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Mamoun Khreisat: "Education is the key"

URI MENA coordinator defends education as a fundamental tool for interreligious coexistence
uri mena dakhla

ATALAYAR/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ  -   The regional coordinator of the United Religions Initiative of the Middle East and North Africa region, Mamoun Khreisat

In Dakhla, we continue to witness different initiatives proposed with the aim of strengthening coexistence and peace between religions in an increasingly volatile world. The second day of the conference organised by the United Religions Initiative-Middle East and North Africa (URI) staged a new meeting between different members who had the opportunity to share their personal experiences, victims of jihadist terrorism and violence. 

With their own stories, the members of the "circles of coexistence" concluded that, despite having been direct victims or having lost a family member in an attack, revenge is not the solution. They are proof that solutions can be reached through dialogue and understanding, as well as by creating scenarios of peace that pave the way for policies that favour diplomacy rather than confrontation and violence. For this reason, interreligious dialogue is increasingly gaining strength in both social and political circles as a measure capable of creating scenarios for peace.

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ATALAYAR/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ - 

The regional coordinator of the United Religions Initiative of the Middle East and North Africa region, Mamoun Khreisat, a Jordanian national, explained that the URI is "a regional movement that includes 15 countries, starting with Iran, the Gulf States, the Middle East and North Africa". "Our main goal is to prevent violent extremism and to encourage people to take part in this and to continue to cooperate to fight for the values of justice and peace.

In this initiative, Israelis and Palestinians live together peacefully and exchange ideas to work on a joint path. According to Khreisat, "we have been working for 22 years so that Israel and Palestine can be represented in this organisation in a peaceful way and in a way that is committed to living together. In the beginning we found it difficult to bring Palestinians and Israelis together because sometimes they don't understand each other. There are many parts that divide them, the war, the occupation... they are not able to negotiate with the human part of each other. In organisations like this we get them to understand each other through mutual knowledge and to treat each other as humans. The idea is that they get to know each other in a friendly way so that dialogue can take place, and this is where change happens.

He assures that dialogue works. At this event he says there are 10 Palestinians and 6 Israelis present and usually in other forums they have held there have been more than 15 Israelis in attendance. "We believe in a just two-state solution. We believe that Israel and Palestine can live side by side and enjoy equal human rights," he says. 
 

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"At the end of the day the reality is what it is: an illegal occupation. All the media in the West are not covering the reality. There is daily death and discrimination in Israel and it is not being covered. Yesterday without going any further, Israeli forces stopped a car with a Palestinian in it, smashed it and beat him to death and this is recorded. I have not seen the video in any media in the West," he laments. 

Asked about the latest developments in Jerusalem, Khreisat declares that "the Israeli army has orders to go to Jerusalem to wipe out the Palestinians. This is not right. The problem is that even the Middle East has stopped covering these events. If I post the video I told you about on my Facebook account in Jordan, they would make me delete it and I would probably go to jail". 

As for how he sees the future of the region diplomatically, Khreisat states that "the US is trying to control the whole region and you can't do anything that goes against US policy. This is the reality. We have to change it through policies and roadmaps in the region. The Palestinians and the Israelis have to talk and understand each other because this will help in reducing violence. 

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ATALAYAR/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ - 

"The Western media's point of view talks about sitting at a negotiating table, but discussing about what? Discussing how they are taking land that does not belong to them, discussing illegal evictions or how to make their lives more difficult... this is a concept for the Western media, but it is not the reality. The first steps to a possible solution is what we are doing here from the bottom up. We are teaching them to live together, to be together and even to become friends," he says. 

"We even have Israeli soldiers here who tell us about some practices they are forced to do that they don't agree with. One of them told us that he captured a Palestinian and he had to go to the toilet, so he took him away with a gun on him all the time while he was relieving himself. For this soldier this is not humane and he is not proud of it, he told me. 

He points out that these kinds of stories have the possibility to be known thanks to initiatives such as URI. "After all, that is our goal, to treat people as human beings. Politicians don't want this encounter, they don't want the reality to be revealed because if people don't fear them, the government collapses. They think that the government protects them and that they must obey them. If you saw from here how people change from ignorance and fear to understanding and friendship it is amazing. This is the change.

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However, he cautions, "don't be cynical either. In Jerusalem, for example, it is very difficult for the three monotheistic religions to be in complete agreement, it is impossible. A politician once told me that whoever controlled Jerusalem would control the whole Middle East region because what happens here affects everyone, even if they are not aware of it. Religion moves people, if you want to move the population the only thing that is working for that in this region is religion". 

Morocco, a pioneer in the commitment to coexistence 

In addition to this, and coinciding with the celebration of the seventeenth edition, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Bourita, made a statement at the international conference "Tangiers Dialogue", in which he spoke of the need to use religion as a banner against violent extremism. 

The minister added that for Morocco "religion must be a bulwark against extremism and not its pretext. This is what the King, Mohammed VI, advocates through the Kingdom's religious diplomacy in Africa". As an example, he explained that Morocco currently has two foundations, the Mohammed VI Foundation for African Ulema and the Murchidin and Mourchidat Foundation for the training of imams, which are being used precisely to try to counter the emerging radicalism in the Sahel, as well as to promote an Islam that is characterised by moderation and equality.

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These statements also come at a time when jihadism is threatening to spread from the Sahel, which would pose a threat not only to the region but also internationally. Bourita explained that "with some exceptions, the relationship between the West and the Muslim world has not always been entirely harmonious". This may be a historical fact, but it is not inevitable. Alongside this, he added that 'we must restart relations between the West and Muslim countries'. 

In this context, the Moroccan foreign minister assured that the Alawi kingdom is demonstrating that the Muslim world and culture "are not a burden for the West, quite the contrary". He argues that "Morocco is a country that provides national responses to the most pressing global problems, and actively contributes to debates and actions on these issues".

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ATALAYAR/GUILLERMO LÓPEZ -  Peter Dziedric

Peter Dziedric, a member of the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue, said that in Morocco, "Moroccan Sufi spaces offer the opportunity to bring young people together. This provides a different space, alternatives to meet and avoids the contribution of extremism. Morocco is a country that has invested in its culture to create peace. Morocco is creating a culture of non-violence". 
    
He points out that "if Morocco today is a developed country in terms of creating these kinds of spaces, it is because there is a strong culture more than in any other Islamic country. For example, in Jordan you have a history of Sufism, but you don't have as many initiatives to preserve these spaces. Morocco is probably the leader in preserving and promoting the Sufi narrative and Islam. It is that narrative of Islam and Sufism that also curbs terrorism and religious extremism".