The M.A.D. PROJECT
the Making a Difference project
M.A.D. – is about Making A Difference! With our first project we aim to bring a different outlook on muslim majority countries and foster an intercultural dialogue by sharing what we learn about art and cultures from artists and professionals that we meet.
What different outlook and why?
“The Assembly deplores that a growing number of political parties in Europe exploit and encourage fear of Islam and organise political campaigns which promote simplistic and negative stereotypes concerning Muslims in Europe and often equate Islam with extremism. It is inadmissible to incite intolerance and sometimes even hatred against Muslims.
Contacts between Muslim and non-Muslim Europeans and Muslims in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia should be facilitated, in particular among young people, students and teachers”.
Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe,
Resolution 1743 (2010) Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia in Europe
The 9/11 attacks in New York and other terrorists attacks that followed in the last decades in Western Europe such as the ones in Madrid in March 2004, in London in July 2005 have contributed to foster the sentiment of hostility towards the Muslim communities in Europe. Other terrorist attacks that have occurred in Muslim majority countries killing both tourists and locals have reinforced the hatred (2002 Bali Bombing, 2005 Sharm-el-Sheikh terrorist attack, constant attacks in Iraq).
All these events and many more through the Muslim world have naturally raised fear and mistrust among people in the West and elsewhere, leading to acts of discrimination and violence such as the recent “Norway massacre” inspired by radical anti-islamic beliefs1 or a case of Muslim lady from Germany murdered in relation to her religious views2. Moreover, the war on terror that is taking place since the attacks of 9/11 in US is contributing to portray muslims as people who cannot adhere to western and democratic values.
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has stated:
“Muslims feel socially excluded, stigmatised and discriminated against; they become victims of stereotypes, social marginalisation and political extremism because of their different religious and cultural traditions.”
Muslims, as much as other cultures and faith have a strong sense of belonging to Europe. Yet, an anti-Muslim propaganda led by populist politicians and some of mainstream medias in Europe keep growing according to June 2011 report from the EU Commission on racism. Another report from the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia relates the various sectors where Muslims face discrimination, from housing to employment.
Today more than ever, it is essential to counter the stereotypes and misconceptions that establish patterns of hostility and mistrust among countries, smaller communities and even neighbours. In our local level, we need to promote a better understanding of the diversity and differences of cultures in Muslim majority countries, from Asia to Africa and contribute to put an end to political agendas that lead to intolerance and hatred.
Like the Council of Europe, we believe that we need to enter in dialogue with each other’s culture in order to promote peace, understanding, respect and solidarity between nations and individuals. Without intercultural dialogue, we take the risk to “develop stereotypical perception of the other, build up a climate of mutual suspicion, tension and anxiety, use minorities as scapegoats, and generally foster intolerance and discrimination”.
We, the team of the M.A.D. project, are convinced that education and cultural activities can be a bridge builder between nations and individuals and foster a mutual respect and understanding of the cultural and religious differences.
Muslim majority countries
For achieving our goal and contributing to counter the stereotypes and misconceptions that establish patterns of hostility and mistrust among countries, individual and communities,we decided to travel in Muslim majority countries, learn ourselves about arts and cultural diversity existing there and thus put the ground stone for the future of the M.A.D. project. As a start, we limit our travel to 5 countries: Indonesia, Malaysia in South East Asia, and Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia in the Middle-East and North Africa. We choose to use the term “muslim majority countries” as we believe this is the right representation of the countries we are about to visit: though the majority of population practice Islam, there are big communities of other religions. We also wish to stress that the M.A.D. project is not limited to exploring arts and cultures related to Islam, but rather focuses on artistic expression of people living in muslim majority countries, whether they are muslims, hindus, christians, or even non-religious. We wish to emphasize the heterogeneity of the Muslim world and awareness of such diversity, we believe, will contribute greatly to breaking many of existing stereotypes about muslims.
We are a group of people who believe in the importance of the first cause of the M.A.D. project and who want to make a difference. Kamal Ahamada and Eugenija Kovaliova are traveling in muslim majority countries, while Agi Telepy, Irina Fedorova and Alex Oprea provide their support from Europe for different tasks (website, administration, research). Lia Zakiyyah and Erickaregy Abdullah joined us recently for our future initiatives involving artists from Indonesia.
Initial five (Kamal, Eugenija, Agi, Irina and Alex) come from the same background – working with an international NGO in education and development field. All of us have experiences in education, therefore we are confident in the success of the M.A.D. project in Europe.
Art and cultures
We believe that art is a universal language. We choose art as a tool to achieve our goals – bring different outlook on muslim majority countries and contribute to breaking existing stereotypes. Our project is not about religion, it is about respect of different views and cultures and we believe a way to create such respect is creating awareness of how ordinary people live their life in muslim majority countries. People, despite their religious views or ethnic roots share same joys and worries, despite the differences – express their feelings through different arts, they celebrate the same occasions, but in their own ways. These are the reasons why, we believe, art and cultures are to be the best way to achieve our goals.
To represent diversity of cultures and arts existing within muslim majority countries we defined three lines of our interest:
– Activism and political art
– Multiculturalism: art and cultures (traditions) that would represent other religious communities in muslim majority countries, or that combine different cultures, pre-Islamic traditions, etc.
– Islamic art
We try to orient our research more to performing art: dances, music, singing, theater, but we are also interested in fashion, architecture, cinema, visual art. Cultural celebrations and ceremonies also take a significant part in our research, as these are the best representations of culture and traditions, thus – art.
Artists and professionals
In our research we meet artists for interview about their art and other issues, for example, their opinion on misconceptions, their opinion on existing intolerance towards muslims and its source, etc. We also meet politicians, lecturers and religious leaders who guide us in understanding better the political, ethnical, religious situation of specific country, its history, existing problems and ways to deal with them. Many times we also observe ceremonies and life of simple people and based on our observations prepare articles.
Within last three months we have met many artists, politicians, religious leaders and participated in different activities together with our Indonesian hosts. You can already read about some of our experiences on the blog.
We will work to achieve our goals on bringing a different outlook onto muslim majority countries through these actions:
- Blog and social media. We run our blog, where we share experiences of our travels, stories about artists we meet and write articles with good information about artistic expressions we encounter, cultures, etc. We also use social media tools, such as facebook and twitter.
- Lectures and workshops in Europe. Once we have finished our trip through South East Asia and Middle-East we will return back to Europe and we will tour in some of European countries to share what we have learned with students from high schools and universities, NGOs, local media, etc. Our team in Europe will work on organising such tour and finding partners.
- Possibilities. We are full of ideas how our experiences gained through the travel can be used, the only obstacle we face is time and human resources. We would be happy to arrange a photo exhibition, write a book, to produce a little movie with the material we collected, write more articles, find possibilities to bring artists that we met to Europe for a bigger arrangement (for example, festival).
First project… What is next?
When we have finished our travel and educational tour through European countries we wish to continue to work on the same issue. We also hope that the M.A.D. project will grow and we can establish an exchange program between European schools, associations, groups or individuals and our partners in South-East Asia and Middle East with the focus on learning and understanding different culture than your own.
After the first trip, we will keep traveling in other muslim majority countries (starting with those in Africa), doing the same kind of work, there and in Europe. In the future we hope to cover all muslim majority countries.
One of our other visions is to create a cultural center in Europe and organize events related to muslim majority countries, to create a platform for artists from muslim majority countries to meet, discuss, hold lectures and create events together with the goal of presenting a different outlook on muslims majority countries through art and cultures.
Eugenija Kovaliova and Kamal Ahamada
founders of the M.A.D. project