May 5–7, 2006

War of Images

Modernity and its Discontinuities

International conference

May 5–7, 2006

organized by German Federal Cultural Foundation and House of World Cultures

The controversies surrounding the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad and the violent reactions in the Islamic world raise important questions about the rules by which cultures with different value systems can peacefully co-exist. Suddenly, it has become clear just how far-reaching the phenomenon of globalisation has become. Indeed, every act of public communication today has the potential to be perceived by every other individual, regardless of where he or she lives; limiting a message to a particular country or target group is no longer possible. Moreover, parallel to the globalisation of the world economy, based as it is on secular and liberal ideas of human and civil rights, there have developed new networks with entirely different value systems—networks that no longer allow themselves to be consigned to the periphery of the international community.

This decentralisation of the world requires that we reconsider how we want to live together in the future. The notion that values developed in the West and spread over the course of centuries by means of influence or force should be accepted everywhere in the world without question has been thrown into doubt. If Western civil and human rights are to serve as a foundation for a peaceful co-existence of cultures in the future, then all of the global players will need to be convinced of the value of these principles. Conflicts like those caused by the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad show the extent of the contradictions that are now forcing exponents of concepts of civil liberty to re-examine and modify their strategies of persuasion.

Both in the Islamic world and in Europe, there are individuals and groups who are willing to engage in confrontational tactics in struggle for their respective system of values. These individuals or groups are able to instrumentalise their adversaries in such a way that they can polarise their own followers and thus further their own goals. They assert their own cultural exclusivity and the need to defend it, defining the other side according to, or making it collectively responsible for, ‘its’ extremists. As a result, future conflicts will remain easy to ignite—even if many voices of compromise are present.

The goal of the conference is to discuss strategies for preventing further polarisation—to serve as a forum for voices from the Islamic world and from Europe, from among Christians, Muslims, Jews, and liberal humanists who are attempting to overcome the hostile stances of different groups and cultures. A disadvantage of the, in part, heated debates in the media was that they frequently devolved into an exchange of catchphrases and stereotypes, doing little to help resolve the truly pressing questions. The conference hopes to provide participants with the opportunity to examine the complexity of the issues at hand, bringing together a variety of approaches and the exponents of different views.

During the conference we will focus on five main points:

- What logic do media interventions follow in the age of globalisation, and what role is played by the transcultural iconography of images in these interventions?

- How do representatives of state institutions and Muslim communities treat polarisations between "Islam and the West" in their efforts to promote integration in Europe and, in particular, in Germany?

- What role do the simultaneous and often contradictory demands and expectations of different cultures play when it comes to developing a modern consensus on pivotal civil and human rights?

- Which global changes influence the co-existence of individuals and societies?

- Which strategies do we need to achieve a peaceful and rewarding co-existence of individuals and societies with different value systems?

The crucial issue will be whether people from different cultures can, in an atmosphere of mutual respect for one another, develop rules of conduct that take different cultural values into accoount, both on a global scale and within individual societies.


Fathi el-Abed, Board member of the «Democratic Muslim Network», Copenhagen; Ludwig Ammann, Scholar on Islamic Studies, Author, Founder of Kool Filmdistribution, Freiburg i. Br.; Abdullahi An-Naïm, Professor, Director of the Religion and Human Rights Program at Emory University School of Law, Atlanta; Seyla Benhabib, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Sabine Berking, Research Associate at the Irmgard Coninx Foundation, journalist, Berlin; Hans-Günter Gnodtke, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Director of the Department for Dialogue with the Islamic World, Berlin; Kai Hafez, Professor of Communications at the Erfurt University, Erfurt; Adel Hammouda, Editor-in-chief («Al-Fagr»), Cairo; Anne Knudsen, Editor-in-chief (Weekendavisen), Copenhagen; Nils Minkmar, Journalist («FAZ»), Berlin; Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Senior Research Associate, Anthropology, at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London; Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Visual Culture at New York University, New York; Ashis Nandy, Professor of Political Psychology, Center for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi / Berlin; Farish A. Noor, Political scientist at the «Centre for Modern Oriental Studies» (ZMO), Berlin / Malaysia; Gari Pavkovic, Director of the Stuttgart Department of Integration, Stuttgart; Günter Piening, Berlin Senate Commissioner for Integration and Migration, Berlin; Ulrich K. Preuß, Professor of Public Law and Politics at the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin; Muntaha al-Ramahi, Television journalist («Al-Arabyia»), Dubai (UAE); Walid Sadek, Artist, Assistant Professor of Art Theory at the Architecture and Design Department of the American University, Beirut; Werner Schiffauer, Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the Viadrina University, Frankfurt/Oder; Peter Schneider, Writer, since 1985 Visiting Professor at various universities, incl. Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Berlin; Karen Schönwälder, Programme on Intercultural Conflicts, Social Science Research Centre, Berlin; Emmanuel Sivan, Professor of Islamic History at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Jonathan Steele, Journalist («Guardian»), London; Krassimir Stojanov, Assistant Professor, Institute of Educational Science at the Hannover University, Hannover; Bernd Ulrich, Editor («Die Zeit»), Berlin; Sabiha el- Zayat, Islamic Centre for Research and Promotion for Women (ZIF), Cologne; Andreas Zumach, Journalist, United Nations Correspondent for the «tageszeitung», Geneva

Kulturstiftung des Bundes

German Federal Cultural Foundation
Board of directors: Hortensia Völckers / Alexander Farenholtz
Assistant to the Board: Lavinia Francke

House of World Cultures
Director: Dr. Bernd Scherer
Head of Dept. Literature and Humanities: Prof. Dr. Lydia Haustein
Conference Management: Thomas Hartmann