Dialogue is not for wimps - it's about taking risks
City University London's Professor Rosemary Hollis delivered her inaugural professorial lecture at the University yesterday evening, Wednesday 16 March 2011.
Professor Hollis, who has commented widely on the recent developments in Libya and across the Middle East, spoke about the transformative nature of cross-cultural dialogue, stressing its value as a learning tool for those involved whilst also warning that it need not result in agreement between the participants to be productive. Her talk referred to dialogue at all levels, including between academia and the policy sector.
Taking three practical examples, Professor Hollis highlighted the common misunderstandings and assumptions about the role of dialogue in relations between the West and the Middle East.
She unpacked the significance of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership of 1995 and the reasons why it ultimately failed to produce the kind of political reforms in the Arab world that the Europeans claimed to want; she described some of the discoveries made by participants in US-Iran dialogues during the era of President Khatami, not least about what they have in common as well as what divides them; and finally, she championed the benefits of City University London's Olive Tree Programme in providing an environment for Israeli and Palestinian students to engage in much needed conversation and interaction.
In relation to the Olive Tree Programme, she commented:
"This scholarship programme offers an unparalleled opportunity for extra-curricular dialogue and discovery. The Israeli and Palestinian students who come to London to study are genuinely interested in discovering what makes the other tick; this in itself makes them risk takers.
"Their discussions do not readily resolve their differences. However, the Palestinians and Israelis leave the University with a deeper understanding of each other and a greater appreciation of what conflict means. The Olive Tree Programme is an exemplar of what higher education can be at its most challenging and inventive."
Rosemary Hollis, Professor of Middle East Policy Studies, City University London