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Religion and Society

Un intervento di Oasis al convegno "Turkey, gateway to Europe. (English)

Maria Laura Conte

Before beginning, I should like to thank you for inviting our organisation to this study day on Turkey. The Oasis International Study and Research Centre is based here in Venice, but its vital sap comes from a network of relations reaching right round the world. We also publish a magazine of the same name.


At the moment the Turkey, its features, history and fast-developing current situation is a very challenging topic. It forces us into comparisons between East and West arguably, it would be more appropriate to speak about Westerners and Easterners to try and understand what is happening in the ongoing historical processes in which we are all involved.


Turkey today drives us to look for new experiences of dialogue, to find out about projects which, although not known by all of us, are already underway. It leads us to examine in greater depths themes, such as the dialogue/clash between religions, by going beyond the simplifications often served up in the language of the media.


One these new experiences is Oasis. That's why I am grateful to the organisers of this meeting who invited us to present our project, and our new original cultural approach to the theme of dialogue and comparisons between religions, such as Christianity and Islam, for years now the field for the work carried out by Oasis.


The conception and creation of Oasis



Both the Study Centre and six-monthly magazine came for an idea put forward by Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Patriarch of Venice, shared by a scientific committee made up of four cardinals Barbarin (Lyons), Bozanic (Zagreb), Erdö (Budapest), Sepe (Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples) and Schönborn (Vienna) as well as several bishops and various members of the ecclesiastical and academic world.


Our magazine is published in four separate bilingual editions (Italian-Arabic, English-Arabic, French-Arabic, and English-Urdu) and focuses on Christian communities in Muslim-majority countries. It aims to be non-specialist cultural tool sharing experiences and views.


Target groups



Oasis has two main target groups: the Christian communities in Muslim-majority countries (with the aim of supporting their cultural life); and European ecclesiastical, cultural and social organisations, increasingly affected by the presence of Muslim immigrants.


In addition to these two main groups, the editorial staff builds up contacts with thinkers and cultural organisations in the Muslim world. Indeed the magazine also publishes articles by Muslim intellectuals.


The Oasis magazine did not begin with the idea of a group of intellectuals wishing to set up a new publishing enterprise such as those based on market research. It is the response to a precise request made by some Catholic bishops in Muslim-majority countries. Several years ago they expressed the need to Cardinal Scola, on a visit to the Middle East, to have suitable cultural tools for supporting education for Christians in their country so that those minority-group Christians could learn to reason about their faith and have some support for their everyday life.


For example, finding texts by Guardini, De Lubac, La Pira and Lewis, or some of the Pope's speeches in Arabic is very difficult in countries like Syria, Egypt or Pakistan. They can be found in other languages, such as French or English, but it is not the same for the locals.


Language is not only a tool for texts: 'it is a means for exchanging views and an indispensable vehicle for personalisation and communion' (Cardinal Scola).


That is why Oasis chose to publish bilingual editions, so that it could really be a vehicle for people not only to read fundamental texts expressed in their own language but also to write in their own language (as some Arab intellectuals have done by publishing their articles in Oasis).


The name



The name Oasis already suggests a whole programme.


On 6 May 2001, exactly five years ago, during a meeting of the Muslim community in the courtyard of the Great Mosque at Damascus, Pope John Paul II remarked: 'Places of prayer are dear to both Christians and Muslims as an oasis in which to meet merciful God on the path towards eternal life and their brothers and sisters in the bond of religion.'


Oasis is a word conjuring up images of peace a resting place allowing encounters with others and with God.


In the Bible (Genesis) and Koran, the word 'oasis' also means Paradise.


The hybridisation of civilisations



Even in this summary outline we note that Oasis has chosen a new path, inspired by the basic idea expressed by Cardinal Scola on several occasions: the idea of a process in which, whether we like it or not, we are immersed and must reckon with the "hybridisation of civilisations".


Oasis wishes to focus on this process and its implications for civilisations.


Of course the mixing of peoples is far from being an absolutely new phenomenon. The whole of history has developed from cultural crossovers and migrations.


But today the migration phenomenon concerns the whole planet. It is unrelenting, as people move in two directions. Millions flee from situations of extreme poverty and seek their fortune and wealth in rich countries. But there is also a movement in the other direction for tourism and work, and millions of people travel to the remotest corners of the world.


Cardinal Scola describes this as an ongoing process which, like all historical processes, does not ask permission to happen. Without any theories, or categories for understanding reality, we simply wish to record a situation affecting everyone as individuals and as civil societies.


