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WORKSHOP JOURNAL 2 : “Inter-ethnic & Inter-religious Dialogue: how to overcome cleavages and isolationism?” 27/11/2019

From the Perspective of a Fellow Participant

To start with, the workshop was the occasion to hear about Turkish context regarding multiculturalism. It was very interesting to discover a wider diversity in Turkey than I had knowledge of. I was not aware of how similar French assimilation was to Turkish homogenization. I also did not know that Turkey is marked by such a fear of losing its land, caused by the invasion of European Countries following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after the signature of the Sèvres Treaty. Up until today, this causes heterophobia which leads to discrimination of diverse groups. Nor did i know the discrepancy between the official rhetoric claiming tolerance and the reality: according to research, 42% of Turks do not want to have Greek or Armenian neighbours, and 28% do not want Kurds as neighbours today. While I think that the European Union accession process has contributed positively to diversity and dialogue, as the study revealed, I am worried that it contributed to split population between moderate Islamists and seculars, which now concerns various political and non-political actors such as parties, the parliament, CSOs, companies, the judiciary, universities, the media, and the army. Turkish handling of the refugee crisis was also covered. They had to react fast to the influx and find solutions such as putting in place a Temporary Protection Regulations which provided refugees with health, education, work, public assistance and interpreting services. I found the testimony of one participant, a refugee Syrian woman who stayed some time in Turkey quite interesting. First, she did not observed divisions between ethnic and religious groups during her stay. Then, she expressed that she felt better cared for upon arrival in Turkey than in France, which is certainly due to the Temporary Protection Status and Regulations, which does not exist proper say in France. 

Identity: Our Reflexion in the Mirror

I particularly appreciated the reflection shared by one of the participants regarding her own identity. This reminded me of questions and reflections I had years ago being born French in Alsace to a French dad coming from Ile-de-France Region and a french woman of portuguese origin, while feeling European as part of the Erasmus Generation. While for most of my life I had defined myself as French, I felt the need to redefine myself and reconnect to my Portuguese origins a few years ago. I therefore nowadays define myself as Alsatian, French, Portuguese and European. Just as this participant, I could not rule out an order nor the degree I place in each, since there are days where I feel more like one or the other. I find this truly fascinating that we are free to choose our identity. I remember however that those reflections and new definition of myself were challenging to some family members on the portuguese side of the family. They did not understand how I could define myself Portuguese without speaking the language – I had not chosen to learn it when I had the opportunity in high school for instance –  having lived in the country, or observed “cultural habits or rituals”. Identity is indeed a very personal matter and we all have a different stance to it. 

Beyond Borders & Cleavages

The instrumentalization of both religion and ethnicity by politics was highly criticized and Participants agreed that communities could live better at peace if they got rid of such manipulations. They thus recommended geopolitical education as well a education to political and media manipulation. It is interesting to observe also that people tend to vote for their ethnic and religious group almost regardless of political programmes, which questions people’s responsibility as well. Education by parents also plays its role when it causes or encourages mistrust between groups as well. In fact, both mistrust and manipulations lead to the absence of dialogue, which does not contribute to deconstructing prejudices and stereotypes nor the fear of an imagined other. Geopolitical and intercultural education of young people is therefore essential. Training are possible through European programmes and activities led in European Youth Centres in Strasbourg or Budapest for instance. Believers is an example of the activities used to raise-awareness, openness and kindness. It enables people to exchange on their beliefs and related practices to get to know them, find similarities and differences, question them genuinely and better understand them without judgement. Other good practices that were evoked are classes on cultures and religions as well as visits to places of worship. The best would be to promote and achieve growing up in intercultural contexts, as some of the participants having had that experience are better equipped for those relations, as “naturals” in the matter. What if interculturality was in fact a language that could be learnt just as English, French, Chinese and others? 

Considering and addressing seriously historical memories and traumas of communities was also seen as essential for intercultural relations and dialogue. This can be done through official recognition of traumatic, symbolic or political events for communities (genocides or declaration of independence for example) and efforts towards the community to repair somehow. When these events are not acknowledged by the aggressor this tends on the contrary to stiffen communities in the country of their occurrence but potentially also abroad through the collective memory of the diaspora towards the aggressor group. 

When an Imam promotes citizenship and interculturality, there is poetry in the Oasis 

I particularly enjoyed the afternoon with the interventions of Association CALIMA represented by Mustapha El Hamdani &  Imam Saliou Faye, also an educator promoted Knight in the National Order of Merit by the regional prefect in 2016. Both speakers recommended and advocated for a common set of values and principles such as those of freedom, equality, fraternity, tolerance, solidarity and others as foundations for intercultural dialogue and relations in a democratic Republic. Asked about the rise of nationalism, the Imam encourages national identity in national unity rather than discourses pitting people against each other. As a youth educator, he also advises to explore individuals and take into account their personalities, emotions and various forms of intelligence, to reflect and work with them towards intercultural understanding and dialogue. I particularly value the initiative of the Interreligious Garden “The Oasis of Encounter” to which the Imam took part actively and presented. Despite resistance at first, it is a valuable input to the city and neighbourhood providing a public place for all to enjoy walking or meditating, exchanging with others or gardening, as well as to raise-awareness about religions while discussing and sharing common values and principles with inhabitants of all ages, especially the youth. Breaking the Ramadan fast together with inhabitants of various origins and religion is now a key festive event in the Garden. To me, this garden is a good metaphor also of what intercultural relations should be : peaceful, grounding, thrilling and fruitful. A poet in soul and heart the Imam generously shared with us his Ode to Citizenship & Peace. Musician in his spare time maybe, he also reminded us of interculturality through a musical metaphor : “if we were to have a concert of world music, instrument from all over the world would be required on stage”. Philosopher also, he answers to frustrations felt in working for intercultural dialogue by finding inspiration in nature, “Drop by drop the river flows“, as he says. 

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