Young Scholars on the Silk Roads: An Interview Series - Moundhir Sajjad Bechari, Morocco
The Young Scholars on the Silk Roads interview series seeks to empower young people, by giving youth a platform from which to transmit their voices. Via this series young scholars hailing from different countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia will be interviewed to share their research and reflections on the ancient Silk Roads.
Brought up both French and Moroccan between the Arab Muslim world and Western Europe, Moundhir has always been interested in how different societies perceive and understand each other. Passionate about geopolitical issues, his research focuses on the social developments related to demographic change in Asia and the Arab World.
What do the Silk Roads mean to you? How would you define the Silk Roads?
Moundhir: The Silk Roads connect me to my culture. They are a real reminder of my initial knowledge and understanding of the far east and Asia.
Moreover, there wouldn’t be an Islamic civilization without the framework of the ancient Silk Roads, which profoundly impacted Islam. The Silk Roads have also shaped Islamic art, architecture, astronomy and music. They are a wonderful example of a grassroots movement where cultural and religious differences peacefully converged.
As a Moroccan, what is the place of your home country of the development of the Silk Roads?
By the 8th century, during the Ummayad rule, in the area that stretched from the Iranian plateau to South Europe, Morocco emerged as a strategic hub along the Silk Roads.
The city of Fes, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the major centres of the Silk Roads, was at the intersection of caravanserai routes connecting Europe to the Middle East.
I also can’t answer this question without mentioning Morocco’s greatest explorer, Ibn Battuta, who travelled far and wide across Africa and Asia and highly influenced Moroccan literature and its understanding of what was then called “the Great East”.
Are the Silk Roads important to your country today? How so? Do you know if your city/ country is engaged in any Silk Roads-related activities? Globally, do you think the Silk Roads holds value today? If yes, why? What does it represent?
Yes, the Silk Roads definitely play a major role in academia today in Morocco. In recent times, in Morocco, new approaches are pursued in social sciences, and consequently a lot of literature today emphasizes how the Silk Roads helped the Moroccan/Northern African civilization as a whole flourish.
You mentioned when we first met that you work on a television series relating to the Silk Roads. That’s pretty unique – could you talk a little about that?
Of course. I am co-director of the Silk Road Television Network, a television platform dedicated to the promotion of the Silk Roads today through cultural and commercial exchange. We currently broadcast shows in a number of regions and countries worldwide.
We produce two television programs, Between Cultures and Walk the Silk Road, in which I conduct interviews with high-level public officials, ambassadors and scholars in order to gain insights into the way the Silk Roads are perceived globally as well pressing social and political issues that have yet to be tackled. Additionally, we produce documentaries focusing on how Asia has been influenced by diverse civilizations along the Silk Roads, such as the Arab, Persian, Chinese and Indian ones.
What does the concept “Common cultural heritage” mean to you?
As an Arab-Muslim who lives in Asia, I see a lot of the common cultural heritage between Asia and the Arab World. I can draw a lot of comparison to the traditions I grew up with to those central to those I see in many Asian cultures today. It has always been easy for me to understand Asian countries’ cultures through this prism, which has been reinforced through the Silk Roads and all the exchanges that it brought to the Middle East.
Can you think of ways the UNESCO Silk Roads Online Platform can better engage young people?
We can’t talk about youth without mentioning social media – the digitization of information has been one of the main catalysts of growth in the new Y generation. I wonder if there is a way to better integrate the Silk Roads Online Platform with social media apps that are increasingly being used by youth in developing countries of the Silk Roads?
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