Conference to “Bridge the Gap” Between Islamic World and the West Begins in Istanbul; Mideast Peace Plan High on Agenda

Published February 12th, 2002 - 02:00 GMT

Ministers from European and Islamic countries began arriving in Turkey on Monday for a conference aimed at bridging the gap between the Islamic world and the West, which many feared could widen into a “clash of civilizations” following the September 11 attacks on the United States.  


AP reports that Ministers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the European Union (EU) will meet for a two-day conference starting Tuesday to advance understanding and cooperation. The meeting is the first to take place among ministers of the two powerful regional groupings.  


"The gathering will bring to the whole world the message of peace, cooperation and harmony. This is a very important message," said Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who proposed the meeting in light of the terror attacks in New York and Washington.  


Turkey hopes that the Istanbul conference will help erase the notion of a “clash of civilizations” and assure that cultural divides are not a source of conflict.  


Many in the Arab world sense that the West is prejudiced against Arabs and Islam and that their religion has been equated with terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11 events. 


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, for example, had said that Western civilization was superior to Islam. Such statements have enraged Muslims and provoked international condemnation. Berlusconi later claimed he was misunderstood.  


Islamic commentators have also accused the United States of launching a wide range crusade against Islam.  


"The need for a dialogue between the Islamic and Christian civilizations will be better understood," said Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. 


Iraq, like Iran an Islamic country labeled recently part of an "axis of evil" by US President George W. Bush, is sending Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to the conference. The two neighboring nations are viewed after President Bush's remarks as potential targets in the US-led war against global terrorism.  


European countries have mostly opposed military action and argued that problems with Iraq and Iran should be dealt with by diplomatic means.  


Ankara hopes the gathering will help Turkey reassert itself as a model secular democracy for the Islamic world and serve as a bridge between the West and Muslim World. The predominantly Muslim but avowedly secular state is the only Islamic Conference member that is a candidate to join the European Union.  


"Turkey is the only country which belongs both to the OIC and EU communities," Cem said, adding that Turkey would not only serve as "a bridge but as a meeting place and a point of unity."  


The conference will host 71 countries and 44 foreign ministers, with more than 100 bilateral meetings expected to take place on the sidelines.  


On top of the agenda is a Middle East peace plan which French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine proposed during an EU foreign ministers meeting in Spain over the weekend. The plan calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state that would immediately be recognized by Israel and admitted to the United Nations. ( 

© 2002 Al Bawaba (

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