Father Paolo Dall’Oglio and the Monastery of St Moses the Abyssinian received the first-ever Euro-Mediterranean award for cultural dialogue on Sunday, 26 November, in Tampere where the heads of national networks of the Anna Lindh Foundation convened for their annual meeting. The Anna Lindh Foundation is an umbrella organisation for NGOs within the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation between the EU and several Mediterranean partners.
Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja congratulated Father Paolo Dall’Oglio for reinventing the positive relationship that existed between the first Muslims and the Christian monks on the borders of the Arabian deserts. The Monastery hosts a Muslim-Christian community in the desert of Syria. Tuomioja, who spoke at the award ceremony, will chair the foreign ministers’ meeting of the EU and Mediterranean partners in Tampere on 27-28 November.
In his speech Tuomioja said that religion has increasingly become both a political force and a source of identity, but that he himself has always stressed that it is our challenge to fight intolerance and fanaticism.
In Europe, a new generation of European Muslims has emerged. “European Muslims should be Muslim instead of forever remaining North African, Pakistani or Turkish Muslims. Active citizenship and the development of a European Islamic culture need to be encouraged”, said Tuomioja.
“European governments need to create conditions for the growth of Muslim thinking which would reflect the realities of European democratic and egalitarian societies”, he said. European governments should focus on creating conditions for Muslims to enable them to represent their own interests democratically within civil society. “In other words, European Muslims should be empowered and anchored in the European reality”.
There are no simple solutions to complex social phenomena, admitted Tuomioja, but there are ways of improving mutual understanding and coexistence. One such dialogue is the Helsinki Process, facilitated by the governments of Finland and Tanzania, which seeks to address global challenges through multi-stakeholder dialogue.