Reducing the knowledge gap between Islam and the West was one of the key themes of the World Tolerance Summit organised by the International Institute for Tolerance as part of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives.
With discrimination and racism spreading in the West, more than 1,000 officials, social activists and academics gathered in Dubai to set the tone on tolerance.
“We are in dire need for the dissemination of tolerance,” said Saudi Princess Lamia Bint Majed Saud Al Saud, secretary-general of Alwaleed Philanthropies. “The best policy is moderation. After 9/11, pressure on Islam and Saudi Arabia led to the creation of Alwaleed Philanthropies to make the world better understand who Muslims and Saudis are.”
Through centres in Harvard, Cambridge, the American University of Cairo and other locations, the organisation focuses on social development, education, health care and infrastructure.
“We work on women and youth empowerment, providing assistance in times of disaster and looking to reduce the gap between Islam and the West,” Princess Lamia said. “We produce research that helps governments to help Arabs and Muslims in these countries have a better life.
“Tolerance is accepting others and refraining from judging others. Saudi women have an issue in particular because there is an idea, especially in the West, that we are persecuted. But nobody knows us. They talk about us but no one speaks to us.”
She said people should give women a chance and understand their circumstances. “In the Gulf Cooperation Council GCC, we’re tribal,” she added. “We have our traditions, which might not be understood by the West, and we might not understand their traditions but we accept them.”
She mentioned the importance of plurality and the need to avoid differentiating based on race, ethnicity, religion or geography. With the objective to make the world a better place, the organisation aims to ensure gender equality.
“Our work is to transmit what is happening on the ground to decision makers for them to take more informed decisions,” Princess Lamia said, “but we lack a lot of statistics in this part of the world. We have many surveys and statistics we need to develop to know the gaps or shortcomings and find out where there are misconceptions. We should work on correcting misconceptions.”
Faisal bin Muaammar, secretary-general of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Austria, said there is a need to strengthen and encourage peace and cultural diversity through religious values, education, media and cultural values.
“We also need government guidance,” he said. “We have to provide necessary programmes that will help us tackle such problems. Tolerance has a long way to go but in our history, religion, culture and heritage, it is vital.”
Experts spoke of a retreat on multilateralism, with a growing number of leaders who try to create their own identity rather than building diversity.
“What I’ve been seeing in recent times in the Western world is a rise of intolerance and racism,” said Adama Dieng, special adviser on the Prevention of Genocide at the United Nations. “Migrants and refugees are being humiliated and dehumanised, which reminds us of what happened in Europe ahead of World War II when Jews were being used as scapegoats and Europe remained at the time silent. That led Hitler to mount his troops.”
He pointed to events around the world, where people are being killed because of who they are, their identity, religion or physical characteristics.
“In 1994, 800,000 people were killed because they were Tutsis,” said Dieng. “A year later, 8,000 Muslim Bosnians were killed and, today, the Rohingya population is being killed simply because of who they are, which shouldn’t be accepted.
“You can’t have peace or security where you are not taking action to prevent exclusion.”
The United Arab Emirates enacted an anti-discrimination law in 2015, a move GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani said the GCC should follow.
“Institutions are required to work together,” he said. “We need centres, training courses and detailed programmes and we should focus on educational programmes and sustainable educational coping with the current era to prepare the youth for the future.
“It’s a holistic approach including everyone to make tolerance a fundamental principle and a reality. Tolerance is a must to realise the peace and prosperity we want.”
He said development would not be attainable without tolerance and peace, which leaders must exhibit.
“We have big challenges ahead of us given the circumstances in the region,” he added. “Threats are constantly evolving so we hope the governments of the future will be agile and [embrace] change, engaging everyone and developing legislations that don’t discriminate. They should be able to put in place the institutions we need and we want the GCC to be the basis for more development.”
Curricula, school teachers and mothers were also called on to pass on a more tolerant message to children. “They must be well prepared to entrench tolerance and positive ideas in the minds of children,” said former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. “It’s crucial to get youth on the right path.”
During the summit, themed “Prospering from Pluralism: Embracing Diversity through Innovation and Collaboration,” UAE Tolerance Minister Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan introduced the National Research Project on Tolerance to strengthen tolerance among individuals, families, local communities and around the world. He also announced the establishment of the Global Tolerance Alliance to promote tolerance throughout the world.
“Only successful pluralism, supported by useful research and positive dialogue, can guarantee a peaceful future in the world,” he said. “Tolerance thrives on education and knowledge, all forms of communication and the creation of local and global partnerships that enhance hope in the future and promote peace, prosperity and a dignified life for all.”