At the close of the conference, Mustapha Tlili, founder and director of Dialogues and coconvener of the event, noted the positive tone that had characterized the debates. These had not been easy discussions especially in the context of divisive international events, but the group managed to strike the proper balance between honest, no holds–barred exchange and joint construction of a positive vision of the future.
A major challenge facing both this gathering and the Muslim and Western civilizations at large is that of finding lasting ways to work and live together. Meanwhile, each culture is undergoing massive and rapid transformations and thereby altering perceptions of itself and of others. The resulting opportunity to improve relationships demands a role for those able to speak “better” for Islam and the West. This forum, it is hoped, will be reconvened annually to facilitate that process.
The conference was formally brought to a close by Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak, deputy prime minister of Malaysia, who also applauded the spirit of cooperation and understanding that characterized its proceedings. Mr. Abdul Razak noted that the early–21st century has been a troubled period characterized by fracture, confusion, violence, and a Muslim–Western relationship fraught with tension and mistrust. This unfortunate state of affairs has contributed to a rise in intolerance, brought into sharp focus by the Danish cartoons crisis.
By rationally and dispassionately tackling the issues of who speaks for Islam and who speaks for the West, this conference has managed to distance itself productively from the currents of anger and hatred that underlie civilizational mistrust. It has also attempted to allow the reasoned and cultured voices of the many tolerant Muslims and Westerners to come to the forefront of the dialogue.
To be certain, Muslims and Westerners will always hold different worldviews grounded in their own philosophical traditions as well as their distinct historical experiences. Yet the process pursued here can contribute to mutual understanding. Although solutions will not immediately materialize, the exercise itself and the wide dissemination of its results—beyond academe and expert groups—will sow seeds of greater understanding between Islam and the West.