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18 Mar, 2008

“Clash Of Civilisations” Debuts At ITB Berlin 2008

For the first time, the topic of a “Clash of Civilisations” topped the programme roster of the ITB Berlin’s “Convention Market Trends and Innovations.”

In this dispatch:



3. THE IRAQ WAR IS KILLING OUR ECONOMY — Extract of a commentary in an independent media service on the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war.

4. ENOUGH! — An editorial in the Gulf newspaper Khaleej Times on the same subject.



For the first time this year, the “Clash of Civilisations” topped the programme roster of the ITB Berlin’s “Convention Market Trends and Innovations.” As this convention organised alongside the world’s largest travel trade show is referred to as the “leading think-tank of the global tourism industry,” the emergence of this new lead topic of discussion was clearly designed to make ITB delegates give it serious thought.

The “Clash of Civilisations” has been a hot discussion topic worldwide in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and conflict in Iraq, which began exactly five years ago this week. Travel & tourism has clearly felt the downstream social and cultural effects of this clash most obviously in the form of the “war on terror” and the rise in security hassles and costs, racial profiling and tighter visa regimes. And yet, in global industry forums, it has been ignored or underplayed — an oversight which in itself is worth thinking about.

Now, however, it has crossed a previously taboo barrier and gained both traction and respectability. With another potential Middle East conflict looming, which could trigger an even wider clash of civilisations, it has also acquired a sense of urgency in pursuit of prevention strategies.

The opening speech on the topic “The Clash of Civilisations and the Challenges of Modern Day Tourism” was delivered by Dr. Asfa-Wossen Asserate, described in the programme as a Prince of Ethiopia, Author and Management Consultant for Africa and the Middle East. He had both a realistic and an optimistic view. In an erudite speech in German, the prince debunked the entire concept of a “Clash of Civilisations.”

Noting that all countries, communities and indeed individuals are interlinked with just about everyone else in an increasingly globalised world, he said: “Being successful in travel & tourism depends on the international situation being stable. It is in our vested interest to pass this message to everyone in every nook and cranny of the world — that cultures should not be in conflict with each but instead mutually inspiring each other.”

Described in Wikipedia as the grandnephew of the last Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and a son of the former governor and viceroy of Eritrea, the prince drew heavily upon his 2003 book “Manieren” (“Manners”), dealing with the topic of manners in the context of sociology and cultural history in European societies. He noted all major civilisations are enriched by what they learn and absorb from all sorts of other cultures. “Tourism, too, is inspired by an essential curiosity that we have about each other. That is based on mobility of people, goods and services and it is tourism which is bringing this about.” He noted the importance of respecting cultural diversity in these troubled times and being a good citizen of the planet is essential to the cause of mutual co-existence.

“All our actions reflect back on us and enrich us, and can also have unintended results on everyone else. Knowing and understanding each other is essential — that people considered as ‘others’ are not aliens, strangers or enemies. It is important not to get confused about the issue but to look into the mirror and recognise ourselves and our potential.”

The prince noted that thousands of people from Europe travel to the Islamic countries as tourists because they know that “the Islam one sees in the travel brochures is very different from the Islam in the newspapers.” At the same time, he said that many in Europe tend to think that Europe is the center of the universe. Given the spread of scholarship from centers of knowledge like Paris, London and Vienna, and the fact that European powers once conquered large parts of the planet, transplanting their languages, education and administration systems, including to the U.S, “it seems that everything has come from the west.”

In the process, however, he noted that Europeans are “closing their eyes to history” in forgetting just how much their own culture has been influenced by ideas and every-day objects from abroad. He noted that courts in Constantinople once were famous for their elegance and etiquette. Perfumes, libraries, the concept of coffee-shops were all imported from the Middle East.

He referred to “the ordinary fork” which is seen as “a European cultural achievement” while “eating with fingers is considered something barbaric”. But “many Europeans don’t know how much skill is required to eat with fingers. It is actually much more difficult with a knife and fork.” He noted the culture that goes with the washing of hands before a meal, especially in a bowl of warm water with bay leaves. “This is a whole kind of culture,” he said. “This is the way people in ancient towns ate. In fact, recent studies have shown that eating with fingers passes on a particular type of enzyme that aids digestion.” He suggested that Europeans try it when travelling to places where eating with hands is the local custom.

