On February 10 and 11, 2006, New York University's Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West, in cooperation with the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations Malaysia (IDFR), convened a conference on "Who speaks for Islam? Who speaks for the West?" in Kuala Lumpur. The conference brought together fifty eminent persons from Western and Muslim-majority countries, among them policy-makers, religious leaders, scientists, economists, news media editors, and other opinion-makers, for two days of frank and often heated debate on a number of crucial policy questions intrinsic to the Muslim world-Western world relationship. The conference program and list of delegates are attached. An analytical conference report will be published in the summer 2006.
1. The conference was the culmination of more than two and a half years of substantive and administrative preparations, during which time Dialogues' staff engaged in a multi–part preparatory strategy. This included: refining the core intellectual concepts behind the conference; convening a preparatory committee meeting in December 2004; drafting and translating background materials; liaising with the government of Malaysia, the host country; and fundraising.
2.The original idea for the conference emerged from a recommendation at Dialogues’ first international conference on “Clash of Civilizations or Clash of Perceptions?” in Granada, Spain in October 2002. Most participants felt that questions central to “defining Islam” required further discussion.1 Many participants felt strongly that the intra–Islamic debate should take precedence over the cross–cultural debate. It was thus suggested that a conference be held that would invite Muslims of conservative, modernist, Islamist, and secular thought to sit together to discuss their views on the nature of religious authority. This task was considered especially important at a time when the official ‘ulama appear to be under attack, in part from youth and women, and when radical fundamentalists are attempting to establish their own religious monopolies. The Granada participants believed that this debate could well help foster a valuable exchange of opinions within the Muslim world, which was regarded, in turn, as an integral step toward achieving wider dialogue with the West. But it soon became clear that the question of who speaks for Islam begs its counterpart: who speaks for the West? This new dimension of the debate reflected the confusion in the West that mirrors the confusion in the Muslim world with regard to the sources of authority. Dialogues thus adopted a two-pronged conference theme, questioning both Muslim and Western systems of legitimacy, not only for the sake of taking a balanced approach, but also with an eye towards advancing the quest for understanding between Islam and the West. Over the course of the two and a half years of planning, the conceptual premise of the conference was continually refined through exchanges with various thinkers and policy makers in the U.S., Europe, and the Muslim world.
3. An important element in Dialogues’ planning strategy was the convening of a small preparatory committee meeting to draw up a conference agenda, offer guidelines for the selection of participants, and critique the draft background papers. The meeting was hosted by His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan in Amman on December 6 and 7, 2004. The committee was composed of the following participants, both members of Dialogues’ Advisory Board and outside experts: Lisa Anderson, Dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (co–chair of Dialogues’ Advisory Board, U.S.); HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan (co–chair of Dialogues’ Advisory Board); Mohammed Ayoob, University Distinguished Professor of International Relations, James Madison College, Michigan State University (U.S.); Hoda Badran, Chairperson, Alliance for Arab Women (Egypt); Abdelmajid Charfi, Professor of Humanities and Islamic Studies, University of Tunis (Tunisia); Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Chairman, Ibn Khaldoun Center for Development Studies (Egypt); Priscilla Lewis, Program Officer, Peace and Security Program, Rockefeller Brothers Fund (U.S.); Chandra Muzaffar, President, International Movement for a Just World (Malaysia); Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, Deputy Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (U.K.); Seyed Kazem Sajjadpour, Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Office in Geneva (Iran); Terence Taylor, President and Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies — US (U.S./U.K.); and Karl von Habsburg, President, Pan–European Movement of Austria (Austria).
4. In keeping with Dialogues’ tradition of grounding its conferences in solid scholarly research, Dialogues’ staff assembled two working groups to draft background papers — one on “Who speaks for Islam?” and the other on “Who speaks for the West?” The papers were meant to offer analytical, politically neutral surveys of those who claim to speak with authority in either world, and thereby offer a foundation for debate among the conference participants in Kuala Lumpur. Over a two–year period, the papers were drafted and revised with the objective of producing the most accurate, comprehensive, and informative documents that the program could produce with its resources. The papers were translated from English into Arabic and both versions were made available to the participants prior to the conference. In addition to Mustapha Tlili, Dialogues’ Special Assistant Shaanti Kapila, and editorial consultant Shara Kay, the “Islam” working group was composed of Hassan Abedin of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, and Mohammed Ayoob, University Distinguished Professor of International Relations at James Madison College, Michigan State University. The “West” team included Lisa Anderson, Dean of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs; Tony Judt, Erich Maria Remarque Professor and Director of the Remarque Institute at New York University; and Scott Malcomson, journalist and author.
5. Dialogues’ staff came to an early decision that the conference should be held in a non–Arab, majority–Muslim country, and in September 2003 Mustapha Tlili met with the then–Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir Mohammed, and proposed that the Malaysian government serve as host and co–sponsor. As a centrist, pluralist, multi–cultural democratic country with a majority–Muslim population, Malaysia seemed a fitting choice. Although Dr. Mahathir strongly supported the idea and agreed in principle to host the conference, Abdullah Badawi replaced him as Prime Minister on October 31, 2003, and the government’s decision was thus not formally delivered until January 2005. Although the Institute Kefahaman Islam Malaysia (IKIM) was initially designated by the Malaysian government as the co–sponsor organization in 2004, in September 2005, the Malaysian government turned over local responsibility for the conference to the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations Malaysia (IDFR), an agency within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that provides formal training to Malaysian foreign service officers.
6. Fundraising was essential to conference planning from the beginning. Generous annual contributions from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 2004 and 2005 enabled Dialogues to undertake initial preparatory steps, including the drafting of background papers, the convening of the preparatory committee, and planning missions to Kuala Lumpur. With the formal approval of the Malaysian government to host the conference secured in January 2005, Dialogues stepped up fundraising efforts. In addition to Malaysia’s important financial support, significant contributions from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France enabled Dialogues to convene the conference in February 2006.
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Lecture by Dr. Tarek Masoud
New York University’s Silver Center — Jurow Hall
March 14, 2013
Co–sponsored with the Foreign Policy Association and the World Affairs Councils of America
University of Manouba, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Humanities
February 21 — 22, 2013