I have always believed that good communication and education is key to bridging cultural divides, but recent global events have only served to reaffirm my belief. Day after day, the news is full of horrific events across the world, and it is easy to believe that Islamic and Western culture are incompatible. This is not the case. I believe we must work harder than ever to realise that we have more to share than sets us apart, and an incredible amount to learn from each other. There is a global misconception that Muslims in the Middle East harbour strong disdain towards the West, while Westerners see Muslims as lacking tolerance towards other cultures. Yet, if there is anything that the reaction to recent events has shown us, it is that we have more in common than that which divides us.
Over time and through generations, misconceptions become deep-rooted within society and feed into a divided world. Racially motivated hate crimes are continuing to rise across the UK. Home Office reports show that since 2012 there has been a 27 per cent increase. I believe that this frightening statistic represents a far wider lack of cultural integration and understanding that is mirrored around the globe.
So far, 2017 has been marred by global terror attacks. There has never been a more urgent time to foster mutual respect and build understanding whatever our race, nationality or religious creed. I believe that through education, young people are the bridge to building a more united world. We know first-hand that education is the greatest tool to teaching tolerance and fostering a mutual respect between people. What is required is a global collective effort to provide platforms for the integration of young people.
The Edinburgh Alwaleed Centre is committed to encouraging a better understanding of Islam and Islamic culture through ground-breaking research and innovative outreach projects. Edinburgh is a truly global city that has a special place in my heart. It is home to one of the many world-class Prince Alwaleed academic centres and located in the university’s hub, George Square. I believe it is the perfect place for Saudi students to experience the incredible Scottish hospitality and beauty.
I am accompanying 100 under-privileged men, women and students from the King Abdulaziz Centre for National Dialogue in Saudi Arabia on a month-long trip to Scotland’s capital giving them the opportunity to learn, share and build lasting friendships between the East and the West. During this exchange they will have the opportunity to taste Scottish food, learn to ceilidh and study English whilst experiencing the warm welcome of the Scottish people. In return, our students will showcase Arab art and calligraphy, share Saudi food and teach language lessons. Nothing like this has ever been done before. We will bring together students who live such different lives in order to enjoy our individual cultures.
It is work like this that is at the heart of Alwaleed Philanthropies, with six centres across the world, including Cambridge, Harvard and Georgetown. Whilst I am proud of this ground-breaking project, it is only a beginning. I know that removing the barriers that hold societies far apart is beyond the power of any single organisation. If we are to overcome the negative forces that wish to divide us, there must be a united global effort to teach tolerance, acceptance and understanding. Only through fostering this can we hope to build a more peaceful world.
This post first appeared in The Edinburgh Evening News.