He noted how Europe is continuing to be influenced by foreign cultures: “Anyone in Europe who is not capable of eating with chopsticks is considered behind the times. And what about acupuncture? It’s not just the cultures that are changing. Each individual is also changing. We are all dynamic personalities, subjected to a continuous learning curve. Each one of us is a cultural mix, influenced by cultural trends and we don’t know where they come from.”

Although heard in a packed room and generating much food for thought, it did not figure anywhere as a subject of discussions over the rest of the ITB which was dominated by the issue of global warming and climate change. But just as climate change was only on the periphery of the ITB agenda five years ago, but has now hit the stage big time, the issue of the Clash of Civilisations — which Travel Impact Newswire has referred to as the “other global warming” — is bound to take centre stage once the travel & tourism industry has fully fathomed the price of ignoring it.

The best place to get a reaction, I thought, would be in the American pavilion. The U.S., once considered the bastion of openness, freedom and democracy, is seeking to shake off its newfound image as “Fortress America.” It is now in the midst of a ferocious presidential election campaign in which its global foreign policy and race issues (both sub-plots of the “Clash of Civilisations’) are being debated. Over the last few years, visitor arrivals have fallen thanks to fear of long queues, intrusive immigration officers and the threat of racial profiling. However, that has changed in recent weeks. The dollar is down and arrivals are up, supposedly proving that people don’t care about travel hassles as long as the price is right.

One U.S. delegate and regular participant at the ITB over the years said it was good that visitors are returning. “But that’s not enough,” he said. “I want the attitude (towards America) to change, I want the respect to come back. We used to be a very admired country. We are not that any more.”

He said the presidential election process is generating much food for thought. The U.S., he said, should be very happy that a man with an Islamic background is standing for election. “I feel he really reflects the kind of change we would like to see? What would his election to the presidency say about us? What a sign of honour and respect it would be for someone with a name like Barack Hussein Obama to be elected?”

Certainly well worth thinking about. And now that the ITB Berlin has made this subject “official”, it may be time for others to pick up the baton and run it through their own think-tanks. And soon. Time is running out.



In an emotional ceremony marked by powerful speeches and high symbolism, representatives of two peoples who were once at the receiving end of racial segregation but are now working to build bridges and remind others of their past were conferred highly prestigious awards for socially responsible tourism.

Neville Poelina, who received the award on behalf of the Perth-based Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Committee (WAITOC), and Yazir Henry of the Direct Action Centre For Peace And Memory (DACPM) in Cape Town/South Africa, both delivered passionate acceptance speeches that left at least a few members of the audience all choked up. [Both are strongly recommended as speakers at industry functions. Contact details below].

The awards known as “TO DO!” are part of a contest for Socially Responsible Tourism inaugurated in 1995 by the Institute for Tourism and Development (Studienkreis für Tourismus und Entwicklung e.V.). Free of the usual razzmatazz of traditional industry awards, they are designed to be much more serious and thought-provoking.

In his rationale for the award to DAPCM in South Africa, Studienkreis’ awards jurist Klaus Betz described it “as a self-help reintegration programme that has been developed mainly by the township residents of Greater Cape Town, based on its recurring motto: “Crossing Barriers – Bridging Divides”. It tries to address several tourism-related, political/historical, political/cultural as well as social and economic concerns that respond to the upheavals and simmering problems of South African society.

At the root of the effort are the “last generation of African National Congress soldiers who went underground in the mid/late 1980s and who are now almost 40 years old.” After the end of apartheid in 1994, many of these former fighters fell into oblivion. “In human terms one could say that they were robbed of their identity, because after the first democratic elections in South Africa, this last generation of fighters was no longer needed. Neither was there any retraining programme for them, nor any financial opportunity worth mentioning to start a new civilian life.

“As most of the fighters had at that time left school and their families at the age of 15 or 16, they were the actual losers after the ‘victory’. With little schooling and no vocational training, many fighters ended up unemployed in the townships. Traumatised or broken in the prisons of the apartheid regime, quite a few of them became alcohol or drug addicts and led isolated lives. In short, they experienced a drama actually beyond description.”

