Building a culture of peace

New Straits Times, October 30, 2008

Musa, Malaysian chairman of Bridges.
Musa, Malaysian chairman of Bridges.

A host of Nobel laureates are set to descend on Malaysia starting next month till April 2009 to participate in the Bridges — Dialogues Towards A Culture of Peace event. FRANCIS DASS has the details.

OLD-school charm, courtesy of Tun Musa Hitam, was on display at the Press conference to announce the launch of Bridges — Dialogues Towards A Culture of Peace (henceforth Bridges) last week and it remained winning as ever.

When Musa took to the microphone, he looked around and said he was announcing his participation in the upcoming elections (alluding to the Umno elections).

Then, amid the mixture of nervous laughter from some and hearty ones from others (the latter courtesy of the veterans, naturally), Musa looked at the mostly young journalists gathered at the event and he genially explained that it was joke, just in case.

As a veteran politician, his caution against being misunderstood was well placed.
Even more interestingly, the fact that a handful of ambassadors, including from the United States, were there, says plenty about Musa’s drawing power, reflecting the high regard Malaysians and the international community hold him in.

Musa is the chairman of Bridges, a series of events (designed to be part talks and part dialogue/discussions) organised by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation.

(Alongside chairman Musa, Raja Nazrin Shah is the Malaysian honorary chairman of Bridges.)

Understandably, the 74-year-old former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia is excited by the aspirations of Bridges, which kicks off next month and goes on till April 2009.

“I am humbled by the appointment (as chairman) and to be amongst such distinguished names and personalities.

“The programme (which will see many Nobel laureates giving talks at institutions of higher learning and other venues around the country) is prestigious and it is important for Malaysia to be associated with it," he said.

Amongst the talks in Bridges will be one by New York University's Professor Robert Fry Engle III, 2003 Nobel laureate for Economics.

Appropriately, considering the business climate today, Engle's talk is titled "Why is Global Financial Volatility so High?"

Originally, Bridges was also to have included a talk by Iranian Nobel Peace Prize (2003) winner Dr Shirin Ebadi, titled "Islam and Cultural Diversity".

Her session has been yanked from the programme after the Iranian representatives here officially recorded a protest with the Malaysian government, explained the slightly perturbed looking International Peace Foundation chairman Uwe Morawetz, when the matter was brought up by Shanon Shah, a Malaysian celebrity and social commentator.

As interest in Ebadi's exclusion grew amongst the media during the question-and-answer session, Morawetz advised those interested to know the details to direct their questions to the Iranian officials.

That aside, Morawetz is excited by Bridges entry into the Malaysian scene.

The Bridges series of events was first initiated by the International Peace Foundation in Thailand in November 2003. It gained wide support in Thailand, including from the Thai monarchy.

Next year, Bridges will be held in Cambodia, from November till April 2010.

Both Morawetz and Musa said that many Nobel laureates (for example, Physics, Economics, Chemistry, Medicine, Peace Prize) as well as notable public figures are expected to give talks in Malaysia.

They will be coming at different times over the period of almost six months, till April 2009.

The format for the events will be: a 30- to 40-minute talk followed by question-and-answer sessions.

Morawetz assured that each session would not be longer than two hours.

The objective of the Bridges events, according to International Peace Foundation's mission statement, is to "facilitate and strengthen dialogue and communication between societies in Southeast Asia with their multiple cultures and faiths" and "to promote understanding and trust".

The Malaysian edition of Bridges is poised to engage the active participation of young people.

This is being done via the organisers' active collaboration with institutions of higher learning in Malaysia (with many venues for the talks by Nobel laureates being in universities).

From his experience, Morawetz observed that since Bridges was held in Thailand in 2003, many Nobel laureates have established professional links and visited that country many times.

Amongst the Nobel laureates audiences will get to meet are: Professor Gerardus 't Hooft (1999 Nobel Prize for Physics); Professor Robert Fry Engle III (2003 Nobel Prize for Economics); and Professor Roger David Kornberg (2006 Nobel Prize for Chemistry).

American Civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson Sr and Germany's former Minister of Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer are also on the list of speakers.

For complete details of the dates and speakers, visit the International Peace Foundation website at