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Culture

A Virtual Bridge Between Europe and the Islamic World

The recently-launched Internet portal Qantara.de aims to promote dialogue between Europe and the Islamic world, a need underscored by the recent rifts opened up by the war in Iraq.

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Promoting understanding between Christians and Muslims is Qantara.de's aim.

It's an unhappy coincidence that Qantara.de was launched just before U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq, in mid-March.

"We are addressing the war in Iraq because the whole Islamic world is highly concerned about this conflict," editor Lorenz Lorenz-Meyer told DW-WORLD.

But the real focus of the multilingual Internet portal is much broader: it deals with the entire range of cultural, political and societal issues concerning the Islamic world, he explained. The word qantara means "bridge" in Arabic.

Ministry sowed the seed

But Qantara has not sprung up as a result of the conflict in Iraq. It was in the making long before the U.S.-led war began.

Work commenced in October 2002, after Deutsche Welle and and the German Federal Center for Political Education, the Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes and the German Institute for Foreign Relations (IFA), joined forces to get the online dialogue going.

The German Foreign Ministry initially came up with the idea, explained Lorenz-Meyer. "We have made an effort to come up with an Internet concept that offers a platform for dialogue between the German and the Islamic world."

Intercultural, every day

The Qantara editorial staff itself is a reflection of the intercultural slant of the online site. A German-Syrian, a German-Iranian and two Germans with close contacts to the Arab world work together on the Web site at the Deutsche Welle broadcasting offices in Cologne.

In addition to the four journalists' work, the project's patrons -- experts in various fields -- contribute articles to Qantara.

That explains why the Web site carries so much news, analysis and background information from DW-WORLD, explains Ingo Mannteufel, a member of the editorial board.

Qantara uses its three language versions -- English, Arabic and German -- to target different audiences. While the English and Arabic pages are aimed towards Muslims interested in European or German culture, the German site is geared toward German speakers seeking dialogue with the Islamic world.

The site already boasts a broad spectrum of articles, from a look at Turkey's EU candidacy to examining the role of women and feminist movements in Islam. It also showcases book reviews, tips on events, a newsletter and an extensive database of projects dealing with Islamic dialogue. A further directory provides links to over 100 Web sites dealing with cultural dialogue.

"What is available on the Internet at the moment is the first step, Mannteufel says.

Qantara.de plans to eventually search for partners in the Islamic world to intensify the dialogue.

For a dialogue two sides are necessary, Mannteufel points out. That means Qantara.de readers are expressly requested to pass on opinions, criticism or suggestions to the sites' makers.

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