Sunday, October 16, 2005

Search Common Ground: Arab Grassroots Initiatives For Peace

Beirut, Lebanon
July 14, 2005

“The London bombs were a terrible crime killing innocent people: this is not Islam, they were anti-Islamic acts” explained director, Dr. Salah Eddin Kuftaro, of Islamic Studies Center, The Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Foundation, to an international youth group participating in a two week long interfaith dialogue workshop.

The London bombings taking place the day before increased the relevance and poignancy of the workshop.

Made up of Muslim and Christian Arabs, and Christian European and American youths between the ages of 20 and 30, the group of 28 people came together for two weeks to participate in study and community building work sessions and panel discussions organized by the non-governmental organization, Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD), based in Lebanon.

The purpose of the workshop: for individuals to feel comfortable to undo the negative stereotypes steeped in fear and ignorance of the other. To find tools to build bridges for harmony and respect between the different communities, which make up the mosaic of the world.

According to Kuftaro the attacks in London were the work of extremists defined as: “those who don’t recognize the other”, and who paint in a broader context a negative and erroneous picture of Islam.

It is precisely this attitude of negating the existence of the other that Kuftaro and the founder of the FDCD, Sam Rizk, are actively trying to combat through promoting interfaith dialogue. As Kuftaro explained to the youth group: “We need to complete each other through dialogue”.

Kuftaro used what happened in London to emphasize the importance of dialogue both on the local and international levels. “We should deal with extremists not in the American way of setting up Guantanamo, but in dialogue. In dialogue, extremist would not stand”. Kuftaro’s words expressed on the last day of the conference sealed the purpose of the workshop in real
life terms.

Back in Beirut, the young and energetic Sam Rizk explains in the headquarters of the year and a half old NGO that interfaith dialogue is an important element to conflict resolution: “We are a civil society organization with the aims of promoting
empowerment and solidarity, justice with peace, and dialogue between communities.”

Although a secular organization advocating humanrights and dignity, Sam is clear to explain that all tools are important to use when it comes to empowering communities. Interfaith awareness and dialogue are fundamental elements to community building and survival: “You cannot untie religion from society as it is an integral to all communities in the region. Since one of our goals is to reduce community tensions and conflict through dialogue and diapraxis, religious institutions can have positive influence”. Sam continued: “Communities don't open on their own”.

So in a move to open communities, Sam wanted the youth group to get as much exposure to various communities as possible.

Sitting in on seminars in Lebanon focused on Christian and Islamic texts; doing community work; participating in social activities; and attending Sunday mass and Friday Prayers in Syria, Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Danish, French, American, and Canadian youths came together to explore and find tools in search of common ground.

In light of the London bombings, Sam’s conviction of reaching harmony, justice and peace within communities has gotten even stronger: “We plan to organize the conference again next year, and if possible make it more than an annual event.”

And a true believer in the positive impact of grass roots initiatives Sam explained: “We hope for everything we do to have a multiplying effect by increasing awareness on the grassroots level”. Building trust between communities starts with one
person at a time reaching out to the other: “it is important for individuals and communities to be counted for.”