Youth trained on social media as tools of interfaith dialogue (The Jordan Times)

By Rula Samain – Sep 12,2015 – Last updated at Sep 12,2015

AMMAN — Conflicts in the Middle East may often be caused by lack of capacity to effectively and peacefully deal with “the other”, said a participant at the “Social Media as Space for Dialogue” conference.

Mohammad Abu Nimer, senior adviser at King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), told The Jordan Times on the sidelines of the event that people tend to perceive “the other” from religious, but also cultural and gender perspectives.

The three-day event is being held in cooperation between Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies (RIIFS), KAICIID, Al Azhar Al Sharif and the Middle East Council of Churches.

“Children in the Arab World do not receive skills or guidance on how to treat and address their differences with others, on how to negotiate, rather than how to navigate, thus assuming that when one imposes their will, this will last,” said Abu Nimer, also an international peace conflict resolution professor at the American University.

When the majority imposes its identity and opinions without giving space to a different opinion, people tend to resolve their differences through the use of violence, he said.

As such, these issues need to be addressed by educators, governing officials, along with other vital and related issues such as economic development and gender relations, according to Abu Nimer.

In order to progress in this area, “in a sustainable way”, he said, there is a need to focus on the young generation, “investing in them, their education and skills, teaching them that differences are normal”.

At a training course, Abu Nimer lectured the gathering on the role of leadership in building peace, saying that peace requires cooperation of all segments of society, and that “among the characteristics of deep-rooted conflict are hopelessness and the lack of trust ones feels towards the other.”

More dangerously, he said, “conflicts encourage religious myths.”

The solution, then, is dialogue, which is “an effective tool that changes the person who masters it, before changing the other”.

The event, which started Friday, hosts almost 100 participants from Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

RIIFS Director Mageda Omar said the gathering will train youths on using social media spaces to promote religious dialogue away from extremism.

The youth and religious leadership will be encouraged to use social media in conducting dialogue and activities to promote social peace, she said.

KAICIID, headquartered in Vienna, is an international organisation whose objective is to facilitate intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.

Imam Khaldoon Hussein, a young man from Lebanon, said such events are important because they bring people in direct contact with each other.

“Meeting people and talking to them is much more important than reading about them, their faith or culture,” he said.

Besides RIIFS and KAICIID, Al Azhar Al Sharif and The Middle East Council of Churches took part in the event.

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