Said Mr Betz, “One of the very few ex-combatants who managed to motivate themselves is the founder and manager of today’s DACPM, Yazir Henry (38). Despite having undergone unbearable experiences, he managed to later complete his school education and to study sociology. Yazir Henry has a strong ability to analyse socio-politics and history, and an uncompromising will to lead his fellow fighters of that time back into civilian life.”

According to DACPM, these ex-combatants, often called the “lost generation“, are to be empowered to heal themselves and come to terms with history and their very personal stories. Hence, DACPM was set up in 1997 under the name Western Cape Action Tours “to conduct history and memory excursions of visiting the original sites in the townships. The objective is to explain history from the point of view of those who were part of it, generate income, enable people to start new careers, develop civil society perspectives and thus also initiate a healing process. It also conducts peace-building workshops and co-operates with “Hearts of Men“, a rehabilitation programme.

[The full rationale of the award can be read at http://www.to-do-contest.org/preistraeger/pdf/direct-action-preis-e.pdf. Yazir Henry is best heard live. He can be reached at contact@dacpm.org.za or click here. http://www.dacpm.org.za.]

Another “lost generation” was represented in the form of Neville Poelina, Chairman of WAITOC. In his rationale for the award, another Studienkreis jurist Christian Adler noted that the Aborigines’ contemporary history has been a long ordeal which is only gradually coming to an end. In 1967, the indigenous population of Western Australia was finally granted Australian citizenship, and legal equality was established. “Earlier, white Australians had been allowed to take children of Aborigine background from their parents, to take them to unknown places and have them grow up in missions and children’s homes in order to subject them to forced assimilation.

“This practice, however, was stopped only in the early 1970s, and recently Prime Minister Kevin Rudd officially apologised to the Australian Aborigines for the many years of unworthy treatment. This helps forces in Australia who are intensively working to heal the wounds of the past and to build bridges to a common future, similar to the situation in South Africa,” Mr. Adler wrote.

As the indigenous population of the Australian continent, Aborigines today constitute a minority of two percent of the Australian population. Of the roughly 400,000 Aborigines left, 70,000 are in Western Australia. Only five percent of Australia’s tourism enterprises are managed by indigenous entrepreneurs, according to WAITOC. However, for 45 percent of the visitors to Australia surveyed, encounters with Aborigines (from the Latin for “from the origin or beginning”) constitute the main motive for their stay. 150,000 visitors per year book cultural programmes with indigenous communities, WAITOC reports.

“As a non-profit organisation, WAITOC represents the interests of about 100 independent indigenous entrepreneurs who are involved in the tourism sector in various ways. The enterprises are from different parts of Western Australia and are all in the hands of indigenous individuals, families, or communities.”

Wrote Mr Adler, “For Aborigines, there are many invisible boundaries and sacred natural sites in Australia which not everybody is allowed to cross. According to Aboriginal belief, there are many sacred natural sites (e.g. geographic peculiarities such as ledges, narrow valleys, water holes). Before going on a bush walk, you need to collect detailed information in order to know which are the places to be avoided. This helps to understand how painful it is for Aborigines to be deprived of their land or to helplessly watch how the Whites are using the land.”

WAITOC’s goal is to improve the profile of small indigenous enterprises and to help Aborigines to get more employment in the tourism sector, thus invalidating the prejudice that Aborigines are not to be taken seriously as professional business partners. It provides consultancy services for governmental institutions and organisations on all aspects related to indigenous tourism. In order to increase the share of indigenous entrepreneurs in the tourism sector, the state tourism authority Tourism WA also runs its own programme to promote indigenous tourism and supports the projects of WAITOC.

The full rationale for the award can be read here: www.to-do-contest.org/preistraeger/pdf/waitoc-preis-e.pdf. An equally eloquent speaker, Neville Poelina can be contacted at waitoc@westernaustralia.com or click here: www.waitoc.com.

The prize winners received prize money of CHF 5,000 from the Swiss Foundation for Solidarity in Tourism (SST) whose President Hansjörg Ruf said: “The TO DO! is awarded to projects that show in an exemplary manner that socially responsible tourism is possible. The objective of SST is to promote such projects, to support them financially, and in some cases to make their implementation possible at all.” Another supporter of the awards is the “European Travel Insurance” (Europäische Reiseversicherung which gives prize money of 2,100 Euro for the award winners.



[An excerpt from a commentary in the AlterNet independent media service marking the 5th anniversary of the war in Iraq.]

