Wednesday, October 22, 2008
(Venice, Italy) When you find yourself in the same room as a Saudi Arabian Prince, the CEO of a major oil corporation, and too many Ministers, Advisors and Professors, et al, to mention, life can seem a bit surreal.
I had the great privilege to attend the Eurogolfe Forum for Human Development Under the Patronage of the French Presidency of the European Union and the Qatar Presidency of the Gulf Cooperation Council held at the Giorgio Cini Foundation on October 16 - 18 entitled: EUROPE, THE GULF AND THE MEDITERRANEAN Reviving Common Legacies, Mapping Our New Region. Doesn't that sound weighty and impressive? Well, it was!
First, the Eurogolfe Forum wishes to send the World a message, which is:
The conflict between Israel and Palestine must end.
More on that later.
To give you an idea of the level of human beings in attendance, His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal was one of the speakers. Prince Turki is the former Director of GID, which is Saudi Arabia's premiere intelligence agency (similar to the CIA in America). He was the Kingdom's former Ambassador to the United States -- until he abruptly resigned in December, 2006 after only 15 months on the job -- as well as to the United Kingdom and Ireland. Prince Turki is the youngest son of the Saudi Arabian King Faisal, who was assassinated on March 25, 1975, and the nephew of the present King. He came to the Forum in his capacity as the Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. After hearing Prince Turki speak, my immediate reaction was that I was in the presence of someone truly royal -- before I understood who he was.
Inviting Cat Bauer to a Forum like this was a brilliant idea because I come with very little baggage -- it is like inviting Alice to Wonderland -- and I am going to give you my honest impressions, as simply as I can.
First, like many Americans, I have very little sense of geography. To me, the entire Gulf region was a vague black hole filled with scary Muslims. Let's take a look at a map so we can get our bearings. It is difficult to find a good map, but I have permission from GraphicMaps.com to use theirs -- it is clean and simple and not cluttered with politics. Thank you, John O. Moen! (If you go to their site http://www.graphicmaps.com/ that little "WIN $100.00 HERE" sticker is a geography quiz, which, perhaps, many of us should take:)
Okay. That is the theatre, and those are the key players in this drama. Take a good look so you can put things into perspective. Really look at Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Iran, just where they are physically. Look at the Mediterranean Sea with respect to the Persian Gulf. One of my mottos is "It's the Divine Comedy, not the Divine Tragedy." Let's be honest -- we all can agree that the world would be much more pleasant if Israel and Palestine stopped fighting. It is as if dinosaurs are battling in slow motion, and the entire planet is weary of the dynamics. Let's have two defined states already! Sure, it sounds frightening, but at least it is a decision. Then we take it from there.
Speaking of dinosaurs, let us not forget that dead dinosaurs help create oil itself, a non-renewable resource. The importance of investing in renewable resources was also a topic of discussion. Imagine, again, how different the world would be if we seriously incorporated renewable resources into the existing structure. To me, that resource should be the Sun. If I were an emerging nation with plenty of oil, I would sell my oil to other countries and switch my energy over to the Sun.
The attendees were mostly men, speaking from their hearts and their minds. It was fascinating to watch because I have never been in that environment before, and it was an honor to have a glimpse into their world. These were enlightened, reasonable people, on the whole. After pondering for days, I have arrived at a conclusion: what the Middle East needs is a female ruler. After Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Pakistan, however, perhaps I am being too naive to think that dream can become a reality.
Here is an excerpt from a Message from Nicolas Sarkozy, who is the President of the French Republic, and the current President of the Council of the European Union:
"The fourth edition of the Eurogolfe Forum in Venice today brings together political and economic leaders, academics, artists, intellectuals, students and representatives of civil society from the European Union and member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council. This diversity is evidence of the quality of the dialogue established between our two regions which are linked by the Mediterranean area. ... (again, look at the map)
...Choosing Venice to hold the Forum speaks to us all: Venice is the symbol of a maritime civilization with exceptional cultural outreach which, as a trading seaport, brought together the East and the West, the Latin, Greek, Arab and Turkish worlds, Christendom, Islam and Judaism. Venice is the magnificent outcome of a shared culture sustained by the exchange of men, ideas and goods."
