Dialogue - a feel good activity or our last chance?

Dialogue - a feel good activity or our last chance?

20 Apr 2016

We are in the middle of loosing another generations’ global battle, against the ever strong forces, which divide along the lines of nationalities, religious belief and so called "race". If we do not finally start to learn to fight against all forms of racism and discrimination, together, we will never be able to put children into a world that does not hate because of who we pray to, where we are born, or the colour of our skin.

Governments and international organizations spend enormous amounts of time and money on programs to fight racism, anti-Semitism, other forms of bigotry and hate crimes through laws, internet regulations, and various forms of security. In order to be sustainable and have effective impact, however, governments must consider how to allot their support more appropriately. It is often Civil Society Organizations that are fighting most directly and proactively to prevent intolerance in all of its forms.

Yet despite the importance of this work, the proportion spent to support on-the-ground work by Civil Society Organizations is hardly sufficient.
The Muslim Jewish Conference was founded in 2010 in response to the problems that both of our communities face, particularly anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bias and hatred. Since the first MJC in 2010, we have gathered more than 600 young Jewish and Muslim global leaders for dialogue, grassroots coalition building, and friendship.

As the young leaders of tomorrow know, dialogue and mutual collaboration are some of the best ways to prevent racism and hatred. Organizations in the field have the ability to reach every member of our societies. We believe that the system we have established at the Muslim Jewish Conference, led by the next generation of leaders, is working.

To create situations in which united Muslim and Jewish voices speak out against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism - publicly - crucial steps remain to be taken. Together we must:

  • Build trust and understanding
  • Find language to communicate respectfully
  • Sensitize and educate young community leaders
  • Call our leaders to joint action
  • Share tools and methodologies
  • Support sustainable efforts over the long-term
  • Enable, strengthen, and empower local grassroots organisations

MJC participants have been at the forefront of issues in their communities. They are directors of local and national NGOs; civil, human and women’s rights activists; academics; emerging business leaders; policymakers; humanitarian aid workers; spiritual leaders; journalists; community and university leaders. Most importantly – they have become family.

We at the Muslim Jewish Conference have reason to believe we are implementing the right strategy and using the right tools. Today, alumni are keeping in touch with each other and reaching out in times of strife. They are helping each other to fight against intolerance from all directions.

They are not only transformed, they have become agents of positive change around the world.

Conference participants, who belong to all faiths and affiliations, are working together and supporting each other in developing and implementing projects that promote interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue.

With discernment and determination, this is what hundreds of Muslims and Jews have done since the refugee crisis was at its peak last summer:

Drawing from the pool of resources and skills within MJC´s alumni and volunteers, we were able to intervene swiftly, and with good intelligence, addressing the urgent needs of the thousands of people crossing our borders. Through a jointly created Facebook group, website, and on-the-ground coordination, we were able to connect individual and group actions and direct the many who wanted to help to those who knew where, and how, help was needed.

When Muslims and Jews risk their reputations in their home communities - and sometimes even more - in order to create dialogue cafes and initiatives, Muslim Jewish cookbooks and calendars, Facebook groups with thousands of members that share information in mutual respect...

When Jews and Muslims produce movies, exhibitions, and art projects about the history of their communities saving each other's lives in times of need...

When they co-create toolkits embedded within their diverse national contexts...

When Jews and Muslims, leaders of today and tomorrow, mourn together at Babi Yar, at Srebrenica, at Mauthausen, and share one another's pain...

When they come together in the middle of a Gaza crisis in order to have at least one meaningful exchange with the other side...

When participants go on to become the presidents of youth and student organizations...

When a small art piece, drawn by an MJC alumni in the aftermath of the Paris attacks reaches 25.000 people over social media with a message of unity in times of online hate and confrontation...

When 140 change-makers from more than 50 countries come to the Muslim Jewish Conference every year, to talk to each other instead of about each other because it is the only place where they are able to do so...

In such circumstances, interfaith and intercultural dialogue between young leaders of today needs to be taken seriously as a crucial tool for prevention of hate crimes and racism - just as security institutions are taken seriously as tools of protection.

By making a serious effort to empower volunteer-run initiatives and organisations, enabling civil society to exchange, connect, share experiences and to coordinate effectively, government and philanthropic support can have real, ongoing effects on the ground, giving life to the notion about which we all agree: the importance of innovative, effective, and sustainable networks of cooperation.

In every other area of public importance today, a tradition of sharing best practices is common and vital for the given field to succeed and develop.

Yet in our world of interfaith and intercultural engagement and collaboration, most organizations actively working on these issues are struggling to survive.

This work needs more expertise and more seasoned facilitators. Unfortunately, interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue cannot be adequately taught in a university setting alone. We must learn it by doing it. We are so incredibly lucky today that all over Europe and around the globe, determined and fearless individuals have taken up these challenges and have slowly become experts by learning from their mistakes and victories along the way. But these activists are also thinking of starting families at some point in their life, or want to be able to pay into pension plans. Let's give them the means and financial support to train and educate subsequent generations of European and world citizens. Give them time, give them safe spaces, give them know-how, give them a perspective on their potential impact. Encourage and implement the ground-breaking projects that they co-produce, and I guarantee you, the progress we see at MJC can be multiplied exponentially.

We remain relatively few, but we are already building connections between fantastic organizations that in many cases have gathered decades of experience. We know we are fighting an uphill battle, outnumbered and still poorly organized. With the current increase in refugees spreading over Europe it will be ever more important to strengthen local projects and to connect them to wider networks with experience and financial support. Then and only then can we have a long-lasting impact on the ground, and change the world for the better.

We have a unique possibility, of creating the vaccine for a world of misconceptions and hatred.
Just a small injection into society, using the right carriers, can immunize us for generations to come. We finally need to understand that the risks of supporting grassroots initiatives and organizations, though they might not always succeed with their efforts and daring ideas, are insignificant compared to the risks of not doing it.

Ilya Sichrovsky is the Founder and Secretary General of the Muslim Jewish Conference (MJC). He lives and works in Vienna. To find out more about MJC, visit http://www.mjconference.de/

JEU aims at providing a platform for a pan-European exchange on Jewish life, thought and culture that extends beyond national and linguistic barriers.

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