ahead is shaped by our conviction that education and dissemination of information and knowledge of the “other” are key to overcoming the existing prejudices and stereotypes. While we have already embarked on a number of project that are essentially focused on Muslim and Arab audiences, we are also working with a number of institutions and universities in the Muslim world to make Europeans and Westerners more familiar with Arab and Muslim cultures and societies. In this endeavor, we extend a hand of cooperation to all those who yearn for a future of peace, justice and mutual respect.