6-1994 – Italian Tourist Press Group
Congress: M.O. which tourism – Analysis of a geopolitical reality and the role of information
Mediterranean and demographic imbalance
The evolution of the demographic situation on the two shores of the Mediterranean follows two different trends: immediately after the Second World War the population on the northern shore of the Mediterranean basin was about twice that of the southern basin, North Africa and the Middle East; today, after 50 years, the proportion has become 1: 1. Demographic development, accompanied by a widening gap in terms of economic development, exposes the wealthier and older Western population to a “peaceful” invasion by of peoples very distant culturally with different customs, traditions and traditions, raised in countries that do not separate religion from the state system and where freedom of religious choice is not allowed to remain personal. It is expected that the trend of the imbalance between the two geographical areas will tend to assume dramatic characteristics in the near future. The West’s temptation would be to raise a wall to protect it from invasion and to give up thinking of a common universal destiny in the name of peace and justice. The demographic increase in the developing world combined with the rapidity of communications allows peoples, even the most distant from each other, to weave relationships at all levels of human action.
Consequently the opportunities for a profound enrichment of human value is no longer the privilege of a fortunate few, but made available to all in the maximum rapidity. On the other hand, organized individuals and communities often find themselves in serious difficulty in metabolizing, so to speak, the rapid changes to which they are exposed. The phenomenon of migration is transforming Italy and Europe in a broad sense into a multicultural society, where people from different languages, religions and cultures live side by side. Islam, in particular, has an increasingly present reality, although in many respects it is still not well known. Therefore, it becomes urgent to develop a society with an identity that allows a new relationship between cultures, and the management of the process of evolution and change cannot be left to the improvisation of individuals or the pure search for economic return. It is the responsibility not only of the West that possesses huge economic resources, but of all the governments of the Mediterranean coast countries, to establish policies coordinated among themselves to promote mutual knowledge, policies that allow the seizing of opportunities offered by the movement of peoples for the purpose of mutual enrichment, to the detriment of some categories that claim cultural closures towards the world around them. Problems of coexistence with equal dignity and problems created by the arrival of immigrants in Europe must be solved by seeking parallel solutions also in their countries of origin, first of all the recognition of human rights, with laws that guarantee the same rights among all citizens without discrimination of sorts. In fact, nations in the north of the Mediterranean deal with some fundamental aspects regarding people’s life choices in a very different way than those in the south
Example of such differences can be seen when two young people of different religions want to marry, or the condition of woman, still in a position of inferiority, and still the possibility or not of choosing a religious affiliation, on pain of imprisonment and civil death, or access to some public functions and teaching places, from which are excluded the non – Muslims, not to mention the obstacles posed by the authorities to restore non-Islamic places of worship, etc. It is clear that the creation of a relationship of coexistence with equal dignity between different peoples cannot succeed if it is not supported by a policy adopted jointly by the leaders of the countries concerned, which should eliminate discourses and demagogic policies that have a short life and instead focus on economic development, an indispensable basis for inculcating the culture of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights by implementing policies and laws that do not create differences between the majority and the minority both in Europe and in the Middle East. All religious and political leaders, on the one hand, and businessmen and managers, and more especially tour operators, on the other hand, should be at the forefront of the battle to make people to know when another, an indispensable premise for preventing the emergence of sources of tension with consequences that are already visible today.
Muslim and Christian Arabs
The inhabitants of the southern Mediterranean countries can be considered Arabs with a Muslim majority, with an Arab Christian component that is around 10% of the total, with strong concentrations in Egypt and Lebanon. With the exception of Turkey, there is a situation of linguistic and cultural homogeneity, originating from the expansion of Islam. However, “arabity” is not a race nor a religion, but rather a geographical, linguistic, cultural, political and historical grouping. In this context, Christians are an integral part of the Arab world, they are not “less Arabs” than Muslims, and Muslims are not “more Arabs” than Christians. It is therefore important not to confuse the Arab with the Muslim. Indeed, today the average European considers the Middle East an Islamic region, with the circumscribed Jewish insertion, therefore a region in which Christians constitute minorities felt to be strangers. In fact, the Christian element in these regions is precisely the indigenous element: the Copts are the direct heirs of the ancient Egyptian civilization, passed through the Hellenistic experience and then Christianity. Not for nothing is that which gave decisive figures in ecclesial history such as Origen and Athanasius, Cyril and the great fathers of monasticism, beginning with St. Anthony, (his monastery is located on the Egyptian coast, north of Hurghada). And similarly we could say of the Orthodox and Melkites of the Palestinian and Syrian area, not to mention the Maronites in Lebanon, or the numerically reduced, Sira community. How does the intertwining of different cultures affect the development of society and what can be the contribution of religious minorities to Arab-Islamic culture? We are convinced that the intertwining of cultures provokes the socio-cultural enrichment of society: just think of the Arab civilization that reigned in the Middle East to confirm it. Before the Muslim conquest, begun in the 7th century by the prophet Muhammad and completed by his successors, the Middle East was predominantly Christian with the presence of two great cultures, the Hellenistic and the Syriac. The origin and development of a true Arab civilization can be attributed to this cultural dualism present in the Christian sphere. Historians are well aware that, some centuries before the birth of Islam, there were Arab Christian tribes, and that Arabic writing, in particular, derives largely from them: an Arab cultural tradition was therefore already present in these areas long before . It was the Christians and the Jews who resided in these regions that allowed this original cultural heritage to develop and remain alive even after the penetration of Islam.