The hybridisation of civilisations is taking place in a more or less violent crossing over of cultures which inevitably undermine the notion of a 'nation' and its related ethnic certainties.


If we wish to be more than a passive presence, as if immersed in an aquarium, we must get to know this process, judge it and try to guide it.


Writing in the editorial of the first issue of Oasis, Cardinal Scola commented: 'Everyone knows that since 2000 the global geopolitical situation, and especially in the Middle East and the Muslim-majority countries, has greatly deteriorated. Because of terrorism and war, the extremely serious nature of the international crisis is self-evident. In many countries Christian communities have come under severe pressure.


We are convinced that the first indispensable task is to find out more and understand. It is increasingly evident that we are now in a very complex historical and ecclesiastical situation. Together we need to identify other dimensions to understand the drive underlying the urgency of this unprecedented mixing of peoples, which the Creator of history seems to wish to call humanity.


If we may be allowed to use a bold metaphor, we might almost speak of an inevitable kind of "hybridisation of civilisations" so that the coming together of peoples does not inevitably become a clash.


Hybridisation is meant in the figurative sense of a mixture of cultures and spiritual affairs, which occur when different civilisations come into contact. Moreover, we share the same human nature as the foundation for the family of peoples.'


Insufficient categories



The Oasis project has developed from an awareness that categories such as reciprocity, tolerance, and integration which are markedly Western are becoming increasingly insufficient.


To quote Cardinal Scola again: 'Not so much for the values to which they allude, but in terms of what we cannot think or communicate. If we consider them carefully they turn out to be categories which contain especially in the West the temptation to limit the freedom of individuals and organisations of peoples to speak out in the first person. These categories may be useful in pointing to the limits of human survival, but not in exploring the foundations of the new planetary crossovers requiring a new order and a world government.


Albeit in a different context, Lewis perceptively pointed out that: "Equality protects life, it doesn't nourish it. It is a medicine not food." Thus speaking about "tolerance", "reciprocity" and "integration" is not enough.'


In the Western world, as the Oasis experience reveals, the debate is in danger of becoming a purely juridical affair. As if introducing a new law or system of regulations was enough to solve the problem of all the new members of our society.


Here we find that temptation to dream up such perfect systems, in which as T. S. Eliot says 'no one will need to be good'.





It is at this point Oasis wishes to propose a new way of coming together: the way of testimony.


Cardinal Scola notes out that 'testimony immediately calls on every man and woman, summoning them to express themselves in the first person and not decide beforehand where the meeting and dialogue will stop.


But we must know how to translate testimony into realistic terms and social, political and cultural forms with a view to the good life of peoples.


These objectives must be pursued without any utopian and intellectualist illusions.'


According to Scola, it's pointless thinking that man can be spared the adventure of the meeting with the other, because each of us is born and grew up in relationships. At this level Oasis wishes to make its contribution not in academic or scientific terms but in cultural terms in the widest sense of the word.


Oasis speaks to everyone Christians, Muslims, atheists and agnostics and invites them to take the risk of sharing first hand in the work on the significance of the person, community and family of peoples.


Oasis is based on the certainty that a free dialogue of this kind is possible everywhere in the world as a way of generating new civilisations.


The contents of the magazine should be seen in this light. The outcome of decisions by an international editorial board, its structure is far from casual.


Each issue has seven sections:


Current News based on a theme which is developed through contributions from various writers of different extraction. The first issue focused on the relation between majorities and minorities in the world; the second on the question of integration (with reflections on the various models found in different European countries and their points of vulnerability); and the third on the issue was on Islamic terrorism;


A Documents section, with texts by that cannot be found in Arabic or Urdu;


A Special Report, aiming to describe the various forms of Islam in the world, from Arab countries to Asia, the Balkans and Africa.


An Interview with a leading figure authoritatively pursuing an idea or new struggle on themes particularly dear to Oasis;


Contributions: a mosaic of views from round the world expressed by leading players in remote situations with the aim of breaking down the prejudice and ignorance found all around us;


And lastly a section of Book Reviews on worldwide publications and a calendar of important events.






This is a brief technical note. In Italy Oasis can be found in bookshops. In the rest of Europe and the United States readers can receive it by subscription (also on the Internet at The review is sent free of charge to bishops in the following countries:


Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Benin, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Cyprus, Egypt, Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, , Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Timor, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda and Uzbekistan.


Final remarks



I should like to end by pointing out that all of us who work on the Oasis project despite coming from the four corners of the world and speaking dozens of different languages and dialects are united by an awareness of the boldness of the project, but also the belief that this venture really is in all of our interests.