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The Atlantic-Ural College

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union announced the end of a bipolar world in which two ideologies opposed each other: Soviet communism versus capitalism. As in nature, voids in geopolitics are soon filled; as a result, new divisions appeared and others reappeared.

They are no longer simply ideological, as in the past, but also self-defining and in the worst cases, ethnic, nationalistic, and religious.

In this modern world, we can see the worrying rise of these different actors. The driving factors involved are varied and numerous. To begin with, we must underline the ignorance, preconceptions, arbitrary simplifications, and misleading lies. These destructive attitudes are not particular to any country, but they affect nations on every continent. The examples of the different crises in the Balkans have shown us that even Europe must guard itself against these issues.

To break through the barriers and obstacles presented by ignorance, it is essential to establish respectful dialogue focused on true and sincere mutual understanding.

Before going any further, I would like to come back to the Huntington theory, to better demonstrate the necessity for dialogue and / or dialogues. He describes, in his conceptual model, a new international relations mechanism which became apparent after the fall of the Soviet block at the end of the 1980’s. He demonstrated that antagonism exists within civilizations in which culture and religion occupy a central place. They are no longer single nations which oppose each other, as in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but civilizations or “civilizational areas”.

There are limits to such an analysis: the sectioning of the world into different civilizations is arbitrary and the author himself recognizes, in some cases, the weakness of certain choices of “civilizational areas”. Islamic civilization, for example, masks the extreme complexity of different regional tendencies and eventual internal conflicts. Utilizing knowledge about each other acquired through open dialogue, we could avoid these dualistic views and analyses.

As human history has shown us, civilizations are not mutually impermeable. They have always built themselves based on their ability to integrate outside contributions and to exchange, to give and receive, without it leading to automatic and implacable conflicts. Miscegenation is another phenomenon of these intercultural exchanges which is a bearer of hope. An excessively dualistic interpretation, like that of Huntington, of our post Cold War world can legitimize policies which would have a tendency to confer a certain reality: it is the result of self realizing prophecies.

One notices that everywhere in the world, individuals and groups have developed aspirations which are pacifistic, democratic and respectful of individual differences, thereby favoring open mindedness towards the outside. Defenders of pacifistic diversity, both constructive and harmonious, offer ideas, debates, and participate in the construction and enrichment of a humanistic vision of the world.

In multiethnic countries, dialogue and cultural cooperation is developed between different groups originating from the local communities. They are the true actors in the prevention policies against future conflicts.

As in this case, for example, of the “Universities for Peace” of Lourdes.

Since 2000, in the Pyrenean city of Lourdes, an event has been taking place with a theme centered on Peace. Previously, all we could find in the event program was a large concert in August. The assistant to the Mayor of Lourdes, Michel Azot, decided to enrich the program of two or three days by including dialogue and debate between different cultures and religions. This leads us to present the “Charter of Lourdes for peace” which was signed this year by delegates from Palestine, Israel, Tibet, and others. In this charter, we find the founding principles and actions to be taken, I cite:

- respect for human beings and life;

- learning about others : their roots, history, culture, and convictions;

- organization of meetings, and the search for dialogue.

It is on the basis of these three principles that today’s “Universities for peace” were born. The next session is planned to take place in Lourdes from the 15th to the 17th of May 2009.

To continue the work which will lead us to Lourdes, we can present the visit of a Najaf government representative, Ahmed al-Fatwi. This visit underlined the historic importance, international reputation, and multi-religious spirituality of the city of Lourdes. During the exchanges which followed the presentation, a decision was made to tie the knot between our two municipalities. It is the first time that a city, whose principle religion is Islam, shows such a clear will for rapprochement. It is a perspective which could allow a determined approach towards dialogue between our two religions. In 2012, Najaf will be the capital of Islamic culture. This could be an occasion for meetings and exchanges between our two countries. Look at how two cities are already working together for peace.

Prior to this, from the 13th to the 15th of September, the city of Lourdes welcomed the Pope before 180,000 pilgrims who followed him from Paris or who had travelled to see the “new” Pope and hear his words. Words of love, hope, and peace formed the main message of Pope Benedict the 16th. “The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us…”. This is what the Pope stated in the mass held to mark the 150th anniversary of the visions of Lourdes on Sunday the 14th of September.

I would like to underline some other facts which carry hope in the dialogue between Christianity and Islam like the letter sent to Pope Benedict 16th by 138 Muslims scholars, or the visit of King Abdellah of Saudi Arabia to the Holy See.

There are numerous other initiatives similar to that of the city of Lourdes. Many believers and non-believers desire dialogue in order to build a more peaceful world. The reason I chose this example is due to the fact that I participated and I believe that one can only speak of what one knows. It is essential that we all work together to give our children and future generations a more beautiful world.


PS: I wish to thank the city of Lourdes and the Italian communications company, MAB.q (Paris, Milan, and Rome) for sending to me the first issue of the “Universities for Peace of Lourdes” newsletter. Its articles allowed me to present to you this passage.