The Image of the Other -- a New Paradigm

I flew on Austrian Airlines to Vienna three days ago with Palestinians and Jews from Israel and Palestine who were invited by the new King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID) On the airplane we were all talking about how remarkable it is that Jews and Palestinians had the opportunity to meet educators from all over the world, at the invitation of the government of Saudi Arabia. All of this in one of the most important cultural capitals in Europe, which only 70 years ago was under the control of German and Austrian Nazism, which wrought so much destruction and damage in Europe and the world.

So much has changed for the better in recent decades, but all too many people in the world are unfamiliar with these surprising educational and cultural developments, which is why I take the trouble to share these reflections on this blog.

The KAICIID center was inaugurated just one year ago, and during the last year it has been focusing on regional conferences which led to the global conference this week in Vienna on the theme of "the Image of the Other" in interreligious and intercultural education. Since this has been my main work in Israel for the past 22 years, I was eager to learn from other educators from around the world what they are doing in this field.

During these past few days, I was inspired by many people --and especially by the KAICIID team-- and by their deep commitment to the power of dialogue and education in bringing about mutual understanding and the respect of each other's culture and religion. I have been saying this for many years, and have often felt very lonely, so I was grateful for the opportunity to discover many colleagues who are also strongly committed to this.

In particular, I was deeply impressed by the opening remarks of the Secretary-General of KAICIID, Faisal Bin Abdurahman Bin Muaammar, who said quite clearly that the aim of his center is "to provide a new paradigm for tackling the challenges of fostering interreligious and intercultural understanding." He explained quite cogently that "through dialogue , we facilitate aspirations that are common to all communities."

Some of the objectives of "the image of the other" program of the global forum are:

-To identify and communicate best practices in interreligious and intercultural education across the world.

Indeed, in one of the workshops, I shared our best practices from 22 years of dialogue experience from my work with the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel

-To act as a link that connects researchers, practitioners, educators, funders and policymakers in order to develop a cross-border community of individuals in the field;

-To expand the use of culturally sensitive and local models of education.

In this context, I was able to share some of the achievements as well as some of the obstacles in our work in interreligious dialogue, education and action in Israel;

- To identify strengths and opportunities to enhance interreligious and intercultural education in a variety of contexts.

In one of the workshops that I attended at the global forum, we talked about new technologies and dialogue. In this session, we focused on the importance of using social networking -- Facebook, blogs, twitter, youtube, and websites -- to get our positive message of peaceful coexistence out there. It was a difficult session since many people admitted that the hate mongers are doing more and better with social networking than we are. Nevertheless, there is much that we can begin to do now with the new social media to promote mutual understanding towards the goal of learning to live together. Many good ideas were raised as to how to begin to do this more effectively.

At the end of the closing dinner, I had the opportunity to meet with the Saudi Secretary General of KAICIID personally. We had an engaging and fascinating conversation and I told him that I hope to be able to welcome him in Jerusalem some day. He hinted that when there is a successful peace agreement, this indeed would be possible! My immediate response was "Inshallah," which is Arabic for "With the help of God."

Who would have imagined only a few years ago that a rabbi from Israel could enter into a fruitful dialogue with a religious and cultural leader from Saudi Arabia on the soil of one of the countries which collaborated in the attempt at annihilation of the Jewish People during the Holocaust?

Maybe some paradigms are shifting and we are witness to new cultural, religious and educational trends in the world. Inshallah!