Arab-American-European Dialogue
THE ARAB-AMERICAN-EUROPEAN DIALOGUE (AAE)
 
A project of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue
 
Project Description
 
This initiative creates a space where influential and thoughtful citizens from Europe, the
United States, and the Arab region gather to discuss the sources of the confrontation
between the Arab world and the West and explore the terms of a new
relationship between these three parts of the world.
 
The Western contingent includes former policy-makers, influential academics
and journalists from the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain. The
Arab contingent includes high-level unofficial representatives of influential civic
and religious parties working in five Arab countries, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq.
 
Our working assumption is that a better understanding of today’s Islamic world requires a wider lens of analysis beyond the radical and fundamentalist Islam to include the reformist and moderate Muslim voices. Both versions of Islamic thought co-exist in the Muslim world though one must admit that the radical and fundamentalist voices seem to dominate the popular debate.
 
For western outsiders, our interests lie in veering this evolution within Islamist circles toward a reformist and moderate direction. There are limits to how much the west can do openly in this regard. Military interventions and combative talk are bound to give more credence to the radical voices in these groups. What we need is a long-term, sustained dialogue where influential representatives of these three different parts of the world come together in an unofficial setting and are able to talk about the issues that divide them while simultaneously exploring the fears each side has of the other, the perceptions and misperceptions that have so far underlay their interactions, and the lenses each side has used to interpret the other’s behavior.
 
It is important that the West and especially the US government move away from its
stereotypic approach to all Islamist groups as terrorist organizations. While many
dialogues are ongoing between the West and the Arab world including some that tackle
the same topics as ours, none focuses purely on the moderate Islamist political forces as a
main Arab party to their dialogue. In conversations with liberal voices in the Middle East,
many pointed out that the Islamist forces will be shaping the thinking and behavior of the
average Arab person for the short- to near long-term. The Western governments and
publics must do a better job at establishing rapport with political movements and
organizations which at this point in time, are perceived by their populace to be better
representatives of and responsive to their concerns and grievances than their non-elected
governments. Doing so will go a long way in starting to establish a framework for a new
relationship with the Arab and Islamic world, one that is based on mutual respect for the
people’s aspirations and needs to establish their own forms of government and to choose
their own representatives in a free and fair manner.
 
The AAE dialogue was launched in March 2004 and is now in its third year of operation. It has tackled a variety of important topics including among others: reforms in the Arab region, electoral processes in Arab countries, the relationship between state, religion and society in the West and Arab region, and an issue cluster dealing with terrorism, violence and occupation. A dialogue executive committee was formed in February 2004 and is now responsible for designing the dialogue meetings and outreach activities. Small delegations of Arab dialogue members have met with parliamentarians in Britain and Italy and with Muslim European groups in Britain. We will be organizing a series of meetings for a similar dialogue group to visit France and the EU headquarters in Brussels.
 
We have established a dialogue website on which we post the meeting summaries, relevant articles, and documents. We are also in the process of completing the first issue of an electronic newsletter to be sent to think tanks, academics, journalists in the West and Arab region. The newsletter will become a vehicle for sharing the dialogue members’ ideas and thoughts with a wider audience. The newsletter will be available in both English and Arabic.
 
 
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