Unification News for April 2002
Saturday, March 2nd, we had a full day program dedicated to peace and dialogue between Western and Arab women living in Spain. The program organized by the Women Federation for World Peace was a call for “Sisterhood between Arab and Western Women within the frame of universal values” and took place in the Hall of Congress of Madrid with 350 people in attendance.
Many distinguished guests attended the program which was divided basically in two parts. The morning was dedicated to understand better the situation from Arabic and Western perspectives and had different guess speakers in two different sessions. After lunch, the program changed completely. The stage had been decorated with a symbolic bridge of peace filled with flowers.
Isabel Gutierrez Zuloaga, a professor of Madrid Complutense University, opened the day with welcome remarks and the reading of some of the many congratulatory letters received in our local office. Among the letters read were the ones from Her Majesty Queen Sofia, our First Lady, Ana Botella, the First Lady of Syria, Asmae El Assad, the President of Congress, Luisa Fernanda Rudi, the Mayor of Madrid, Jose M. Alvarez del Manzano and former UNESCO Secretary-General, Federico Mayor Zaragoza.
Next we had the opening remarks by Isabel Tocino, Congresswoman from the Popular Party (the conservative party now in power) and former Minister of the Government. Her lively remarks were followed by the words of Mari Carmen Montes, Senator from the Socialist Party and Tomas Zamora Rodriguez, Law Professor at Madrid University and former Secretary General of Spain Ombudsman. To end up this first round of speeches, Marcia de Abreu, President of WFWP Spain, gave some remarks about the meaning of the day and the purpose of WFWP.
After that we went into the first roundtable. The session called “Woman as a Promoter of Universal Values”, was moderated by Monteserrat Abumalham, Director of the Institute of Religions, Madrid Complutense University, and had as speakers two scholars specialized in the Arabic World, Manuela Cortes and Teresa Madrid, and the special contribution of Carmen Iglesias, Director of the Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies, member of the Council of State (the highest board of the advisors which the Spanish Government has). All the presentations were brilliant and thought provoking and when time came for questions and answers there were too many who wanted to say something,
For this reason the midmorning break came in a good time. People had the opportunity to visit the stand of the Islamic Cultural Foundation and taste a bit of heaven thanks to the many cookies and cakes donated by the Central Mosque of Madrid and the top Arabic restaurant in town. The Moorish tea did the rest to pave the way for the audience to go back to the meeting hall with renovated strength.
This time our moderator was Bahira Abdulatif, from the University of Baghdad. Bahira made a very funny mistake right at the beginning when saying that “after the presentations there will be time for combat” (instead of time for debate, since in Spanish “combate” and “debate” sound very close). She could manage to get out of the situation saying that since she is from Iraq, she has a mindset ready for combat at all times.
The session had the title “Woman, Religion and Society” and our speakers were Margarita Lopez, historian and founder of the Islamic Cultural Foundation, Iman Amina Ouenzar, a linguist of the Algerian-Spanish Forum and Esperanza Bautista, a Catholic Theologian, founder of the Women Catholic Theologians Association of Spain.
After their presentation we were ready for a combat-debate that turn out to be a very peaceful one even though many sensitive issues were dealt. Our participants (many of them our friends from previous events) showed in all moment a greater will for dialogue and respect than for any kind of conflict. In this way, all of the speakers were welcome with warm applause and no one in the audience walked out or showed any sign of disrespect.
In fact the audience played the central role in the day since it represented the most diverse possible backgrounds. The audience was composed of several ambassadors and diplomats of different Western and Islamic nations, university professors, leaders of Islamic religious associations (including the head of the diplomatic affairs of the Central Mosque of Madrid), representatives of Spanish political parties, including the Communist Party, representatives of several city halls and persons in charge of women affairs in those cities, members of different social associations and NGO’s , over 30 Catholic nuns and representatives from other religions (the President of the Buddhist Federation of Spain and his wife were there).
Spaniards tend to be very sensitive and understanding about Islam and Arabic issues. Part of Spain was Muslim for 800 years. So people deal with these issues not as part of some diplomatic strategy or intellectual exercise but as a very deep thing that goes into the heart of people when issues of our Andalusi Heritage (Al Andalus is the name for the old Spain) are touched.
We were lucky that the Hall of Congress could also provide for lunch and so most people stayed and continued for a couple of hours chatting endlessly with those around and finding out more about the “other one” before reaching easy or false conclusions. That long break helped us prepare for the more emotional side of the program which was going to come afterwards.
All started again with the words of Yves-Marie Guillou, founder of a new age type association called Life, Death, Life, who prepared people for the ceremony to come talking about the especial era we are in, how mankind is one family and the planet our home.
And then came our long friend Germanine Abd El Chehd, of the Lebanese Embassy, cheering up everybody, getting the audience excited enough (in Arabic and Spanish) to be willing to cross the bridge of Peace set up in the stage. The music was sounding loud: Happy Arabic tunes and the more solemn European Anthem. Everyone crossed the bridge and found a sister or a brother from the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. We were creating a bridge of love greater than the present prejudice and the scars of history. Some Saharaui ladies were expressing their joy with a typical guttural sound from the Magreb. It was really moving to see people embracing each other and coming down the stairs of the stage holding hands. We ended the sisterhood/brotherhood ceremony with a pledge read aloud in Spanish and Arabic (for those privileged ones who could speak it).
We had some closing remarks by Joaquin Ruiz Jimenez, former Minister of the Government and Ambassador of Spain, who said in a very spontaneous way that he cannot give closing remarks to a ceremony of peace since the way to peace cannot be close, he can only wish that we continue forever in the same spirit.
On the Arab side, we had Oumama Aouad, professor at the University Mohamed V in Rabat, give some closing remarks.
We didn’t want to end the day without offering to such a beautiful audience something especial and we asked our friend Luis Delgado and his group to offer a concert of Christian, Sephardic and Andalusi music of Spanish middles ages played with instruments of that time.
Luis Delgado is a composer and musician with a long career and it is always a privilege to have him and help us bring to life the musical traditions of the past but with a message good enough for today.
People I talked to after the program were really moved. They didn’t have words to express their gratitude to WFWP for organizing this event. Some of the representatives of cities who attended wanted to sponsor WFWP chapters in their towns and do similar programs to build a greater understanding with minorities living there.
It was a great day for reconciliation and a day to envision what the world could be with the best of us at work.