Hopeful dialogue between East and West

The UN initiative Alliance of Civilisations (AoC) recently held a conference in Istanbul with the ambition of increasing understanding between East and West. Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt and three young people from the Swedish Muslim peace movement attended the conference.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt together with Shaista Khan, Yasri Khan och Yasin Ahmad. Photo: Private

"AoC is an entirely unique forum for discussion of the connection between religion and politics. Or as one participating American professor put it: 'AoC is our only tool to fight extremism'," says Jan Henningsson, Senior Adviser at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa Department.

Also present at the conference were Shaista Khan, Yasri Khan and Yasin Ahmad from the organisation Swedish Muslims for Peace and Justice, who were invited by Mr Henningsson. Swedish Muslims for Peace and Justice, or the Muslim peace movement as they are also known, was founded in 2006 as a Muslim counterpart to the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Association and the Swedish Fellowship of Christian Reconciliation.

"We are very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this conference. As Swedish Muslims, we see great potential to start a Muslim peace movement in Europe with the support of the Swedish state and Islam's innate power for peace," says Yasin Ahmad, who is project leader for the peace agents.

The conference in Istanbul was the second to be held since AoC was founded at the initiative of Spain and Turkey in 2005. The first conference was held last year in Madrid.
"It is valuable that AoC has doubled its membership. This year around 80 countries were represented, which means that there are more and more of us who care about this work," says Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt.

It is not without significance that Spain and Turkey are behind the initiative. Both countries are former major powers in the Mediterranean area and have fought wars against each other in the past. Not least, they fought each other in 1571 at the Battle of Lepanto, which embodied the struggle at the time between Christianity and Islam.