The role of art and academia in inspiring global tolerance


Today marks the International Day of Tolerance. It is a day that serves to remind us that we are all equally deserving of respect and acceptance, and that nurturing an appreciation of the differences between us will lay the foundations on which we build better and more united communities.

Tolerance is a virtue that makes peace possible and fosters harmony. By creating a culture of understanding, and one that rejects and eschews discrimination and enmity, we have the potential to tackle inequality whether social, cultural or economic.

More than ever, we are witnessing a global transformation; 2020 has placed a spotlight on the cracks within our communities. Though challenging, it has shed a light on discrimination, enhanced inequalities and the increased involuntary displacement of people, that, if left unchanged, will undermine global stability.

As we move toward a new era, one that will require the cooperation of many, we must place tolerance and acceptance at the heart of our actions. This must include building cross-cultural bridges, actively tackling misconceptions and equipping the next generation with the tools to continue to promote collaboration regardless of race, gender or religion. 

‘Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.’

–UNESCO’s 1995 Declaration of Principles on Tolerance

At Alwaleed Philanthropies, we have long understood the potential that can be unlocked through greater cultural understanding and collaboration. That is why we launched six Alwaleed Academic Centres at world-leading academic institutions. They serve to advance the understanding and tackle the misconceptions that can create a barrier between Islam and the West. These centres develop and run innovative projects to encourage increased knowledge of religions, cultures and languages, ultimately developing a deep appreciation of different cultures and traditions.

Our partners include Harvard University, the University of Cambridge, and the American University of Beirut. They have successfully advanced the understanding of the next generation and inspired advanced research on vital topics; all while simultaneously running outreach programmes to engage with the public and build cultural bridges within the wider community.

Part of inspiring greater tolerance is tackling misconceptions. This can be hard to do, as they are often born from misunderstanding. However, I believe that art inspires feeling and emotion and provides a window through which we can explore different perspectives. We recognise art as a powerful tool to bring people together. Through our partnership with Musee du Louvre in Paris and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, we have built Islamic Learning Centres to provide that window. We enable people to peer into the deep history and culture of the Islamic world, something that is not widely understood and appreciated. We also took this opportunity to empower refugees in Berlin through the Multaka project, which trains Syrian and Iraqi refugees to work as museum guides. This supports refugees in adjusting to life in a new country and connects their past with their present and their future.

Cross-cultural initiatives have the potential to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges, whether supporting refugees in Europe or easing social tensions through a greater focus on commonalities. However, tolerance cannot be simply implemented; it must be coupled with greater diversity, educational resources and increased economic opportunities. Together, we must encourage and promote respect for one another without distinction of any kind.  We each have the power, and the responsibility, to advance tolerance within our communities. In turn, this tolerance will create a more prosperous future for all.

HRH Princess Lamia Bint Majed Al Saud is Secretary General and Member of the Board of Trustees at Alwaleed Philanthropies.

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