The Power of Culture


Islamic countries complain about comments made by member of Dutch parliament

Twenty-one ambassadors from Islamic countries affiliated with the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) submitted a letter to the Dutch parliament in which they express their displeasure with the comments made by parliament member Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The parliament member, originally from Somalia, said last month in a newspaper interview that the prophet Mohammed would be considered a 'pervert' by today's standards. This is because he married a nine year-old girl. This is not the first time that Hirsi Ali's uncloaked criticism of the Islam has enraged Muslims. Many Muslim organisations do not appreciate the fact that she has publicly disavowed what used to be her religion. In their letter, the ambassadors demand that Hirsi Ali retracts her comments and apologises. According to the diplomats, she has insulted one and a half billion Islamic people throughout the world. Hirsi Ali's life has been threatened by Muslim fundamentalists for a considerable period of time. This despite the fact that the law of the Netherlands protects every citizen's right to express their views on religious matters.
For more information (in dutch):
NRC, Dossier Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Trouw, het interview met Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Trouw, Dossier Ayaan Hirsi Ali


Performing artists protest threatened attack on Iraq

Performing artists throughout the world have voiced their protests against a possible war on Iraq. For example, fifteen reknowned architects from a variety of countries, including Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid, collectively compiled a statement in which they condemn an attack by America as being 'immoral'. During the Film Festival in Berlin, American filmmakers and actors used press conferences to plea to their President to change his mind about a war. Students from the art academies in Spain staged a novel protest during the opening of the Spanish art fair Arco'03. American singer Madonna is using her newest video clip to protest an attack. During Brit Award, the ceremony for the most prestigious music award in Great Britain, bands including Coldplay openly opposed a war. Singer George Michael also performed a protest song during the ceremony written to the tune of his early hit 'Faith'.
American poets invited to a poetry meeting by First Lady Laura Bush joined forces in a collective named Poets against the War. They hoped to use the evening to voice their aversion against an attack through poetry. The meeting was subsequently cancelled. The organisation's website has received anti-war poems from 5,300 artists from all over the world. Billy Collins, Andrew Motion and George Bowering had already voiced their views against a war. These three are the most prominent poets in the United States, Great Britain and Canada, respectively.

Representatives Eurovision Song festival cause commotion

In Spain, the winner of the television programme Operación Triunfo, singer Ainhoa Cantalapiedra, has caused some commotion. The winner of the programme will represent the country during the coming Eurovision Song festival in Latvia. Viewers voted for their favourite by telephone. According to Arnaldo Otegi, leader of the forbidden political branch of the Bask terrorist organisation ETA, however, the Spanish government manipulated the outcome so that the winner would be a Bask. The objective of Aznar's government, he asserts, is to ensure that the Basks cheer for Spain during the festival. Both the government and the programme organisation have dismissed the accusations as ridiculous.
The singer who was to represent Belgium during the festival, Soetkin Collier, is not being permitted to perform by the Belgian Minister of Culture and Media. When she was an adolescent, the country's state security department had Collier listed as an extreme-right activist. A person with that type of history could damage Belgium's image, according to the Minister. Collier herself says she has distanced herself from her youthful sympathies.

Free literature for American soldiers

Three major publishing houses will be sending free books to American troops abroad. Four titles are involved: The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Henry V by William Shakespeare, Medal of Honor, a non-fiction work about soldiers performing heroic deeds, and War Letters, a collection of exceptional letters written during various wars compiled by the American Andrew Carroll. Carroll is also the project coordinator, bearing responsibility for the choice of the other three titles.
The books are the latest additions to the Armed Services Editions (ASEs), which were handed out to American troops free of charge in the period from 1943 to 1947. This series, with books originating in every possible genre, had a special size making them easy to carry. During the period mentioned, nearly 123 million copies were distributed.
Critics would have preferred that Carroll selected titles that were less war-mongering and patriotic. If the publishing houses receive more donations, more titles will be published in the series.

UNESCO devotes special attention to reading

This month the Decade of Literacy commenced. This UNESCO initiative was festively launched at the UN headquarters in New York. Twenty percent of all adults throughout the world are illiterate, and most of these are women. UNESCO hopes to halve that number by the year 2015. It has established an ambitious, global project for that purpose that primarily focuses on disadvantaged groups, including refugees, migrants, children with no education and indigenous tribes.
For that part of the world's population that is literate, UNESCO is organising World Book Day on April 23rd of this year. The objective of this event is to introduce both children and adults to the joy of reading books. The day will also be used to focus attention on the phenomenon of 'copyright': protection of intellectual ownership.

