Foreign Policy Blogs

Harvard Hosts Forum on Islam and the West


Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, Chairman of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation and Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel, Vice-Chair woman of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, hosted an historic gathering of leading scholars on Islam and the West at The Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University, Wednesday, February 8th, 2012. The purpose of the meeting was to gather the leaders from each of the six academic centers established by the Foundation at leading universities around the world and coordinate work on the common mission of bridging understanding between East and West through academic scholarship.

A highlight of the two-day meeting was a panel discussion on the current state of relations between the Islamic World and the West and the most effective ways to strengthen cross-cultural ties and understanding in 2012 and beyond. The panel discussion was moderated by Nicholas Burns, Foreign Affairs expert and Harvard Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

The panel was staged at Loeb House on the historic Harvard campus. Highlights of the discussion included an exchange of views among the six academic center Directors about subjects ranging from Islamophobia to anti-Americanism, from the lessons of the Arab Spring for the West to debunking the myth of Arab separatism, from fighting hate to understanding those that are different. The Directors described educational programs and curriculum designed to break down stereotypes and misinformation, while instilling tolerance and a more profound understanding and appreciation for cultural and religious diversity in both the Western and the Arab world.

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal joined the Directors on the panel, who framed the discussion by placing perspective on the recent uprisings in the Middle East, popularly known in the West as the Arab Spring,

“What has taken place in some Arab countries — Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria — has brought an earthquake to the Arab region. The message for the remaining 18 Arab nations is if they have not perceived the earthquake of the so-called Arab Spring, then they must perceive the message of the Arab Spring. That message is clear: No matter how much social change you make in your country, no matter how much financial assistance you give to your citizens, or economic benefits you bestow on your people it will not be enough. Leaders must bring political change whereby the people feel they are involved, have a voice and can participate in the political system.”

Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel, Vice Chairwoman of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, which oversees the academic centers, praised the Directors work to support the Foundation’s efforts to foster greater understanding through academic scholarship.

“Today’s important discussion showed the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation has not only established critical centers of thought at the world’s most prestigious universities but has drawn the world’s leading scholars and thought-leaders to direct them. Their work is breaking new ground every day and bringing solutions to some of the most difficult issues of our time. As a result of our meetings, the centers will continue this vital mission with greater coordination and a stronger voice. These brilliant leaders, together with the young minds they are guiding and shaping, are changing outdated thinking, creating new paradigms and bringing a positive message of hope and understanding to a world desperate for both.”

The Directors of the academic centers that participated in the discussion included:

  • Director Ali Asani from The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University;
  • Director John Esposito from The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the University of Georgetown;
  • Director Yasir Suleiman from The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge;
  • Director Hugh Goddard from The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World at the University of Edinburgh;
  • Director Magda Shahin from The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Abdulaziz Alsaud Center for American Studies at the American University in Cairo;
  • Director Alex Lubin from The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut.





Reza Akhlaghi