"Islam in a Pluralistic World"
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Words of Welcome by
Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik
on the occasion of the
Conference "Islam in a Pluralistic World"
Vienna, 14 November 2005
Presidents and former Presidents,
Your All Holiness Bartholomew I,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
"In our globalised world the peoples of the world are more united by common fate than they are divided by their separate identities," said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the occasion of the proclamation of the Year of Dialogue among Civilisations in 2001.
In this spirit I should like to welcome you - to Vienna, a city from which trend-setting stimuli for this dialogue have repeatedly emanated. A city which in its history has also been a tragic place of intolerance and persecution.
Austria can point to a remarkable tradition in building bridges to the Islamic world, and we have excellent academic expertise in this field. The Academy of Oriental Studies was founded by Maria Theresia more than 250 years ago. But we also have religious leaders who have this dialogue at heart, and we have committed NGOs, among them the Austrian Oriental Society Hammer Purgstall (a co-organiser of our Conference).
The overwhelming interest in this event - almost 2,000 registrations - shows that the time is ripe for a new stage in this dialogue.
Our conference "Islam in a pluralistic world" is also deliberately intended as a contribution in preparation for Austria’s Presidency of the European Union. Europe is a peace power whose uppermost objective is to contribute to trust, understanding and reconciliation in the world. We want to open both our ears - the ear listening to the international community of states, and the ear listening to the communities in our own countries. This, too, is a contribution to peace work. Based on this approach we have developed the two questions we should like to deal with here:
- How is Islam developing in a pluralistic world characterised by internal and external diversity ?
- How can the peaceful cohabitation of Muslims and non-Muslims in our European societies be safeguarded and improved?
However, it is also imperative to get rid of the distorting simplifications, dangerous stereotypes and "images of the enemy" which prevail in some quarters with regard to Islam.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Afghanistan and Iraq have embarked on a courageous course towards pluralism and modern democracy in the most difficult circumstances - an undertaking which we are accompanying and supporting with great sympathy and attention.
In this spirit I wish to extend a welcome to the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, and I should like to thank him for making this long journey to be with us.
I also welcome the President of the Republic of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, and his delegation.
My welcome also goes to the former President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammad Khatami. This is not the first time that his initiatives for the development of the dialogue of religions have brought him to Vienna, and we hope that he will continue to play an important role in this dialogue.
I should like to welcome Lakhdar Brahimi as personal representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and I am delighted that Mr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, is also present.
I should like to extend a special welcome to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
With due respect, I should like to welcome the high and highest representatives of the three great monotheistic religions, and take the opportunity to recall Vienna’s late Cardinal Franz König and his visionary work. I am grateful for the presence of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who is continuing, intensifying and expanding these efforts.
I should like to welcome all Austrian and international scholars here present who are entrusted with the chair of this Conference.
I also welcome the representatives of the media. We need their help to carry this dialogue to the population, for conferences devoted to dialogue have to make a discernable contribution to deepening our knowledge of each other and our understanding for each other.
We need understanding and trust more urgently every day. We must succeed in meeting the Muslims in the European countries in an atmosphere of open-mindedness in order to make living together easier for all of us. Many recent events have shown us in all clarity how important this process is for a flourishing life together in Europe. In our society, nobody should feel marginalised. We are taking on this task on the basis of our European community of values, advocating tolerance, openness, social solidarity and the effective protection of human rights.
I should like to extend a special word of welcome to the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mrs. Shirin Ebadi. Among other things, she will help us to illuminate the important question of the position of women in Islam.
Let me now gratefully welcome all those who have been active in the intercultural and interreligious dialogue for years. With their tireless and in many cases invisible commitment they all create a culture of dialogue that we need.
Talking about this culture of dialogue, I should like to mention a city in our neighbourhood which was a symbol of the high level of tolerance reached in the coexistence of religions before fanatical nationalism separated people and started to destroy what they had in common - namely Sarajevo. I welcome the Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies of the University of Sarajevo, Professor Enes Karic, with special esteem. During our EU Presidency, Austria’s policy for South-Eastern Europe will contribute to ensuring that Sarajevo can again become an example of a respectful life together.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
New realities sometimes come upon us with breathtaking speed and without "instructions for use". In our country we can rely on the good climate that exists between our religious communities and to which the Austrian-Islamic religious community makes an essential contribution. Its President Anas Shakfeh has helped us to prepare this conference, offering us his valuable advice.
I should like to extend my cordial greetings to him and to all Muslims in Austria and beyond our borders.
In conclusion, I would like to quote an idea from the writer Amin Maalouf, who in his remarkable essay on identities suggests the following vision for the global society as well as for each individual country:
"Nobody should feel excluded from this emerging common civilisation. Each person should find within it the language of their identity and certain symbols of their culture, so that everybody can find themself - at least a little bit - in this emerging world instead of fleeing to an idealised past. In parallel, we should all incorporate a new component into our identity which will become more and more important in the course of the 21st century: the feeling of being part of the adventure of the human community."