July 12, 2008
Jordan's Hassan Fights Faith-based Misunderstanding
The peace-building prince launches new online resource for Muslims and Christians.
A dispatch from one of CT's correspondents in the Middle East:
By Matthew Snyder
Prince El-Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, uncle to Jordan's King Abdullah II, recently launched an internet network aimed at countering the growing tensions between the West and the Arab/Islamic world.
The Electronic Network for Arab West Understanding, or ENAWU project involves the partnership of 12 organizations from across the Middle East and Europe, including the Center for Documentation and Research on Arabic Christianity (CEDRAC, Lebanon) and Prince Hassan's own Arab Thought Forum.
"Noah created an ark for the salvation of humanity," Prince Hassan said. "Can we create an ark for the salvation of our common humanity?"
The Arab world has seen a spike in hostility between Muslims and Christians in recent years. Sectarian violence in Iraq has forced many Iraqi Christians to flee their homeland.
In Egypt, Christian girls often feel pressured to don the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, to avoid harassment. Tensions between Muslim and Christian groups have plagued Lebanon for decades. ENAWU's supporters believe that by providing resources, such as an archive of more than 20,000 articles and reports from Arab media, and encouraging dialog, their project will help to alleviate such tensions.
"The aim is clear," said Father Dr. Samir Khalil, founder and director of CEDRAC. "Understanding the other to arrive at dialog and peace. Understanding does not mean we necessarily agree with the other."
Cornelis Hulsman, editor-in-chief of the Arab West Report and one of ENAWU's directors, strongly emphasized the media watchdog role of the project.
"We have a problem with media reporting that is often selective, biased, and inflammatory," Hulsman said. "We have seen a number of tensions which were directly the consequence of poor reporting and that should be countered."
According to Pakinam Sharqawy, professor of political science at Cairo University, the participation of students will be essential to the success of ENAWU because "dialogue among youth is less politicized, more open ? our youth are more prepared to understand others."
ENAWU is also looking to tap into the contacts and networks of Arab organizations as well as the vast repository of information, and potential participants, on the western shores of the Atlantic.
"We're really hoping to build relations with relevant organizations in the United States," Hulsman said.
In earlier coverage of Prince Hassan, he told CT in an exclusive interview:
I believe in conversation and not in conversion. The study of Christianity or Islam is not just about the ecclesiastical context particular to every faith group. We used to talk with a definite article about "the" monotheistic faiths. Today, I show my respect of the other by talking about monotheistic faiths in the context of a broader partnership for humanity, involving Christians, Muslims, Jews, and nonbelievers for that matter. When you talk about ethics and morality, each faith group has difficulty with the semantics.
Click here for the full interview.