Audiences: journalists, academics, civil servants in domestic and foreign ministries and agencies dealing with integration issues, parliamentarians and members of the government, trainee journalists.
Speakers: Saera Khan (Norwegian MP), Oddbjørn Leirvik (University of Oslo), Abid Raja (lawyer and media commentator), Eshan Masood (journalist, author of “British Muslims”), Fareena Alam (editor, Q-News magazine UK), Rebecca Walton (British Council), Madeleine Bunting (The Guardian).
Abstract: Multi-ethnic societies in Europe are struggling to forge a broad-ranging internal consensus around where the boundaries lie for public debate, critique and discussion of Islam. From Salman Rushdie’s book “the Satanic Verses” in 1988, through to the films of Theo van Gogh, the Muhammed caricatures and recent papal comments, strong critiques of Islam – offensive to many Moslems – have been met with anger and violence both in Europe and in the rest of the world, as well as with reasoned argument and court action. Threats of disturbance, explicit or implicit, have also led to instances of artistic and journalistic self-censorship, the cancellation of Mozart’s Idomeneo in Germany being a recent case in point.
This bleak picture of an increasing polarisation within our multi-ethnic societies is reinforced daily by a global media and audience fascinated by “culture war” and “clashes of civilisations”. In such a confrontational environment it rapidly becomes received majority wisdom that advancing debate on Islam is impossible for fear of reprisal, that Islam is incompatible with freedom of speech and other liberal values, and even that Islam has the potential to destroy Western society as we know it “from within”. When linked to the “terror” discourse, the cumulative effect of such positions is to close down rather than open up the wider public debate needed on the evolving role of Islam in our societies.
This British Council conference – in conjunction with the launch of the British Council/Association of Muslim Social Scientists publication “British Muslims” – brings together journalists, commentators and politicians from both countries to explain how they are advancing the public debate on Islam in this emotionally-charged environment, while remaining true to their own beliefs and respecting the beliefs of others. The conference seeks to move discussion away from notions of the ”incompatibility” of Islam and Western society, and instead will focus upon and celebrate how communicators in both countries are successfully shaping and explaining modern Moslem realities – as well as the liberal/secular values of the societies they live in – to wider UK and Norwegian audiences on a daily basis.
The conference will be of interest to society/cultural affairs/foreign affairs journalists and all others who have a stake in the peaceful development and future health of our multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies in line with their core values of tolerance, human rights and respect for the individual.