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Civil Society

From the mid-1980s to the present, civil society has been a key category of democratic politics, increasingly in a genuinely international setting.

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It is the philosophical and political concept that extends the ideas of citizenship and homeland to the whole world and to all humankind, opposing the particularity of nations and national states.

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The process resulting in the definition of one’s own identity – hence an “us” – in an oppositional manner by, explicitly or implicitly comparing ourselves with “others”, is considered a universal movement in every society.

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The United Nations

The Organization of the United Nations is the largest international organisation and in fact includes almost all the states existing on the planet. There are currently 192 member states. The seat of the UN is in New York and the current Secretary General is the South Korean Ban Ki-Moon..

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Cultural Pluralism, The Challenge of our Time

“Cultural pluralism” is a recent concept in Europe to the extent that many do not know what it means.

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A month of ideas.
Giancarlo Bosetti Editor-in-chief
Association for dialogue and intercultural understanding

Dialogue of Cultures

Philosophy and Religion

Mohamed Arkoun: Unveiling Orthodoxy and Hegemony through Spiritual Responsibility

Mohammed Hashas

Mohamed Arkoun (b. 1 February 1928, Algeria; d. 14 September 2010, France; buried in Morocco) passed away just three months before the so-called Arab revolts started in Tunisia on 17 December 2010. Like many other Arab-Muslim scholars of world fame who outlive him, he would have loved to see the masses chanting the slogans of change of these revolts in their early days: “liberty, equality, dignity.” His generation of Arab intellectuals (since the 1960s) did not experience massive social movements and events calling for such a change; rather, they lived war defeats (pre-and-post-1967), the rise of secular authoritarianism (like that of Iraq, Syria and Nasser) and religious conservativism and political Islam (like that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Taliban, Sudan, and Algeria). However, Arkoun lived the environment of the European events of May 1968, especially its influential French version. He must have dreamt of something similar taking place in Arab lands! As a historian of ideas, he must have known that similar moments are unique, and need their own factors or “points of accumulation” – to use the terms of the historian Jalal al-Azmeh- to take place. If he lived to see the current disappointments of the Arab revolts in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen he could have easily brought to the surface similar episodes from the history of the three monotheistic/Abrahamic religions to show that “orthodoxies” rise and fall, and that “hegemonies” give only lip-service to the malaise of the “wretched of the earth.” As a historian of ideas, he also developed his own project that was constantly in progress, an unfinished project one may say. Examining his treatises and their content allow us to categorize him also as a theologian-philosopher who struggled with big questions that the cultures and societies he lived in and belonged to raise(d), questions like reason, revelation, religion, theology, philosophy, politics, ethics, pluralism, identity, history, and language.

Philosophy and Religion

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd: A Theologian Confronting Hijackers of the Quran

Mohammed Hashas

The late Egyptian theologian Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (10 July 1943 – 5 July 2010) was destined to be an Azharite sheikh, but the death of his father when he was fourteen, and the obligations of life led him to contribute to family household from an early age. However, he did not leave his scholarly thirst; he got his PhD in 1981 with a thesis on "The Philosophy of Interpretation: Mohi Eddin Ibn Arabi's Method of Interpreting the Quran." He belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood in Tanta in 1954, worked in Radio, and held lectureships and fellowships in Sudan, the USA, Japan, and the Netherlands; he received scholarly rewards for his works from Tunisia, Jordan and other international institutions. He was the student and colleague of the living famous philosopher Hassan Hanafi (b. 1935), whose project of the Islamic Left he (Abu Zayd) critiques especially in Critique of Religious Discourse (1990). He also met in scholarly discussions with contemporary philosophers-theologians like Sadeq al-Azmeh, Mohammed Arkoun, Abdolkarim Soroush, and Mohammad Amareh. Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd will be remembered as a staunch rationalist and liberal theologian that defends three major values from within his own Islamic faith - reason, liberty, and justice. In his own words, “Islam truly liberated man”; to recover that achievement, re-interpreting the Sacred Text is a must for renewed liberation, based on considering “this-world” the essence of existence. This is an homage to his great contributions at the age of Arab-Islamic intellectual predicament, and political turmoil led by bloody hijackers of the Quran.