It is amazing, isn't it, that a physically small area such as Venice -- it is about the size of Central Park; you can walk across it in about half an hour -- had, and still has, such enormous impact on the planet? It seems larger because it lies at the junction of two fractals, according to Andrew Crompton & Frank Brown, who wrote an abstract about it entitled The Double Fractal Structure of Venice for the Space Syntax 6 Conference in Istanbul last year.
So, for those of you who insist on calling Venice, "Disneyland," you can be sure that world leaders do not attend the Eurogolfe Forum in Disneyland. You must open your eyes, and make an effort to do your homework -- Venice is a microcosm of the macrocosm. If you see Venice as Disneyland, that says more about you than it says about Venice. More from President Sarkozy:
"Venetian history, with its tragedies and boon periods, wars and works of art, is a mirror that reflects the challenges still facing the Mediterranean, Europe and the Gulf. The European Union is an unprecedented area of peace and prosperity in the Old World, a force of stability that prevails throughout the European environment through its economic strength and cultural outreach. Owing to plentiful oil supplies and financial liquidities, the Gulf Cooperation Council member States are becoming a new centre of our multipolar world where the media, banks, sovereign wealth funds, universities and museums have a growing impact on the major global flows of goods and images."
I think that Gilles Kepel, the Chairman of EuroGolfe and Professor of Middle-East Mediterranean Studies at Sciences-Po in Paris, and who organized the Forum, is on his way to sainthood. At the end of the Forum he gave special thanks to his students, saying it gave him comfort that they were a brighter generation. He said, "Bury me," in Arabic, which is a compliment:)
After taking time to digest what I experienced, I think a sincere effort is being made by sophisticated, caring people to reach out and create a New World. The financial market has deconstructed. The American Presidential elections are next month. New countries are emerging. We must accept that there is a New World being created in front of our eyes. I think it is our responsibility as members of the human race to do our part to create this New World based on genuine creative principals, using the highest qualities of the Old World upon which to build the foundation. Now, we have all heard all the conspiracy theories about a New World Order. I can only say one thing: listen to your hearts, and arrive at your own conclusions.
The Forum was held in English, with no translation, and, if my memory serves me correctly, everyone followed the rule except Giovanni Bazoli, the President of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, who spoke in Italian, Hubert Védrine, the Former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, who insisted on speaking in French -- in fact, declared how nice it was to hear French in the Tapestry Room -- and Prince Turki, who, after speaking in English for most of the conference, insisted on reading the message from his King in Arabic. (Gilles Kepel, who seems to be fluent in everything, translated, with a touch of weariness, whenever necessary.) I loved observing the dynamics when they interacted with each other, and to see that they were actual human beings with strengths and weaknesses.
Over and over again the speakers said that it is time to be transparent and honest so that we can do other things. Too many people have been lying and refusing to do their jobs in the proper fashion. That we cannot survive in a fortress. That this is a critical moment that cannot be underestimated. That the commodity we need is confidence.
A couple of days before I went to the Forum, I had the opportunity to speak, briefly, with Luca Francesconi, who is the new Director of the Music Section of La Biennale. He said something that struck me, and I think it's pertinent to this Forum. He said, "There is nothing left to deconstruct. Instead of destroying, it is time to create. We have an ethical mission to create."
I have heard this profound desire expressed by so many influential leaders who have recently passed through Venice, and it is my profound desire, also -- to create, not destroy. They have all expressed frustration with the status quo, or, even worse, the deliberate attempt to hold onto power by use of lies, intimidation and fear.
HRH Prince Faisal Bin Salman, another member of the Saudi Arabian royal family, said they were reaching out to the world. They said they felt they had been wrongly portrayed and would like to correct the situation -- "not to please others, but to present ourselves." They are working with women and have done things like invite female Scandinavian poets to meet with their Saudi counterparts, and exhibited Saudi female photographers so they could see things from the Saudi-woman perspective.
