Dignity and respect are two echoing messages in the call of Grand Mufti Dr. Shawki Allam for dialogue and trust accross faiths. Dignity and respect are the core of our humanity; they are the basis of trust, and an essential step towards a more peaceful world.
It is not surprising that terrorism targets dignity. The brutal beheading of a hostage in front of a camera aims to violate the dignity of the victim, and of humanity as a whole. If we can build dignity and respect, in particular towards the Muslim world, it will bring us a step closer to a world without terrorism.
I come from the Balkans, where respect for others (and the lack of it) has repeatedly represented the narrow line between peace and war, between prosperity and misery. In my lifetime, I experienced this turn from respect to disrespect. In a matter of a few years, during the 1990s, a country where people respected each other, and which was respected by others, turned into a place of unthinkable atrocities.
We lost the respect of others, and for others. Our dignity was shaken. We experienced this not through harsh words or drastic actions, but during our day-to-day interactions: the cold reception of a consular officer while we were waiting for a visa; the subtle distancing of others, during chance encounters.
After the traumatic experience of the 1990s, the physical infrastructure of the country was re-built quickly, but regaining dignity and self-respect has taken much longer. In this process, it was important to find anchors in our shared history, such as Nikola Tesla, the founder of our electricity-driven era.
Today, the struggle for a more peaceful world coincides with the struggle to ensure respect for the dignity of the Muslim world. It will be a long journey. One anchoring point might be the great Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun. He wrote the Muqaddimah, one of the first texts on sociology, long before the discipline was established by European thinkers such as Durkheim and Weber.
Ibn Khaldun lived in the 14th century, during the last phase of the great cohabitation of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Andalusia. Ibn Khaldun was a diplomat who enjoyed widespread respect, even among his opponents. The Christian monarch, Pedro the Cruel, asked Ibn Khaldun to be his advisor. Ibn Khaldun's impressive life and works, symbolising his great appreciation of dignity and respect for others, inspired me to suggest two activities in response to Grand Mufti Allam's call.
First, I propose the 'Ibn Khaldun Dignity Award', to recognise acts which respect the dignity of others. Nominations would be open to all people in the world.
Second, I suggest an 'Ibn Khaldun Dignity Scholarship', awarded to young researchers who study dignity and respect.
While the journey towards restoring dignity and respect will be long, the first steps must be taken now. I look forward very much to the forthcoming Geneva Lecture. Both the Grand Mufti and Michael Moller will share the feedback they received not only in Davos, but also in European countries both large and small, afterwards. The journey is not only about good words, but about walking the talk and keeping the spirit of listening and implementing.
For more information about the '2016 Annual Dialogue Report' you can consult press release.