After the Islamic conquest, the Christian communities of the Middle East, and partly also of Spain, quickly Arabized, thus introducing their ancient Christian traditions into Arabic culture: Greek, Syriac, Coptic, and even Latin. Christians of all denominations have started translating, from Greek and Syriac to Arabic, the literary and scientific works of their predecessors, thus provoking a renaissance that lasted throughout the Middle Ages, when the Western world was still immersed in darkness . The Arab and Islamic civilization is therefore indebted both to Christians and to other local minorities, such as Jews, as well as to Asian culture, since it has spiritual roots that refer to the Eastern experience.
A comparison between cultures
History teaches that the factors that give rise to the momentum and development of a civilization are the return to its roots but also the openness towards the culture of the time in existence. The Abbasid rebirth (8th-13th century) cited as an example of glory by the Arab peoples is due to the combination of these two factors, of which Christians are the main supporters. The amalgamation of the Syrian, Hellenic and Persian civilizations with the Arab gave rise to the revival promoted by the Abbassids. It should also be remembered that the modern Arab revival that began in the nineteenth century was caused not only by the return to its roots, but also by the opening towards modern civilizations. This combination of past and present creates that synergy that stimulates the future. Another example? The first Arabic-language newspaper, Al Ahram, was founded in Cairo by two brothers of Syrian origin, Bishara and Selim Takla, using the technology of the moment, but also thanks to the political openings of Kedive Mohamed Ali. To validate the concept of the value that the Eastern legacy can have for the Christian world, is the fact that of the five churches recognized by the first Ecumenical Councils, at the head of which sits a Patriarch, as many as four are in the Middle East: in Constantinople today Istanbul, Antioch in the south of Turkey, Alexandria in Egypt, and Jerusalem. Rome, patriarchal see of the Pope, Patriarch of the West, is recognized as the mother of all the Churches.
I believe that the West must rediscover the values upon which its society has evolved, through the rediscovery of the cultural and religious heritage of the East, the cradle of the three monotheistic religions. Regarding the need to learn about Eastern Christianity and the Muslim peoples, let me also mention a great French Islamist who was welcomed to the Arab academy in Cairo, who became a Melkite priest, who declared: “There is a people that no one really loves, because nobody really knows, and that nobody really knows, because nobody really loves, and this people is the Muslim people. ”
The value of synergy between peoples.
We have therefore seen that the media have lowered the physical barriers between nations and, thus, increasing movements among peoples. The same means of communication should be used to lower cultural barriers. In order to manage this change it is necessary to act together in North and South, East and West, leaving no room for those who claim to hold the monopoly of truth and to use coercion to impose their truth. Our world is like a single human body with two lungs: it needs both to breathe. For the vast majority of Europeans, there is an awareness of only a superficial knowledge of the culture of those living in the countries of the Middle East and of the difficulties faced by a young person from cultural contexts so distant from us, when having to adapt to the cultural norms of the West.
Bridging the gap that still today culturally separates the Islamic world from the Western one starts from the experience of the Christians of the East and of the minorities in general; this could be our goal in the hope that by cooperation the cultural differences between the two civilization will eventually be used in such a way that encourages mutual growth and cultural enrichment
The rediscovery of the values from which societies have evolved has been shown to give dynamism to cultures. We are driven by a profound respect for a cultural tradition of great depth and at the same time we are encouraged by the progressive narrowing of the cultural gap of the people of each side of the Mediterranean basin who increasingly mix and interact.