Honestly, the speaker who impressed me the most was Prince Turki. He spoke quite strongly about wanting to have a new dialogue and not play on humanity's fears to score cheap political points. He said that Europe and the Arab countries have much to share with each other. He truly seemed to want an international peace based on tolerance, understanding, sound business practices, and the building of bridges between the cultures -- not by imposing one culture upon another, but to sincerely make an effort to understand our individual cultures.
To see who all the speakers were, and the program, please go to Eurogolfe's website:
If that link does not work, you may find the same information at the Sciences-Po site:
It would be impossible to summarize the huge amount of information that was imparted, so I will focus on the most important message that the Forum wishes to transmit, an end to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Another reason the Forum was held in Venice is because 28 years ago, on June 10 & 11, 1980, all the European Chiefs of State met at that very place -- the Giorgio Cini Foundation -- and created The Venice Declaration, which stated the same thing: Palestine has a right to self-determination, and there must be two separate states. Then there were only nine members; today there are 27 members of the European Union, and they feel more strongly than ever. The world is ready. The players are ready. Mothers from both sides who have lost their children appeal for help. The West Bank appeals for help. Everybody is tired. The world could rest. They want to enforce the 1967 resolution, which gives 78% of the land to Israel and 22% to Palestine.
Now, when someone with legitmacy appeals for help, I strongly feel that we have a moral obligation to help them!
I think we should go back to the Sumerians to really understand what's going on. Here is a map from Encarta, with today's countries outlined in white.
Let us not forget that the goddess Inanna-Ishtar had some prime real estate here in this region:) My greatest peeve with this Forum was the under-representation of women. To me, if you want Progress in the World, you are going to have to open that window, too. For the most part, the handful of women who were at the Forum were intelligent, well-spoken and dignified. To me, women are a great under-utilized natural resource, and that must be corrected.
I deliberately try to avoid politics and religion, but by attending a Forum such as this, I was forced to cram in an intense period of catch-up just to write this blog. At my gut level, I feel there is a bit of... confusion about the United States, and the true intention of its people, and who, exactly, we are -- there was little representation from the US at the Forum. Americans are, by nature, helpful and accepting of different cultures, otherwise a man like Barack Obama could not be a Presidential candidate. Americans have not been exposed to what the reality of the world situation is, and I think they are slowly realizing this.
I think that the EU and the GCC could influence America by use of Soft Power (see how I've picked up the lingo?:) For example, as a novelist, I yearn to publish first here in Europe and/or the Gulf in English, and sell first here -- where I have lived for ten years -- and then sell to the United States. I, personally, am another under-utilized resource here in Europe, and I am certainly not the only one. American writers for young people, together with librarians, teachers and scholars, are an organized, vocal group, capable of major impact. That is just one example, but all over America you can find artists, film makers, musicians, etc., with sympathetic voices, willing to help, just as there are in Europe and the Middle East. Just as Saudi Arabia feels like it has been misrepresented, I, as an American, feel that we have been misrepresented. I, too, strongly believe that the situation can be improved by being open and honest, and I am certain there are many Americans who feel the same way.
I would love to see the EU and the GCC work with Americans to solve the world's problems. What Americans need is accurate information. Forgive me if it sounds simplistic, but, to me, the way to influence the government of America is by educating the human beings that make up America -- if the name of the Forum is "Human Development," well, Americans are human beings also. Maybe I am overly optimistic, but I believe that if France took the lead on this -- in the spirit of enlightenment, not competition -- the other countries would follow. After all, if it wasn't for France, there wouldn't be a United States of America.
No matter how diverse our cultures, we all do have a common language: it is the language of the heart.
Ciao from Venice,
P.S. The nice thing about a blog is that it is like clay, and can be molded and changed as days go by. If you have read this before, you will see that I have been searching for a title, and decided on H.G. Wells' 1923 novel, Men Like Gods, about an Utopian world where Lying is the Blackest Crime. For those of you who haven't read it, Project Gutenberg of Australia has made it available online:
Title: Men Like Gods (1923)Author: H.G. Wells* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *eBook No.: 0200221.txtLanguage: EnglishDate first posted: March 2002Date most recently updated: January 2003