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DOHA’ S NINTH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON INTERFAITH DIALOGUE

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.jp-newsgate.net/en/2011/10/30/1586/#more-1586 DOHA’ S NINTH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON INTERFAITH DIALOGUE 30/10/2011 By Anna Koulouris
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      http://www.jp-newsgate.net/en/2011/10/30/1586/#more-1586

      DOHA’ S NINTH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
      30/10/2011

      By Anna Koulouris

      More than 240 clergymen, scientists, politicians and scholars from 60
      countries met on October 24th at the ninth annual Doha International
      Conference on Interfaith Dialogue sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign
      Affairs, the Doha International Center Interfaith Dialogue and Qatar
      University.

      The three-day event, held at the Sheraton Hotel in Doha, focused on
      social media’s growing presence and effect on inter-religious dialogue.
      In the wake of the Arab Spring, the conference sought to evaluate social
      media’s role in the revolutions and raise the question of whether such
      communication technology could have a positive role in interfaith relations.

      “It’s a must to discuss this,” said DICID chairman Ibrahim Saleh
      Al-Naimi in an opening address referencing developments in the Middle
      East since the beginning of this year. “There is a lot of communication
      and not enough dialogue,” he said.

      Qatar’s Minister of Justice, H.E. Mr. Hassan bin Abdulla Al Ghanim,
      mentioned the importance of amplifying the positive aspects of social
      media and minimizing the negative.

      “Without tolerance of the other, it can be a method of hatred,” said Al
      Ghanim.

      Archimandrite Makarios, representative of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and
      priest of St. Isaac and St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Doha
      attended the conference, along with Deacon Dmitry Safonov from the
      Moscow Patriarchate.

      “This is not just about co-existence, it’s about symbiosis, which is
      much more,” said Fr. Makarios. “It’s the fruit of this dialogue that
      we’re recognized by the State and live next to the citizens of Qatar.”

      In the eyes of the Orthodox Church, the focus of the interfaith dialogue
      is for the people of not only Qatar, but the entire region, to be closer
      and know more about each other. It’s not only for the sake of knowledge
      of the other, but to cultivate symbiosis with those from different
      religious and national backgrounds, said Fr. Makarios.

      In addition to Orthodox clerical representation there were lay people
      from Serbia, Romania and the United States present at the conference.

      Workshops taught by experts in the field were offered for beginner and
      intermediate levels of proficiency in social media use throughout the
      conference. Meanwhile, main themes of discussion included social media’s
      history and development, positive and negative consequences, impacts on
      religious and local communities, and steps needed to create regulations
      within a framework of ethics.

      Some addressed the implications of globalization on inter-religious
      dialogue, of which social media is an unequivocal part.

      “The consequences of globalization are yet to be calculated,” said Rabbi
      Henry Sobel of Brazil. Globalization doesn’t foster true fellowship,
      although it can facilitate dialogue, he said, suggesting that nothing
      can replace a face-to-face encounter.

      Dr. Aisha Al-Tayiab agreed with the panels that in-person contact is
      irreplaceable. “If people aren’t brought up to respect others, they
      won’t develop the proper ideas and behaviors later on,” she said. But
      she was less critical of the role social media can play when it’s used
      for positive social and political change.

      As a Tunisian, she watched the impact of especially Facebook, on the
      youth of her country as they collectively pressured their president Zine
      al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee.

      “I come from a country that experienced quantum leaps,” she said.
      “Facebook in the first days of revolution was so important; it was a
      control room.”

      As the Tunisian example, along with many others has shown, young people
      have been most empowered by developments in social networking.

      Hundreds of millions of young users are joining social media sites in a
      fraction of the time it’s ever taken to mobilize mass groups of people
      in the past, and they upload years worth of content each day.

      With secular movements on the rise in parts of the world, one concern
      was where religious conversation can fit into the picture.

      “The computer uses up a lot of productive time, especially from the
      youth,” said Bishop Sebouh Sarkisian from Iran.

      He said that it was a duty of the churches, temples and mosques to teach
      morality and proper use of technology to the young people who will in
      turn make good use of the tools at their disposal and reach out to one
      another in acceptance.

      Whereas young people might have an advantage in making use of the
      technology, it was suggested that the older generation can offer the
      wisdom and knowledge of the faiths that seem to lose their centralized
      authority in the virtual world of the Internet.

      “Any communication between persons of differing religious points of view
      is sometimes described as dialogue – it’s not,” said Dr. Edward Kessler
      from the United Kingdom. “Once a message is posted online, control is
      lost and someone else may interpret what you’re tying to achieve as
      something else.”

      A widely recognized problem with social media was its capability to
      create wedges between people. Several clergy members suggested that
      reaching out to others with love, as the Abrahamic traditions prescribe,
      generates more love, and that social media offers a unique chance to
      demonstrate love and kindness on a global scale.

      “It’s not just a communication tool, it’s a connection tool,” said
      Professor William Vendley from the US. “The truly beautiful lies vested
      in the ugly.”

      Several panelists gave examples of how their small grass-roots efforts
      reached a global scale due to the megaphone effect of social media.
      These projects, whether for charity or to combat stereotypes,
      transcended national and cultural borders.

      “We speak of the Arab World, but in reality today – Arab community,
      European community, African community, Asia, US – we are inextricably
      bound,” said Jesse Jackson, African-American civil rights leader and
      Baptist minister. “We are one world.”

      Reflecting on the past decade, Jackson labeled the transformation in the
      Arab world as a “bottom-up desire for change,” which was facilitated by
      social media. “Social media is serving to empower, inform and organize
      individuals and generated a feeling that change is real, can happen, and
      can be sustained.”

      In the concluding session, final remarks were given by H.E. Abdel Rahman
      Mohammad Hassan Suwar Al-Dahab, former president of Sudan, Bishop
      Camillo Ballin of Italy, Professor Faruk Caklovica of Bosnia and
      Herzegovina, and Rabbi Herschel Gluck of the United Kingdom.

      All participants of the conference were invited to attend dinner and
      tours of Doha’s Souq Waqif, Museum of Islamic Art, and cultural quarter
      Katara, where the Tribeca Film Festival will continue through the last
      week of October.
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