In depth

Iran. The Silent Revolution That (still) Frightens Power

Marina Forti

The Iranian monthly magazine Zanan-e Emruz (“Today’s Women”) had barely reached its tenth issue when it was forced to stop publication following a ruling by the Tehran courts’ Office of Press Control. The announcement was made in April and the news itself is nothing new; over the past fifteen years dozens of newspapers have had authorisations issued and then revoked on the basis of changing internal political events. In the past two years, following the election of President Hasan Rouhani, the social and political atmosphere has certainly changed drastically. Books once censored are now given an imprimatur, banned films have returned to theatres and new newspapers are published. Censorship, however, has not disappeared although the ‘red lines’, the boundaries of what is permissible, have been moved.

Focus EXPO 2015 - Feeding the planet

Religious Pluralism in School Canteens

Maria Chiara Giorda, University of Milan Bicocca

Co-authors: Luca Bossi and Elena MessinaCultural and religious diversity characterizes today’s Italy (Melloni 2014). An outcome that has become more evident as a trait of contemporary migration flows, which have put the country among the first three-four receiving destination in the whole Europe since the 2000s. Yet, even though diversity and religious pluralism may have become politically salient issues in current public debate, they were nonetheless traits that had already contributed to forging the Italian identity during the previous centuries (Ventura 2013; 2014). The different relationships entangling political and cultural institutions and the school system in Italy, traditionally see the search for common paths that conciliate religion, religious diversity and secularism a confrontational and divisive field of action. Actors who are involved in this field actively strive to find strategies to adjust the needs emerging from relatively new religious settings – with an increasing share of students coming from a diverse population and religiosity - which are disrupting the long established cohabitation of the Catholic Church and the State in the public sphere. TO VIEW ALL GRAPHS AND TABLES IN THIS PAPER, PLEASE DOWNLOAD THE ATTACHED DOCUMENT

Focus EXPO 2015 - Feeding the planet

Food ‘suitable’ for Jews. The Origins of Kosher

Piero Stefani, University of Ferrara

“You must be able to distinguish between what is sacred (qodesh) and what is profane (chol), between what is clean (tahor) and what is unclean (tame’)” (Leviticus 10,10). In a fundamentally important essay on this subject, Paolo Sacchi asks himself whether the organisation of the words in this sentence should be understood in a parallel or chiastic manner. The answer is that one must opt for parallelism; the proportion is the following, sacred : impure = profane : pure. At a more ancient level, the sacred was perceived as if gifted with an intrinsic force that, just like impurity, acts of its own volition. As time passed things changed and the foundations of pure and impure became heteronomous. Yochanan ben Zakkay, the “legendary” founder of Rabbinic Judaism, is attributed the sentence, “a corpse does not defile nor does ash of the red heifer make levitically clean, but it is the decree of the Holy One” (see Numbers 19,1-16).

Focus EXPO 2015 - Feeding the planet

European Halal. Theological definitions and social depictions

Khalid Rhazzali

The word Halal is part of a complex lexical and a conceptual system that is particularly refined in its more authentic and articulated configuration. The opposition between Halal (allowed) and Haram (not allowed) creates a broad area within which there are many intermediate words, such as, for example, Makruh (inadvisable) and Mubah (admissible), which allow one to contextualise the various forms of behaviour regarding an inclination to contribute positively or negatively to a relationship of a complex physical and spiritual order in both individuals and communities. Leaving aside the aspect usually addressed, that of vetoes concerning some types of meat or drinks, this system of precepts is best addressed from a theological perspective in which the believer is called upon to elaborate ways in which the best use of oneself can be made, in view of a more active and successful obedience to divine will.

Focus EXPO 2015 - Feeding the planet

Nourishing the Soul. Food and Religions

Contribtions by G. Filoramo, M.C. Giorda, K.Rhazzali, P. Stefani, D. Zoletto

A moment of sharing and gathering, a vehicle for traditions and a means of communication, food signifies far more than simply providing the body with the energy is requires to work. Food is also a religious symbol; it nourishes the soul and sharing it at the table is a moment of conviviality and intimacy with others. But what happens when we dine with someone only eating halal food? And what attitude should the authorities assume regarding school cafeterias when faced with families refusing to eat pork? And what answer should the state provide to those demanding to know how an animal was butchered before its meat is sold in supermarkets? - Read the special focus

In depth

Iran, a Journey Through the “Great Change”
Expectations and risks of the Rouhani Era

Marina Forti

Tehran - One front page headline reads “Delegation of U.S. oil companies to visit Tehran.” Others instead announced that “Trade delegations follow one another.” There have even been headlines stating “Crowds of foreign investors prepare to invade Iran,” with English-language Iranian newspapers not holding back in their use of superlatives and one column saying that Iran is the “last frontier” for international investors. Expectations are high, extremely high.

