How do we see each other?

In the first panel session of this morning the possibilities for dialogue between Europe and the Mediterranean were considered from the angle of different narratives and images that prevail in our societies about the respective other.

Bekim Agai from the University of Bonn, Germany, started the discussion by questioning historically constructed borders that we take for granted and how these have become obstacles to possible co-operation between Europe and the Southern Mediterranean. He insisted that “history doesn't shape political reality, [but] political reality shapes history”. According to Agai, the gaps that were artificially constructed are not questioned, thus creating prejudices that made it, for example, possible to overhear the voices of the people in North Africa demanding freedom and human rights, because in our mind set it didn't occur to us that these people could want the same things as we do. He stressed that the differences that exist between Europe and the Arab world should not be used as an excuse to not cooperate, as in the end the European project of integration only came about because of the willingness to overcome conflict. To not let the so-constructed narratives and images prohibit us from understanding and working with each other he demanded that we should “find new aspects in old relations that are more suitable for our future”. He advocated for new approaches to educating people in the subject of history, something he called "entangled history", meaning to not study the issues involved from just one side by taking oneself as the centre of action.

The second contribution to this perspective on the obstacles to co-operation was presented by Driss Maghraoui from the Al Akhawayn University Ifrane, Morocco. He began with the argument that “words and concepts create worlds”. This, he explained, can be seen by how terms such as imperialism, islamophobia, occidentalism and orientalism, based on a selective reading of the past, have led to misunderstandings in practice. He described the differences that have been drawn between Europe and the Mediterranean as largely ideological and ahistorical rather than reflecting reality. While in the European narrative cross-cultural connections are not accurately represented, the Mediterranean is based on a defensiveness grounded in the experience of imperialism. Maghraoui emphasized that we should change the educational curriculum and rethink the past; we should find common grounds, shared values, and do so with mutual respect and recognition of difference. He was in agreement with Bekim Agai about how history should be taught by including different narratives, perspectives and overcoming the idea of the other as a homogeneous entity. All in all, as Maghraoui noted, “reality is complex and we need complex notions to reflect this reality”.

Citizenship Education
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