Arab culture for peace and dialogue
What do you know about Arab culture? Did you know that the Arab and Islamic worlds have interacted with other cultures throughout history and contributed to dialogue, mutual understanding and peace? Many would be surprised to learn that, for instance, the Arab culture has had a significant influence on Argentinian or Peruvian cultures, among other Ibero-American countries, or that through calligraphy Arab and Japanese people share remarkably similar ways of self-expression.
For the past 20 years, UNESCO’s Arabia Plan has sought to increase knowledge of Arab culture worldwide, and to promote meaningful, constructive intercultural dialogue between Arab-Muslim culture and the rest of the world.
In 1989, UNESCO, its Member States and the Arab Group, in particular, started discussing the first drafts of the Arabia Plan. At first, it was conceived as a cultural and intercultural initiative, mainly concerned with traditional arts, cultural heritage, history and literature.
The Arabia Plan is based on the understanding that culture makes development sustainable, and is, as such, a key foundation of global peace. The Plan underscores the important role that the Arab world has historically played in cultural and intercultural exchanges – for instance, translating into Arabic and preserving the works of Ancient Greek philosophers and Roman scholars, or through its interactions with other civilizations in Africa, Asia and Europe.
Established in 1991, the Plan had three strategic areas of focus. The first area is on “continuity and change”, meaning understanding cultural heritage and cultural identity as agents of development. The second, “innovation and modernity”, consists in the promotion of contemporary Arab creation and creativity. The third and final area focuses on “dialogue between cultures, and universality”, dealing with the role of the Arab culture in interaction with the other cultures of the worlds.
During the first ten years of implementation of the Plan there were some remarkable achievements. Examples include the publication of the book “History of the Arab Countries in Diplomatic Archives (1523-1945)”, by H.E. Ambassador Adel Ismaïl, a work of historical and archival research, and the launch of the “ACALAPI” project (Contribution of Arab Culture to Ibero-American Cultures via Spain and Portugal). ACALAPI proved so successful that it developed into an independent project, separate from the Arabia Plan.
By 2001, it was clear to UNESCO and to the Arab Group of Member States that the Plan had to be updated to successfully respond to challenges of the new century, such as globalisation, Internet and new communication trends, migration movements, terrorism and new conflicts. It became more urgent than ever to promote intercultural dialogue, taking advantage of the opportunities that new technology provided. Thus, a set of new initiatives was proposed. Among them, fostering cooperation between libraries in the Arab world and elsewhere, using the Internet to share major works of Arab culture, or promoting audio-visual works picturing the Arab cultural heritage.
The mission of the Arabia Plan has lost none of its necessity or urgency, since the Plan’s launch in 1991. Humanity needs dialogue and new ways of building sustainable and lasting peace; and the Arab culture has a significant role to play and a precious contribution to make. UNESCO and the Arab Group of Member States are committed to maintaining this project and to promoting the knowledge of Arab culture and creating a genuine intercultural dialogue. This is the path that will lead to mutual understanding among peoples and, ultimately, the way to achieve UNESCO’s fundamental goal: peace.