Reports and papers

Bridge the Gap, or Mind the Gap? Culture in Western-Arab Relations

04 Feb 2008 - 09:38

Arab-Western relations are deadlocked in a sphere of mistrust. Thinking about new policies and activities therefore demands, first and foremost, thinking about ways to break the deadlock. One possible inroad may be culture, the new kid on the block in diplomatic circles as the much-applauded 'public diplomacy' has not always proved very successful. While public diplomacy is often unilateral with an emphasis on explaining one's policies to the others, cultural diplomacy is here defined as a bi- or multilateral approach with an emphasis on mutual recognition.

Is culture in general, and cultural diplomacy in particular, indeed a way to bridge the gap between Western and Arab worlds in terms of development cooperation? This was the topic of the conference entitled 'Bridging the Gap', organized by the Clingendael Institute in association with the Development Policy Research Project (DPRN) on 16 November 2007, when a number of renowned speakers gave presentations on the subject. Four of these presentations have been selected for publication: two from a cultural perspective; and two from a policy perspective (one discusses EU policy, the other US policy). Together they represent a discussion of the key issues that are often raised when discussing cultural diplomacy:

  • Maurits Berger, 'Bridge the Gap or Mind the Gap? Culture in Western-Arab Relations'
  • Els van der Plas, 'Culture and its Relationship to Society'
  • Charlotte Huygens, 'The Art of Diplomacy, the Diplomacy of Art'
  • Neila Akrimi, 'Beyond Building Bridges: A New Direction for Culture and Development'
  • Cynthia P. Schneider, 'Cultural Diplomacy: Hard to Define, But You'd Know It If You Saw It'

Maurits Berger (PhD, LL M) is senior research associate of political Islam with the Clingendael Institute and professor of Islam in the West at Leiden University. Contact: mberger@clingendael.nle-mail