Vienna, 14 November 2005 - Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik opened the Islam conference "Islam in a pluralistic world" together with the President of the Islamic Community in Austria, Prof. Anas Shakfeh, and co-organisers Dr. Siegried Haas (Secretary General of the Österreichische Orient-Gesellschaft Hammer-Purgstall) and the Islamist Dr. Gudrun Harrer.
Plassnik stressed the significance of "this new type of interaction between foreign policy, civil society, and representatives of religions and academics on a subject that could not be of greater topicality".
"The cultivation of dialogue between cultures and religions has a long tradition in Austria and is an important element of Austrian foreign policy. We have developed an environment of cooperation based on trust with the Islam community in Austria. There are no grounds for complacency, however, since there are frictions and difficulties in everyday life that still have to be clearly addressed. But we also need to be wary of prejudices and sweeping judgements regarding the Islamic world and Muslim population," said the Foreign Minister.
"The issue of communication in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust on the basis of established values is of pressing topicality both at the international level and in our societies. We are seeking during this conference to examine both the variety within the Islamic world and the complex challenges within our own societies. Austria is consciously drawing attention to this issue in the run-up to the EU Presidency as a demonstration that we do not shy away from addressing even difficult issues," said the Foreign Minister.
The demand for this dialogue is enormous and shows that "awareness is growing and the time is right for renewing efforts to establish relevant dialogue," continued Plassnik. "We must not leave it to those who express themselves through hate and violence to attract public attention."
Plassnik emphasised the importance to her of ensuring that dialogue between cultures is in contact with reality. "We need to ask ourselves how to deal with each other in this world and in our society in the face of these daily challenges. We need to find practical answers to these questions. We need to listen to and regard one another more carefully so as to find out more about one another," said the Foreign Minister.
Plassnik continued: "This event on a very challenging topic could produce ideas and, hopefully, stimuli for solutions for specific problems. I am optimistic that they will be passed on by the participants so as to produce a snowball effect. Not only experts, but also politicians, media and individuals are called upon to make a contribution."
The Foreign Minister stressed the importance of participation by women from the Muslim world in this conference. The Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, the Tunisian sociology and anthropology professor Lilia Labidi, and the former Pakistani High Court justice Nasira Iqbal would all be taking part in the panel discussions.
"We seek not only peaceful co-existence but also thriving cooperation between cultures and religions on a basis of mutual trust. With this in mind, the next conference of European imams will be held in Vienna during our EU Presidency in collaboration with the Islamic Community."