The King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Cultural Dialogue has opened in Vienna, Austria to much fanfare. And a bit of criticism.
The choosing of Vienna as its headquarters makes a certain amount of sense. Site of the 1683 Battle of Vienna, that put an end to the Muslim expansion in eastern Europe by the Ottoman Empire, the battle also saw tensions between Catholic and Protestant leaders. But how much more effective — and what a great symbol of seriousness of purpose — this center would be were it headquartered in Riyadh!
Saudi-backed interfaith center in Vienna attracts mixed reaction
AL ARABIYA WITH AFP
Dialogue between religions is as necessary as ever in light of recent conflicts, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said Monday to mark the opening in Vienna of a controversial new center aimed at promoting such dialogue.
Backed by Saudi Arabia, the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), has been the subject of criticism ever since its formal creation last year.
But supporters were keen to highlight its relevance at a glitzy event at Vienna’s Hofburg palace.
“We need look no further than today’s headlines to understand why this mission is so vital,” Ban told the gathering, citing the recent conflicts and religious divisions in Syria, Israel and Mali.
“Too many religious leaders have stoked intolerance, supported extremism and propagated hate… Yet we know that blaming ‘the other’ is not a political strategy for a healthy country, continent or world.”
… But critics have questioned the center’s ability to promote interreligious dialogue, since it was an initiative of the Saudi king and will be entirely funded by Saudi Arabia for the first three years.
They argue that Riyadh will use the center to divert attention from human rights violations and the lack of religious freedom at home.
A small group of protesters had gathered outside the Hofburg palace ahead of the inauguration, backed by the Liberal Muslims Initiative of Austria and the opposition Green party, which has rejected the creation of the KAICIID since the beginning.