With the advance of modern technologies and communications, the planet has become one world; the moment is therefore propitious to exploit the potential synergies given by the promiscuity of peoples and cultures to prepare us for a twenty-first century of peace and economic development.
Which tourism do you propose?
We travel for many reasons: for work, for study, for curiosity, for boredom, for forgetting, for wasting money, for chasing dreams or illusions, for occupying time, for being alone with ourselves. Someone even travels to seek God. What we can propose, in light of what has been said, is to travel in the Near East not only for tourism, but by combining the journey with a study and a human experience, in difficult but fascinating countries, where modern technology has not erased either the memory of the past nor the traditions of hospitality and beauty. A journey in search of color and the vivid taste of history.
In addition to the now traditional visits to monuments and traces of past civilizations, it is possible to make the tourists aware of the current reality of the regions visited. Most do not know the existence of local Christians and the traditions of the Church in the countries visited, limiting themselves to thinking of a uniform Islamic world, and this applies to all countries in the Middle East and parts of North Africa. Two-way tourism, from Europe to the Middle East and from the Middle East to Europe, can therefore be an opportunity to rediscover the cultural and religious heritage as being instrumental to mutual enrichment towards new horizons.
By learning more about the Islamic world and its relationship with Christian minorities, with which it has always lived, the western tourist will bring back from the trip a wealth of useful knowledge to give the best of our contribution to the new physiognomy of our multi-ethnic society. As for young people and the university world, they are the most receptive to change, always looking for new experiences to confront. Organization of travel for young people already done in the West should be extended to the Middle East which could include work camps for students, student exchange, the drawing up of protocols or agreements between universities, etc. These are formulas that should be adopted in both directions, by the authorities of the Mediterranean countries for an exchange involving the South and the North, of course after adequate preparation of the young to prepare them to better enjoy the transitory experience agreed by their respective governments. Western tourism currently takes place mainly in groups, within well-defined itineraries, villages or hotels that reproduce the western environment by exploiting the natural beauties and the services offered locally relatively inexpensively. Visits to monuments and vestiges of the past only act as a boundary. It is up to us to remember that the visit to the lands heirs of the Phoenician, Egyptian, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek civilizations, etc. should conducted in a manner respectful of the uses and customs of the place, which often clash with ours.
After proper acculturation of the participants, western organizations could organize tourism on a large scale which could become a key element to bridge the gap that divides the Mediterranean peoples, cradle of the most ancient civilizations of humanity.
Finally, I remember a peace initiative, “Pacis Velum”, which involves the Middle East and which was presented in Bergamo a few days ago. It is a question of setting up a sailing boat that will bring symbolic sculptures to populations directly involved in conflicts or peace negotiations. At the time of the Middle East, the first mission will assign a sculpture of peace to the people of Israel (Mount Scopus) and one to the people of Jordan (Mount Nebo). The organizing committee, originally from Bergamo, has expanded nationally. I also take this opportunity to point out two Italian centers that are active in promoting ecumenical dialogue and inter-religious coexistence: the “ Ambrosian Center for Documentation for Religions”, which offers information and training to those who wish to initiate deeper communication between people of different religions and promotes mutual understanding and exchange between different religious experiences. And the “European-Near East Center”, which has among its aims to promote awareness of the intimate bond of European and Italian Christian civilization in particular, with the Near East (Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Armenia, Greece, Cyprus). We would like our reflections to reach not only insiders or tourist enthusiasts: we believe that certain indications and stimuli should reach as far as possible those who play a responsible role in society and who, within the three monotheistic religions , performs educational and guiding tasks. But it is necessary to send messages that are respectful of truth and clarity, even to the general public, to people who are too often besieged by approximate and misleading information. A goal perhaps too pretentious, which needs passion and enthusiasm to accomplish.
With this wish I greet all those present, the authorities and especially the representatives of the press, confident that they will be a good vehicle for the recipients of this message. Thank you.
Giuseppe Samir Eid
Free web translation from the original in Italian
The published articles intend to provide the tools for a social inclusion of the migratory flow, shed light on human rights and the condition of life of Christians in the Islamic world from which the author come from. Knowledge of the other, of cultural and religious differences are primary ingredients to create peace in the hearts of men everywhere, a prerequisite for a peaceful coexistence and convinced citizenship in the territory.