Intercultural dialogue: response to which problems?
The first of a series of four seminars dedicated to Islam, Christianity and Europe, the seminar held on 17 April 2008 in the European Parliament (Brussels) took the form of a panel discussion among Islamic and Christian experts. They exchanged views on the urgent necessity and aims for intercultural dialogue in Europe.
“The European Union must be more than just an economic space,” Rev Rüdiger Noll, Moderator of the seminar and Director of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches emphasized in his introduction. “The European project must be a project of and for its people, it must be a project based on commonly shared values. This is why the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue is so important”, he added. “With the series of these seminars we, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU (COMECE), the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and the Commission for Church and Society of the CEC (Conference of European Churches), wish to contribute to the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue in promoting dialogue and values such as human dignity, tolerance and freedom of religion and belief.”
Prof. Dr Ural Manco, sociologist of religions at the Facultés universitaires Saint-Louis (Brussels), focused his intervention on Muslims in Western Europe who came to Europe in the course of the last 50 years. He insisted that in our present context (the post-industrial era) where the individual is supreme, persons feel the need to constantly affirm themselves and their identity in every instance. Otherwise they have a sense of being unrecognised. Thus for many migrants, Islam is a way of affirming themselves as persons in the Western society. Affirming ones religious identity as a Muslim is a way of affirming themselves and achieving recognition. For those who consider and feel that their work or profession does not win them recognition, their religious adherence provides them with a way of affirming their identity and thus gaining recognition.
Religions have their internal obstacles and problems, explained Imam Tareq Oubrou, Rector of Al-Houda Mosque, Bordeaux (France). He therefore underlined the necessity to find ways to avoid that interreligious dialogue substitutes itself for intra-religious dialogue, which should be aimed at addressing each religion’s specific problems. Imam Oubrou said he represents orthodox Islam, that considers that there is a need for a theological dialogue, referring to the numerous passages in the Koran which mention diversity and tolerance. This orthodox theology of openness towards diversity is very important and he regrets that Muslims haven’t done their theological homework. He also considered that Christianity can teach a great deal on secularism and modernity to the Muslims and that they should rely on the experience of Christians in this respect.
Fr Ignace Berten, Dominican, a founder of the ‘Espaces’ Association (Brussels) explained that integration is becoming more difficult for immigrants from North-Africa and Turkey due to a widening cultural gap and also because of the high unemployment of these immigrants due to lack of skills.
According to him, the 2nd and 3rd generation of Muslims are characterised by young people who suffer from an identity crisis. Solutions to this difficulty to integrate can be found in education, social assistance and a better knowledge of each others history. In comparative terms, he also noted that Christianity has succeeded in seeing its religious texts in their historical contexts, and so has been able to distinguish between the basic Faith and what is in fact related to culture.
By way of conclusion to the panel discussion, Ms Ramona Nicole Mănescu, MEP (ADLE-RO) underlined the difficulties encountered in achieving a real intercultural dialogue; she asserted that discrimination existing towards Muslims can lead to anti-Western feelings. Although the Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantees the right to freedom of religion, more should be done. The increase of Islamophobia is an obstacle for dialogue.
She suggested that European citizens should discover the cultural contribution of Islam to European culture and civilization. She also restated the necessity to fully engage organisations and Churches in the process of creating a dialogue, without forgetting a more local approach (streets, neighbourhoods, individuals).MEP Mănescu underlined the special contribution women who, with their greater tendency to empathy, can bring to a successful intercultural dialogue. Finally she emphasized that the concept of open borders should not only refer to borders between countries but also to borders between people and cultures.
As a part of their contribution for the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE), the Church and Society Commission (CSC) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), in association with Muslim partners, organise a series of seminars under the overall theme of “Islam, Christianity and Europe”.
The main rationale is to expose the complexity of issues linked to Islam, Christianity and Europe and by doing that to question stereotypes.
Each seminar is to be arranged in the form of a panel discussion with a moderator, an academic expert, a Muslim speaker, a Christian speaker and a Member of the European Parliament in charge of the synthesis.
The seminars are hosted by the European Parliament in Brussels.
The next seminar will be held 29 May 15:00-17:00 in the European Parliament
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