Does Dialogue Matter in a Warzone?

​Before attending the second seminar I felt somehow ashamed. As a Dane I live in very comfortable and privileged circumstances, and the dilemmas and challenges we face in Denmark regarding Ethnic and Religious conflicts are – at least at first sight – not very dramatic or serious. Since the first seminar in Copenhagen in March 2013 a lot has happened in the Middle East, not least in Syria and Egypt, but also in Lebanon.

And living in Denmark, the dramatic events in the Middle East seem both distant and near at the same time. In my Church we have often prayed for the victims of war and conflict, and though I know that some people do not believe in the power of prayer, I have to say, that for me the prayer in the Church has been a relief as well as a reminder of the shared responsibility for a creating a more peaceful future not just for ourselves but the generations to come as well.

When I told people in Denmark that I was going to Beirut to attend the final part of the LIU.2 program, many people asked me why I chose to attend the seminar. “Isn’t it too risky? The war in Syria might spread to Lebanon! You have children to take care of,” some of them said. And I had to agree with that. But at the same time, I was very well aware that the participants from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt lived the experience of conflict, war and insecurity everyday – and yet at the same time had the courage and energy to work for creating mutual understanding between people of different religious, social and ethnic backgrounds. So the risk I would take by going to Beirut for a couple of days, staying in a calm and green area in the mountains, seemed so small compared to the harsh realities of the everyday life of most of the LIU participants. So of course I should go to Beirut! Even more so, because attending the seminar would be a small, but hopefully not effectless gesture in support of the idea that dialogue does matter - even – or maybe especially – in times of war and conflict.

When I told people in Denmark that I was going to attend the seminar for sure, some of them took to the strongest argument  they could come up with – to try to make me stay at home: The argument was: “But really, does dialogue matter in a war zone? Isn’t it too late or too early to do dialogue now? Isn’t dialogue a luxury to be kept for better times?”. I do understand the argument, and I have to admit that I partly agreed, or at least had my doubts. But when I heard the participants from Egypt, Syria and Lebanon presenting the local activities they had engaged in – and the results of the activities – my doubts vanished. Bringing Christian and Muslim children together in conflict-torn parts of Egypt or creating art to express the consequences of war on children make sense.

Not just as a tool for creating the conditions for future peaceful coexistence, but  also as a meaningful expression of hope in itself. These examples will be in my mind in my future prayers - and will hopefully also inspire me to engage in more activities in my local context. It might be different and smaller challenges we have in Denmark, but the seminar in Beirut reassured me that we can still inspire each other and help each other remember that dialogue always matters. As some clever person once said: as long as people are engaged in dialogue they are not shooting at each other.

So, yes, dialogue does matter – and I came back from Beirut with loads of inspiration - also to look at the Danish context from other perspectives. One example is my growing awareness of the gap between secular (non-believers) on one side and religious Danes on the other.  So, if any of you have ideas how to create dialogue and understanding across this gap, please let me know!

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