Philosophy and Religion

Islam and the West, Recovering the Keys to Openness

Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri interviewed by Nina zu Fürstenberg

"Are we perhaps condemned to remain prisoners of the logic of war that cannot perceive relations with others if not in terms that bring to mind hostility, such as peril, counter-position, conflict, threat etc.? In Western countries voices are raised almost everywhere against this way of seeing future relations between the West and other countries. People are starting to question the real meaning of this unfortunate dichotomy, as well as the reality it proposes to conceal. What does the East/West duality really mean through the history of European expansion, from Rome to the empires of modern colonialism? What does its current North/South replacement mean?" Part of this interview with Mohammed Abed Al Jabri was published in Fall 2006 by our Italian magazine Reset. On the occasion of the commemoration of the philosopher's fifth anniversary (d.2010), we are pleased to publish the full interview for the first time.  


Revisiting Averroes to Understand the “Other”

Mohammed Abed Al Jabri

This essay was published by our Italian magazine Reset n.97, Sept.-Oct. 2006The historical events that marked the years 1989-1990, the fall of the Berlin Wall and with it the Communist bloc, paved the way for radically new perspectives in schools of thought and the collective imagination. The famous statement made by former American President George Bush Sr. announcing the “end of the Cold War” and the birth of a “new world order” provided this perspective with an official seal of approval. The entire world expected a radical change in international relations. Hopes were expressed, optimistic forecasts were made; the “end of history” was even announced with the definitive triumph of liberalism and democracy. In Third World countries there was hope that the West would renounce the “logic of war” that had characterised its relations with the rest of the world, applying more inspired policies now motivated by the values of Enlightenment, those of “liberty, equality and fraternity.” Many members of the modern elites of these countries believed that the West, having won the Cold War, would encourage democratic change in the Third World. Some even stated that the West would certainly demand, as a starting point for all forms of cooperation with Third World governments, a real democratisation of political and social life as well as honest and real respect for human rights etc. Therefore, as far as people in the Third World were concerned, the West’s future relations with their countries would essentially have depended on making “new foreign policy” choices, continuing to manoeuvre within the framework of the same logic of war, or proceeding instead towards a real “reconstruction” of their own policies and strategies in order to allow relations with the South to be set within what was called the “post-Cold War” period.What has happened to those aspirations? In what way did the West perceive its future relations with the Third World in general and the Arab-Islamic world in particular? As far as politics are concerned, one must add that in the West, aspirations have now been replaced by scenarios created by professors of “strategic studies.” The observer preferring not to fall prey to the uncontrolled prejudices and reactions of fanatic and xenophobic right-wing environments, European and American, can satisfy all his curiosities by drawing on the self-proclaimed authoritative ideas of these professors.


Trivializing the Holocaust

Eric Salerno

As the people of Israel were honoring the victims of the Holocaust (April 16) and in the rest of the world people were remembering the day in which the gates of Auschwitz were opened, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman chose to offend memory and narrative for mere political reasons. He, as other Israeli leaders including Yair Lapid of the centrist party Yesh Atid (“There is a future”) criticized the request by 16 European Union foreign ministers to label Israeli products made beyond the 1949 armistice line as “Made in the West Bank.” A legitimate attack (from the point of those that sustain the ongoing process of colonization of the Palestinian territories) if not for the idea offered by the man responsible for the foreign policy of that country.

History and Politics

Turkey, Beyond the Armenian Genocide Debate

Verda Özer

“Prime Minister Erdoğan’s statement of condolence to the Armenians was a milestone in Turkey’s history.” This was the first sentence of my column in daily Hürriyet on April 26 last year. The then Prime Minister Erdoğan had made an unprecedented move in Turkish history by issuing an official statement offering condolences to Armenians on April 24, the 99th anniversary of the Armenian massacres. This year, however, April 24 arrives in Turkey in a totally different atmosphere. The declaration of Pope Francis last Sunday that “the Armenian Genocide is the first genocide of the 20th century” and the resolution adopted by the European Parliament last week urging Turkey to recognize the genocide have rekindled the longstanding genocide debate in the country.

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