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Culture

Living in a Euro-Arab Neighborhood

A young Turkish girl has won the German commission for UNESCO’s competition for school newspapers with a short story on the fears and prejudices that a foreign child grapples with in Germany.

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Turkish, German and a Berliner - a young girl votes during German elections in September

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington drove home the fact that the often complex relationship between the Islamic and the western world is in urgent need of dialogue.

Though the concept of the "war against terror" was enthusiastically embraced by most countries, the more delicate task of intercultural understanding and acceptance was not covered by that mandate.

It was only fitting then that the German commission for UNESCO announce a Germany-wide competition this year under the motto "Euro-Arabian Neighborhood – learning to live together" for young editors of school newspapers and magazines.

Almost 400 children and young adults from all over Germany participated in the competition, which was initiated by the German Foreign Ministry.

The main idea behind hosting the competition was to let children of immigrants as well as German children express themselves and try and place themselves in the positions of their counterparts from different cultures.

Look, exchange, accept

17-year-old Pinar Özmü, who is of Turkish origin, decided to focus on intercultural understanding in the wake of September 11, 2001 in her short story.

"Get to know me, look at me, then look at the Arab in your neighborhood. Look at his religion, go to him, exchange your wisdom, your culture and then you’ll automatically shake hands. We must break the cycle, our children will learn to live with each other, let’s not allow them to become enemies. Let’s allow our lives to be enriched through other cultures," – with this fervent appeal Pinar ends her story, "The little Girl" on the fears and prejudices that a young foreigner has to deal with in Germany.

"A special perspective"

The six-member jury of the German commission for UNESCO were so impressed with Pinar’s story that they declared her the winner of the competition in the age group above 14 years.

Andreas Baaden, a jury member of the commission explains the decision of the jury to honor the special narrative perspective that Pinar employed in her story.

"I was very moved that she, like many other children, used the September 11 attacks as a peg for her story. But then she presented the incident very strongly through the perspective of a young, affected Arab: how the incident concretely played itself out in the last year. How the looks of the local Germans suddenly changed towards the Arabian minority – and also the way in which children, who are darker-skinned, are perceived."

Pinar Özmü, who visits a high school in Öhringen near Stuttgart, says that she consciously picked up the incidents of September 11 in her story.

"I thought about how it must be for people, who for example are Arabs or Turks or something else. And I decided to portray a young girl because I think that children can be much more emotional and perceive things very differently."

Intercultural understanding rewarded

The German commission for UNESCO picked a total of eight winners from the several hundred applications on the topic of intercultural dialogue between Europe and the Arab world.

The second prize, a two-day trip to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, went to the editorial team of the school paper, "Express" for their original contribution on Islam.

Another team that came in for much praise was the Christopher School in Bonn for physically handicapped. The school runs a partner project with a organization for handicapped in Tunisia.

As for the winner Pinar, she will soon be off to a ten-day trip to the Arab world – to the land of dates and camels, the Sultanate of Oman.

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