Remarks by Mustapha Tlili at
The Launch Event of the Conference Report on
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The Century Association, New York City
Dear friends and colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would first like to thank Margaret Ayers, President of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, for making this event possible. With vision and passion, Margaret recognized the importance of the report on “Bridging the Divide Between the United States and the Muslim World through Arts and Ideas: Possibilities and Limitations” and the need for its recommendations to be publicized as widely as possible. The NYU Center for Dialogues is also grateful for a special grant by the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, which greatly aided with the publication and promotion of the report.
Let me also recognize the Ambassadors of Egypt, the Netherlands, and Oman, and thank them for honoring us with their presence here today. Most of the recommendations of the “Bridging the Divide” report are addressed to various U.S. actors, both in government and civil society, but the underlying ideas are highly relevant to the entire international community as it undertakes to strengthen the relationship between the West and the Muslim world. We are most gratified that your Excellencies took time from your busy schedules at the UN General Assembly to participate in this event, and we hope that you will bring the report to the attention of your respective governments.
I also would like to pay homage to someone who has been a strong supporter and partner in this venture since its initial stage three years ago, but who, because of business travel overseas, could not be here today — Stephen Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Stephen’s commitment to building a better relationship between this country and the Muslim world is an inspiration to all of us who appreciate this issue’s importance to world peace and security in this century. I believe I can speak on behalf of my colleagues and partners in the Muslim Voices initiative — Karen Hopkins and Vishakha Desai — in saying how much we owe Stephen for helping realize the “Muslim Voices” project and its conference component on “Bridging the Divide.”
Dear friends and colleagues,
Ladies and gentleman,
Two days ago, I returned from a week of travel that took me first to Berlin, where at a conference on multi–culturalism in Europe, I spoke about the debt European identity owes to Islam and Islamic civilization (the “Lost History,” to quote the title of Michael Morgan’s wonderful book on the subject.) Two days later in Tunis, I was exposed to the work of a group of visionary artists working collectively with the renowned American artist, David Black, who is here among us tonight. Their art transcends all cultural, religious, political, and social divides and achieves a level of universality only aesthetic praxis can produce.
Contrary to my experience on the ground, whatever newspaper or magazine I picked up as I traveled between Berlin, Tunis, and New York inevitably focused on President Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan; the Swiss vote on the minarets; or the French debate over national identity, interpreted by many in France’s Muslim community as an attempt to cast out Islam. All of these news items had one element in common —they depicted a landscape characterized by uncertainty, tension, and major questions about the future of the relationship between the West and the global Muslim community. In this landscape, culture —in various forms and at various levels —plays an important role. For some, if not many, Samuel Huntington’s prophecy of a “clash of civilizations” is proving true. In this country, the Fort Hood tragedy was interpreted by some conservatives as further evidence of that “clash.”
All in all, the political horizon does not seem as promising as we had hoped when the Obama administration came to power. In light of a dangerous deadlock in the Israeli–Palestinian negotiations, an increase in the number of troops being sent to Afghanistan, and an extremely tense relationship with Iran, the question is now: how can culture and cultural exchange play a role in generating the “new beginning” in Muslim–Western relations called for by President Obama’s June 4th address in Cairo?
The report we are releasing today offers a response to this question shaped by two days of intense discussion and debate among an elite group of Muslim and Western scholars, artists, government officials, and cultural practitioners. There was no illusion among the participants that cultural exchange could solve the hard political issues that stand in the way of a better relationship between the two sides, but they unanimously felt the need to learn more about the other, to respect each other, and to understand each other’s history and contributions to world civilization. The participants strongly affirmed the power of arts and culture to thereby decrease tension and create a better environment for the consideration and resolution of hard political issues.
Those who accept the validity of this argument should take the recommendations of the “Bridging the Divide” report seriously. I would like to underline, in particular, three recommendations addressed to the Obama administration:
I would like to call on the administration to consider the implementation of these recommendations with the utmost seriousness and on the U.S. Congress to support this task.
To conclude, I would ask: are we moving toward an inevitable global confrontation between the Muslim world and the West, as various signs seem to indicate? The answer, I maintain, is in our hands. As recent world events attest, it is a matter of utmost urgency. The report on “Bridging the Divide Between the United States and the Muslim World through Arts and Ideas” offers a possible way out. It offers a path of hope. I call on governments and civil society —including foundations, universities, museums, and other cultural institutions —on both sides of the divide: let us resolve to take this path. Together let us seize the moment before it is too late. Before this century becomes forever marked by global confrontation between Islam and the West, let us seize the moment.
Thank you. Enjoy the evening!
Lecture by Dr. Tarek Masoud
New York University’s Silver Center — Jurow Hall
March 14, 2013
Co–sponsored with the Foreign Policy Association and the World Affairs Councils of America
University of Manouba, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Humanities
February 21 — 22, 2013