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KARACHI, Jan 21: Learning from its long history of conflict, its devastating impact and its interaction with inter-European and external communities over time, Europe has evolved to learn the importance of humanity and cross-cultural dialogue.

This was stated by Javed Jabbar, a former minister, at a lecture held at the Area Study Centre for Europe, Karachi University, titled ‘Promoting ideas of interfaith and cross-cultural ties in building a harmonious world: role of the European Union’ – the first in the ASCE’s series of lectures this year.

Europe was the smallest continent, but its impact had extended to almost all corners of the world, he said. “The irony is that Europe wasn’t the birthplace of the three Abrahamic religions. Yet it plays an important role for each one of them: the headquarters of the Roman Catholic community is in Rome, Germany will always be important for the Jewish faith because of the Holocaust and for forming the foundation of Zionism.”

He lamented that the origin of Europe’s attitude towards other religions was historically rooted in ignorance. “It was almost 1,000 years after Islam was introduced that it was translated into a European language,” said Mr Jabbar, adding that it was ignorance coupled with misinformed prejudice that shaped the historic attitude of Europe towards Islam.

Despite efforts being made by the European Union to foster intercultural and interfaith dialogue, there were many religion-based events that disturbed Europe. They included the debate on wearing the hijab in France, the size of the minaret of a mosque in Switzerland, the Danish cartoons controversy in 2006, the murder of a Dutch filmmaker (Theo van Gogh) in 2004, the Norway massacre of 2011, the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London train bombings, the murder of a Muslim man in Greece last year. Among other large-scale conflicts were the Chechen crisis and the Balkan war in the early ‘90s and the failure of the European Union to protect the Bosnian Muslims from being massacred, added Mr Jabbar.

He pointed out that especially after the Second World War, Europe went through a stage of introspection where it decided to place importance on humanity. “They have a genuine commitment to humanity, which is reflected in their laws even those regarding trade,” he said. “They realise that we all live on one planet and everything including climate change will affect all of us. They are working towards that. It is very important that it encourages interfaith dialogue for its own stability, economic interests and to prevent extremism.”

There was an official EU policy towards promoting culture and art, fostering inter-cultural dialogue and encouraging a trans-national cultural crossover, Mr Jabbar said, adding that in Feb 2011 over 150 religious leaders representing all the major religions were invited to Auschwitz, Germany, to seek an end to extremism.

Responding to a question as to why the same policy of promoting interfaith and cross-cultural harmony was not working as effectively in South Asia, Mr Jabbar said: “Religion is predominantly the same in countries across Europe. Even if it doesn’t play a predominant role in Europe, it plays an important role in South Asia.”