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Peace Education

European Leadership Conference in Netherlands Focuses on Europe and Islam

The complex interactions between Europe and Islam sparked vigorous discussion during a conference on leadership and good governance sponsored by UPF-Europe.

The January 18-20, 2008, conference in Huize Glory, Bergen aan Zee, The Netherlands, featured lectures by Tim Miller, vice-chairman of UPF-Europe, on “UPF’s Founding Principles,” “The Roots of Conflict,” and “Conflict Resolution: The Path to Peace and Cooperation.”

In addressing the topic “Peace and Tolerance in Islam,” A. S. Abdul Santoe, European Coordinator of the Ahmadiyya Lahore Movement for the Propagation of Islam, showed a PowerPoint presentation that portrayed the essentially peaceful and compassionate nature of Islam. He said that while people in the Netherlands have been allowed to make inflammatory statements under the cloak of freedom of expression, the media ignores responses from him and others that highlight the peaceful side of Islam. He suggested that "we should use 'freedom of expression' [while also] recognizing the feelings and moods and holy things of others in our society."

A member of the European Social and Economic Committee in Brussels, Joot P. van Iersel, discussed “Recent European developments in a world in turmoil.” His general thesis was that the European Union had not developed as a tough power but as a very successful soft power, the opposite of the US. He asserted that the European Union was the greatest achievement of peacemaking and peace-keeping, and that, after 80 years of domestic European wars, the formula for peace had been found. Although there are still blocks on the road, he believes that the process is irreversible. Economic considerations have often been overlooked when searching for political solutions; in this case, political goals had been promoted by economic means. As a leading member of the European Movement in the Netherlands and a member of the Dutch Parliament (Second Chamber), on behalf of the CDA, Christian Democratic Party, Mr. van Iersel believes that the EU will continue to exercise influence beyond its borders using 'soft' power.

The talks were followed by lengthy discussion and, as UPF-Netherlands Secretary General Wim Koetsier had previously envisioned, it coalesced into considering the relationship between “Europe” and “Islam.” This new relationship includes the growing Muslim population in Europe, Turkey's application to join the European Union, and Europe's involvement in the affairs of predominantly Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

Mr. van Iersel opined that what seemed to be anti-Islam was really an outcome of the government having allowed uncontrolled immigration. The matter had not been discussed in Parliament for many years, although everyone had talked about it “around the kitchen table.” He further asserted that while there were theological differences between Christianity and Islam (he himself is a Roman Catholic), “the command to behave kindly and respectfully in order to please God is the same,” and that those who attacked Islam seemed to be those who themselves had no belief.

Addressing his comments to the question of whether India and Pakistan could learn from the EU in creating a similar South Asia Union, Mr. Van Iersel suggested that there needed to be more political will. Mr. Santoe opined that the EU was able to develop because of Europe's Christian history—even more than through economic agreements—and that the relations among the differing religious cultures in the Indian subcontinent would also need to be resolved.

Mr. Van Iersel said he was amazed that Islam had been able to survive without having a “chief” or hierarchy, and Mr. Santoe countered that he felt Islam had survived precisely because of this!

There was much more vigorous but good-natured discussion, Mr. Santoe finishing by saying that interreligious cooperation was difficult in the Netherlands, and that even the Muslims could not come together. He said he was grateful to have found within UPF “a forum where we can come together and preach the unity of mankind.”

The discussion was followed by dinner and a cultural evening, with participants entertaining each other, joined by a few additional performers. The evening included “neo-British folk songs,” a genuine Austrian rendering of “Edelweiss,” and an African Anglican clergyman reading a poem by a fellow participant, a British ethnic-Turkish Cypriot. The distinguished Dr. Irma E. Loemban Tobing-Klein, who had represented her native Suriname at the United Nations and now led the Millennium Development Goals watchdog MDG-GlobalWatch, about which she had spoken on Friday evening, read a number of sayings, and an ethnic-Indian magistrate from the UK led a Bollywood dance/work-out. The multi-cultural evening continued with a Hindu prayer chant, Austrian lieder (songs), a Korean folk story, and gospel songs from Ambassador for Peace and gospel diva Ann Harris. Finally, we enjoyed a great mix of Latin American and Beatles songs from Guatemalan native Carlos Figueroa.

Each of these conferences brings together representatives of the diversity of modern Europe. Participants in this conference included a Muslim economist (originally from Algeria) living in Finland, a retired Church of Sweden minister who is also a local Christian Democrat politician, the mayor of a London borough (a Muslim originally from the Indian subcontinent), an Anglican clergyman from Ghana, an interfaith activist and magistrate (of Indian ancestry), the chairman of the UK Hindu Cultural Society, a teacher from London (whose parents were Turkish Cypriots), a Dutch ecologist, and two Hindu women living in the Netherlands.

Comments by participants included
• “I came to learn something about the organization, but I've learned a lot more.”
• “I was really inspired by the lectures; I want to return and help.”
• “I'm overwhelmed by what I've heard here; it has explained a lot about what happens to me.”

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