Archaeologists ask Pentagon to spare Iraq's legacy

The Archaeological Institute of America has urged the Pentagon to spare the astonishing cultural legacy of Iraq should it come to a war with that country. The group of archaeologists has compiled a list of more than four thousand important historical sites. Their colleagues throughout the world refer to Iraq as the 'crib of Western civilisation'. Iraq is built on top of the remains of what was known as Mesopotamia 6000 years ago. This is where the first cities grew and script was developed.
During the Gulf War in 1991, monuments that were centuries old were damaged. The Ziggurat of Ur, for example, a temple in the south of Iraq that was 4000 years old, suffered hundreds of holes from bomb attacks. The chaos and poverty in the country following the Gulf War resulted in extensive plundering; later many antiquities were discovered on European markets.

One hundred new libraries in Morocco

The Moroccan Ministry of Culture and the French Embassy in Morocco have spent the past two years developing a plan to open one hundred new public libraries in the next three years. A large part of the Moroccan population still cannot read. Rural areas in particular are culturally underdeveloped. After extensive research, the Ministry of Culture has selected ten regions that are in the most dire need of new facilities. A network of ten libraries will be established in each of the regions. The libraries are intended to function as cultural centres, not only where books can be borrowed but also where debates and intellectual meetings are held. The entire project is to be completed by the end of 2006. The French Embassy is absorbing one-third of the project costs.

Canada supports project by Zimbabwean Women Writers

Canada has donated a sum to a project being organised by the Zimbabwean Women Writers Association (ZWWA). The project, which commenced late in 2002, strives to focus attention on the circumstances of female prisoners in Zimbabwe. The ZWWA is compiling a book in which prisoners have written about their experience. By collecting and documenting information, the ZWWA hopes to influence the governing bodies that can improve the circumstances of female prisoners.
The Canadian government supports a variety of development projects in Zimbabwe. The donation for the ZWWA came from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Is Europe Christian?

Members of the European Convention have not yet agreed whether God should be mentioned in the European Constitution. Section 2 of the constitution-under-development discusses the values common to the member states. This is intended to emphasise the fact that Europe is not only an economic but also a cultural community. The Pope urged the Convention's chairman, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, to emphasise the part Christianity has played in the formation of Europe. Countries including Italy and Ireland have voiced their support for this request. The French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch representatives see no need for the reference; the memories of the influence the Catholic church exerted in their countries in the past are not good ones. What is more, a reference of this type would not do justice to the religious diversity of Europe.

Muslims drink 'relevant' cola

A cola brand has been introduced on the market in Great Britain intended specifically for Muslims: Qibla Cola. The brand hopes to follow on the tide of success experienced by Mecca Cola, the 'relevant' soft drink launched by the French-Tunisian entrepreneur Tawfik Mathlouthi late in 2002. With this cola, Mathlouthi hoped to offer Muslims a sympathetic alternative to the American soft drinks, ensuring that less Islamic money flowed to the hated United States. Ten to twenty percent of the income goes to charity projects, including in the Palestinian areas. Other groups concerned about the influence exerted on the world by the United States, such as anti-globalists, have apparently switched to the activist soft drink. The cola brand was even one of the major sponsors of the anti-war demonstration organised this month in London. According to the initiator of Qibla Cola, there is a large enough market for two suppliers: Muslims throughout the world are expressing a high demand for 'their own' products.

Sources: Algemeen Dagblad, NRC Handelsblad, het Parool, Rotterdams Dagblad, Trouw, de Volkskrant, De Standaard, Der Spiegel, The Guardian,The Independent, The Age, Deutsche Welle, BBC News, BBC Online,, Reuters,,,, Agenzia Giornalistica Italia, Palestine Chronicle, Austin American Statesman, Voice of America,


Films about human rights

Amnesty International Film festival

From Thursday 20 March through Sunday 23 March, the fifth Amnesty International Film festival is being organised in Amsterdam, at de Balie. For more than forty years, Amnesty International has fought for respect of human rights throughout the world, including by means of reports, correspondence and speeches. Amnesty also understands the increasing importance of (film) images as a source of information. Film as a type of protest. During the film festival important films about human rights will be shown, including the winners of the Amnesty International DOEN Award, an award for films about human rights. The winning films will be shown in a variety of film theatres in the Netherlands through the end of May.

You can find more exhibitions, cultural events and gatherings in 'World in action', the schedule on the International Collaboration web site.



march 2003