Culture unites where politics divides. We live in a world where politics has increasingly become nuanced, and where people vehemently stand by their narrowly defined politics — viewing all other political perspectives as faulty and negatively judging those who hold those opinions. However, culture holds quite a reasonable possibility of bringing people together.
Culture binds and does not divide, it preserves and does not dissipate. Culture is a gate to cross in order to reach the desired political unity. Up till now, we have suffered from the fragmentation of our cultural consciousness, not just from political division. If decision-makers and the political class in the Arab world have failed to remove the imaginary and real barriers and borders between people of common history and future, it is then the duty of intellectuals and cultural elites to take the initiative to strengthen ties, increase communication and cohesion among the brotherly Arab people. If we allow culture to play its role fully, we can solve many problems, including political ones.
In this context, we must celebrate initiatives such as The Arab Awards Forum, which was called for by the King Faisal International Prize in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This award and many like it are attended by key officials, representatives and decision-makers. They succeed in raising awareness and creating the space for all kinds of formal and informal dialogue and discussions on a lot of topics and issues that concern Arab nations in general and the winners of the prizes in particular — including writers, critics, inventors, media people and social media activists.
This Awards Forum is particularly important since it is proposed to bring together the Arab prizes under one permanent umbrella. This first Forum focused on deliberating the criteria and mechanisms of Arab awards and the common denominators and differences with a view to exchanging expertise and defining ways to face up to challenges. Soon an electronic portal for the Arab awards will be established. Additionally, the information about the award will be disseminated with the purpose of promoting the joint Arab cultural action and motivating the inventors and thinkers of the Arab nation. In other words, it goes beyond the mere gathering of the various participants in the Arab Awards Forum.
Dr Abdul Azeez Al Sabeel, the General-Secretary of King Faisal International Prize, has played, with his distinguished team, an outstanding role in making the forum a success, asserting that Palestine will not be in a competing position but will retain a place as a permanent member of the Executive Board. The King Faisal Prize initiative is commendable and must be further strengthened. Institutionalising the initiative is going to help in further enhancing the appeal of these awards. The best way to achieve the goal of defining the “future visions” is to share experiences and deliberate on different ideas that complement one another.
I believe that it is the delegates’ task now to get to know more of each other and to get a close look at the Arab awards. In my address at the event, I admitted my lack of knowledge in this area (except for one award here or there). I feel I still need to know more and the forum has now created the opportunity for me and others to do so. It is my belief and the belief of almost all participants that Arabs have so far not been able to achieve political unity, and it doesn’t look we’re close to realising that dream.
Yet, I think we might get closer to that goal if we turn to culture instead of politics.
Culture today is understood more widely than before. It is aimed at addressing the whole human in body, spirit and mind. This concept is a powerful factor in international relations, namely as represented in the declaration of the right to culture and the right to cultural exchanges. Therefore, the meeting of thinking heads and intelligentsia at the Arab Award Forum is important and timely.
Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.