Dispatches from Istanbul

Our EVP reflects on the Alliance of Civilizations Forum in Turkey…

Istanbul is a very beautiful city, the visual coming together of the East and the West. After the official meetings of the Alliance were over, many of the participants took a boat ride on the Bosphorus Strait. On one side of the water is the East, with large Mosques and delicate minarets in full view. The other is the West, with architecture to match. The people of the city feel the full force of its centrality and the responsibility to be a bridge among civilizations and a healer across them. In the closing session, the Turkish representative spoke of this. He said that in Turkey they have an axiom: If your neighbor’s house is on fire, you must do something, or your house will also burn.

In thinking about this trip, I am struck by the power of the past few days. Reconnecting with friends, and meeting new. Perhaps the most gratifying were the two Turkish assistants who were our contacts in the hotel for the Alliance. They were always helpful and kind (one of them even went out in the rain to buy me a diet coke). When there was miscommunication around a shuttle departure time from the hotel, they arranged for me to go to with a convoy so I could get into the evening event.

As we waited, I told them what I do. They were both really excited and the young man (I’m sure he is about 20) asked how someone like him could help Tanenbaum. He is exactly the person we want to know! And because I know Tanenbaum is going to be using more and more social media, I had an idea. “Please put yourself on our email list and share information with your friends, and ask them to share.” He seemed pleased and said, “I can do that!”

Most of the sessions I attended were nuanced, though some addressed important political and social issues head-on. In particular, I attended one on the Conflict in the Middle East. There were speakers from different countries including Luxembourg, Turkey, Switzerland, Egypt. There was supposed to be an Israeli speaker but he did not appear. I did not see a space for a Palestinian representative. The session was packed and the pain of that conflict was palpable. People sat on the floor.

I won’t go into the political discussion but want to observe a few things. Even though the Israeli speaker did not attend and no one from Gaza or the West Bank spoke, the moderator sought conflicting perspectives from the audience and the Counsel General from Israel spoke up. There is widespread conviction that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis must be resolved because its impact is far wider than specific conflict. There was also a reminder from one person in the audience that as an international community we have a responsibility to address other conflicts and tragedies worldwide, giving the example of Darfur.

While it was noted that the structure of the Alliance of Civilizations will not allow it to be the entity responsible for resolving all of these tragedies, the discussion ended up being quite open, passionate and engaged. And that, of course, is important too.