There is no longer any doubt that the Iraq War is a moral and strategic disaster for the United States. But what has not yet been fully recognised is that it has also been an economic disaster. To date, the government has spent more than $522 billion on the war, with another $70 billion already allocated for 2008.

With just the amount of the Iraq budget of 2007, $138 billion, the government could instead have provided Medicaid-level health insurance for all 45 million Americans who are uninsured. What’s more, we could have added 30,000 elementary and secondary schoolteachers and built 400 schools in which they could teach. And we could have provided basic home weatherisation for about 1.6 million existing homes, reducing energy consumption in these homes by 30 percent.

But the economic consequences of Iraq run even deeper than the squandered opportunities for vital public investments. Spending on Iraq is also a job killer. Every $1 billion spent on a combination of education, healthcare, energy conservation and infrastructure investments creates between 50 and 100 percent more jobs than the same money going to Iraq. Taking the 2007 Iraq budget of $138 billion, this means that upward of 1 million jobs were lost because the Bush Administration chose the Iraq sinkhole over public investment.

Recognising these costs of the Iraq War is even more crucial now that the economy is facing recession. While a recession is probably unavoidable, its length and severity will depend on the effectiveness of the government’s stimulus initiatives. By a wide margin, the most effective stimulus is to expand public investment projects, especially at the state and local levels. The least effective fiscal stimulus is the one crafted by the Bush Administration and Congress–mostly to just send out rebate checks to all taxpayers. This is because a high proportion of the new spending encouraged by the rebates will purchase imports rather than financing new jobs in the United States, whereas public investment would concentrate job expansion within the country. Combining this Bush stimulus initiative with the ongoing spending on Iraq will only deepen the severity of the recession.

Read the rest: http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/79988/?page=entire



A Khaleej Times, Dubai, Online Editorial, published 18 March 2008.

THE White House ought to be the least surprised by the millions taking to streets around the world, crying ‘Enough!’, enough of the blood spilling that the crazed power lust of a few brought to Iraq exactly five years ago this week.

Enough of the lies, double-talk and political hypocrisy that keep war drums beating and fires of hatred fuelled enough for the madness to continue. Enough of ‘shock and awe’ and ‘democratisation drive’ like catchwords that lend political mileage to a despicable crime — murder of hundreds of thousands for a cause that has been long lost. Enough, in short, of the war in Iraq!

Yet by the goings on in Washington and Baghdad, there is practically nothing to suggest that the carnage in Iraq will be brought to a halt anytime soon. Even Democrats campaigning on promises of a pronounced shift in the war policy deliberately remain vague about details, since there is nothing to offer as change. Iraq has simply entered the phase where things will continue to worsen with the United States forced to remain committed until the whole house of cards of the farcical war against terrorism comes down crashing, and that may not be too far off.

Still, no matter how grim the reality, a soul searching cost-benefit recap is in order as the ugliness stemming from Iraq completes its first half-decade. Boasts of democracy and ballot successes appear as lame as those making them because the story since Saddam’s fall has only been one of constant degeneration in Iraq’s social and political life alike.

The so-called only people’s government in the region is continuously shamed by terrorist elements having a free run, killing, raping and maiming with reckless abandon while the official machinery tries its best of learning from its peers in Washington about straight faced politically correct rhetoric to justify its existence. The more the occupation forces point to ending Saddam’s brutal dictatorship and ushering in democracy as their successes, the more people appear nostalgic for an era when most could see through the average day with enough water and electricity.

As bombs go off on every other road corner without missing a day, inflation and unemployment flirt with the heavens, and parents fear even sending their children to schools, the Bush and Maliki dispensations only embarrass themselves by attempting to paint optimistic pictures of a land whose people have been reduced to one of the least fortunate anywhere in the world.

While a feasible exit route may remain elusive for some time to come, those running the war must make a start by publicly admitting the magnanimity of their collective folly. It is just not fair to the Iraqis, and concerned quarters across the world, that the masterminds behind this war crime have their day in the sun before simply retiring to a comfortable drawing room.

The buck has to stop somewhere, and the millions marching in all parts of the world to push the White House into stopping this war express appreciable solidarity with suffering Iraqis, hoping to create enough noise for the ‘enough’ message to reach those pulling the strings.

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