Cultural Workshop To Bridge West-Muslim Divide

    France is launching a “cultural workshop” starting in September in a bid to promote understanding between the West and the Islamic world, the diplomat in charge of the project said Thursday. The workshop, which is the brainchild of French President Jacques Chirac, will hold its first session in Paris on September 13-15, ambassador-at-large Jacques Huntzinger told AFP. Huntzinger, in Doha to attend an inter-faith dialogue, said the workshop aims at “countering the risk of the development of misunderstandings, prejudices and fear among peoples and civil societies” on the two banks of the Mediterranean. According to a presentation of the project, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the second session will be held in the Spanish city of Seville February 7-9, 2007 and the third in the Egyptian port of Alexandria in June next year. Participants in the “dialogue of peoples and cultures” will come from non-governmental organizations although organizers will seek the support of the governments concerned. “The platform must be given to historians, educators, researchers and new thinkers on both banks. With the help of the media, satellite channels and the Internet, they will know how to fight stereotypes,” the document says. The series of workshops will be open to Arab countries of the Maghreb, Levant and Gulf, in addition to Israel, Turkey and member states of the European Union. Themes to be debated will range from the role of media to the relationship between society and religion in secular systems and those based on sharia, or Islamic law. The need for an inter-cultural dialogue was highlighted by the crisis sparked by the publication of cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed in European papers, which infuriated Muslims across the world, according to the document. The cartoons row showed the degree to which “the Arab-Islamic world resents the West, notably Europe,” a feeling which can resurface any time, the document warns. Preparations for the dialogue are taking place in close cooperation with Spain and with the backing of Egypt, it said.

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