The Arab World Geographer
AWG 2006 Conference in Beirut
The Euro-Arab Encounter:

Geographical Linkages and Cross-Cultural Research Agendas

The AWG speech at the opening ceremony 

read by Dr. Virginie Mamadouh 

7 December 2006 

 Dear Dr. Joseph Jabbra, President of the Lebanese American University; 

Dear Colleagues; 

Dear Fellow Geographers,

On behalf of the Editorial Board of The Arab World Geographer and its Editor-in-Chief, Professor Ghazi-Walid Falah, who is sitting with us today, I’d like to extend a heartfelt welcome to you all at the opening of this unique conference, taking place at a unique time and under the most extraordinary circumstances. Professor Falah has been the driving force behind the organizing of this conference; he is currently on sick leave from his own university in Ohio this semester, and as such, in line with university regulations, is not in a position to undertake any academic work, or to deliver this speech formally himself.

This conference is taking place as The Arab World Geographer completes its ninth year of existence. Since its inauguration back in 1998, the founders of the journal have been committed to advancing geographical knowledge pertaining to the Arab and Muslim worlds. More recently, the AWG (as we affectionately call the journal) has opened its pages to articles by scholars from other social-science disciplines. This conference, with its broad array of papers, amply illustrates the fact that no longer are the boundaries between geography and the other social and human sciences rigid or hermetically sealed. We live in a world where knowledge production is increasingly multidisciplinary.

Consistent with the AWG’s mission to advance geographical knowledge on the Arab world, we constantly endeavour to forge links with our colleagues living and working at academic institutions in the Arab world. That endeavour is richly reflected in the present conference.

This is the second conference organized by the AWG on the broad theme of the Euro-Arab Encounter. The first such conference was held on the island of Malta in October 2001. Like Malta, Lebanon and, especially, Beirut have over the centuries been a crossroads for encounter between diverse cultures and peoples and for contact between Arabs and Europeans. From this very city and country, Lebanese sailors ventured across the Mediterranean and extended contacts and knowledge to distant lands. And this city, a Levantine hub for the intermingling and meeting of several religions and multiple cultures, has become a veritable symbol for the interweaving and encounter between diverse traditions and patterns of living and thought.

As I mentioned, this conference is taking place under extraordinary circumstances. It was initially planned to be held in Beirut almost a year ago, but the assassination of the late Prime Minister Rafik el Hariri necessitated postponement to a later date, October 2006. More recently, this summer’s war on Lebanon and its people required a further change, postponing the conference to early December. Now, finally, we can realize our dream.

There were 57 presentations in addition to the keynote lecture scheduled for presentation two months ago. The current political tensions in Lebanon, evident on the streets outside—which the AWG and the organizers take no sides in—have dramatically reduced the number of participants. Some, understandably, could not make it at this time. All who had planned to participate but decided at this last difficult moment not to come have sent their regrets and warm wishes for a fruitful academic event. We will not disappoint those expectations.

For those colleagues who have challenged all adversity and arrived here, and now are among us, I would like to express a special word of appreciation for your determination and courage, your sumud. You are truly dedicated scholars, and we all thank you for your passion for the topic and your compassion for Beirut and the people of Lebanon in this difficult hour—and for your commitment to enhancing knowledge and insight and light. Let the word go forth from here in these days that research in and on the Arab world is alive and vibrant and undaunted.

In closing this speech, the AWG would like to thank the staff of the Lebanese American University for their invaluable assistance in hosting this conference. And a very special thanks is extended to Dr. Sami Baroudi for his help in co-organizing the conference in a masterful and most professional manner, and with very great enthusiasm.

Finally, The Arab World Geographer would like to express its very special gratitude to the HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Foundation for Strategic Initiatives for providing financial assistance to cover part of the expenses of this conference. That help is much appreciated and has made the conference possible.

We hope the encounters and exchanges between colleagues in the coming hours and days will plant the seeds for much more extensive cooperation and networking, as we endeavour to make the Arab people and society better understood and far less misrepresented, both in scholarly and in public discourse, countering what Edward Said once called that “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture.” Enjoy your stay in Beirut and have a very pleasant and fruitful encounter with your colleagues. Thank you, shukran.

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Contact: V.D.Mamadouh @  |   Last update: 19 January  2007