Seminar on “Interreligious and Intercultural Relations in a Time of Conflict and Migration in the MENA Region”
Beirut, June 9, 2016 - “I see this seminar as a sign of hope. It stands for the view that our ancient religious traditions are an indispensable resource in the cause of peace,” said Dr. Vincent Smiles, Professor of Theology at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, during a two-day seminar on “Interreligious and Intercultural Relations in a Time of Conflict and Migration in the MENA Region”, organized by Haigazian University, in cooperation with the Jay Philips Center for Interfaith Learning at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University in Minnesota, USA.
The seminar was officially inaugurated by the opening remarks of Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian, President of Haigazian University, and Dr. Farid el Khazen, Member of Parliament and Professor of Political Science at the American University of Beirut. In his speech, El Khazen sketched the troubled recent history of the Middle East; he called the region “the sick man of the international system,” in which “tolerance is in short supply and dialogue on fundamental issues of discord is in search of serious interlocutors”.
At the first day of the seminar which was devoted to the sacred sources of Islam and Christianity, participating scholars highlighted how the holy books inspire respectful and humane interreligious and intercultural relations. Dr. Jon Armajani, Professor of Theology at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, pointed to faith in the Virgin Mary as an area of common ground, while Dr. Martin Accad of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary argued that the texts about Jesus are a great starting-point for the dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
The second day of the conference was multidisciplinary. Rita Merhej, Lecturer in Social and Behavioral Sciences at Haigazian University, offered a cognitive-behavioral analysis of extremist terrorism. She argued that terrorist behavior roots both in self-perception and the perception of others. The fight against terrorism would therefore be in helping vulnerable young people develop healthy self-perceptions and perceptions of others.
Migration and integration of people from the Middle East in Europe was discussed by Dr. Berge Traboulsi, Associate Professor of History, Religion and Intercultural Studies at Haigazian University. Traboulsi pointed to the paradoxical results of the migrant and refugee crisis, arguing that the “integration formula is simple, but its application is difficult, complicated, challenging and time-consuming”.
The highlight of the seminar was a panel discussion between representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). The panelists shed light on interreligious and intercultural cooperation in their day-to-day relief and humanitarian efforts. They emphasized that behind the alarming statistics, there are numerous stories of human suffering: people must not be reduced to the label “refugee”. They also warned that humanitarian work has its limits and cannot solve the crisis that Lebanon is facing.