Leading Emirati and Saudi media figures denounce anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in UNESCO

Leading figures from the world of politics and media in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia joined political and religious figures in Paris Wednesday night in a debate organized by UNESCO and the Aladdin Project to discuss the future of “living together” in the face of the challenge posed by the rise of violent extremism in the name of Islam.

More than 500 people in a packed auditorium listened as Emirati, Saudi, Sudanese, Tunisian, Moroccan, Yemeni and Mauritanian speakers vehemently condemned the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen, denounced anti-Semitism and called for a united front of civil society actors in Europe and in the Arab world to fight the “cancer of our times”, violent extremism in the name of Islam.

After the welcome speech by Aladdin Project Executive Director Abe Radkin, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, thanked all the personalities who had come to UNESCO for the debate, including Shoah Memorial President Eric de Rothschild, philanthropist Sheikh Mohammed Al-Jaber and filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, and emphasized the importance and timeliness of the debate about the future of “living together” after the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen.

Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, former President of Mauritania, recalled that the Aladdin Project had been launched five years ago in the same hall with Jacques Chirac, Prince Hassan of Jordan, Gerhard Schroeder, Simone Veil and many other personalities to fight against anti-Semitism, denial and anti-Muslim racism, and build bridges of knowledge between the Jewish and Muslim worlds.

Philippe Lalliot, the French Ambassador to UNESCO, pointed out that terrorists do not have a religion, but are criminal thugs. He described Islamist extremism as “a spreading cancer that must be fought by all means.”

The first panel focused on the issue of extremism from the perspective of “the Gulf”. Mansour Al-Nogaidan, Director General of Al-Mesbar Centre for Studies and Research (Dubai), welcomed his centre’s partnership with UNESCO and the Aladdin Project. He said while many factors could contribute to the rise of terrorism, we must not lose sight of the fact that what united all the extremist Islamist groups across the world was their adherence to a lethal political ideology. Muslims must fight back with the tools of tolerance and culture of peace education, religious reform and a return to the centuries-old tradition of treating their faith as a “private” matter and keep it away from politics.

Abdullah Hamidaddin, Saudi columnist and commentator, said there is no “Muslim world” and no “West”, but “Muslim worlds” and many “Wests”. In that sense, the logic of “us versus them” or “Muslims versus the West” should be rejected, as it’s one of the main recruitment themes of all Jihadist groups.

Mohamed Al-Hammadi, Editor in Chief of the Emirates’ most influential daily Al-Ittihad, emphasized the fact that the vast majority of the victims of Islamist terrorists are Muslims and condemned the recent attacks on the freedom of expression in Europe. Professor Mohamed Haddad, UNESCO Chair for the comparative study of religions in Tunisia, Mona Omar, expert on intercultural relations in the Emirates, and Omar Al-Turabi, a journalist and researcher from Sudan, pointed out the various aspects of the work of Al-Mesbar and proposed strategies for intercultural cooperation against the rise of extremism.

The second panel focused on the issue from the point of view of “Europe” and was composed of philosopher Armand Abecassis, Hakim El-Karaoui adviser to former Prime Minister Jean -Pierre Raffarin, Paris senator Bariza Khiari, Mohamed Moussaoui, Hon. Chairman of the French Council for the Muslim Faith and Moshe Lewin, Executive Director of the Conference of European Rabbis.

André Azoulay, Advisor to the King of Morocco and one of the founders of the Aladdin Project, was asked by French television journalist Ulysse Gosset, who moderated the debate, to summarize the discussions. Azoulay praised the strong and unambiguous statements by the Emirati and Saudi speakers “which give us great hope that by working together, we can overcome this huge challenge that threatens not only our relations, but also the very societies we live in.”