Jan Petersen: We must build bridges between Islam and the West

From a speech by the Norwegian Foreign Minister, to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies
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The Independent Online

The reasons why we should build bridges between the West and the Muslim worlds are obvious. There is no lack of screaming headlines, of sensational media reports highlighting real and imagined conflicts between representatives of these two worlds. The issue is high on the international agenda.

The reasons why we should build bridges between the West and the Muslim worlds are obvious. There is no lack of screaming headlines, of sensational media reports highlighting real and imagined conflicts between representatives of these two worlds. The issue is high on the international agenda.

As a contribution to this dialogue, Norway is arranging an international conference on the role of religion in peacemaking and reconciliation next February. Its purpose is to identify areas where religion can play a role in conflict resolution - and to make concrete suggestions for how to anchor peace and reconciliation more deeply in religious beliefs and practices.

Building bridges between the Muslim and Western worlds is also about building bridges within our own societies. It is easy for us to forget this in Norway, with a Muslim population of about 100,000. Most western countries have much larger Muslim populations, and the Middle East has Christian populations. Muslims in Europe and the Americas, and Christians in the Middle East, can play a vital role in bridging gaps within their own societies.

In Norway we have had an organised dialogue between religious communities for the last 10-15 years. This has resulted in greater trust between religious leaders and a number of joint projects such as seminars and dialogue groups. The Norwegian media have also started to show more interest in religious affairs and the relations between faiths. One of the lessons this has taught us is that disagreement on issues such as family life, sexuality and relations between the sexes often does not run along the religious divide, but cuts across it.

Building bridges doesn't mean assimilation or integration. Building bridges means establishing channels for contact, for talks, for the exchange of ideas.

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