The Arab World Geographer

AWG 2001 Conference in Malta

Geographies of the Euro-Arab Encounter:
Past, Present, and Future

Thursday 4 October 2001
Speech Professor Ghazi Falah, Editor-in-chief The Arab World Geographer, The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio, USA

Dear Right Honorable Dr. Louis Galea – the Minister of Education in Malta,
His Excellency Dr. Didier Desmareau, the Ambassador of France in Malta
Professor Roger Ellul-Micallef, the Rector of the University of Malta,
My colleagues, participants and guests at the 2001 ARAB WORLD GEOGRAPHER Conference in Malta.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all today. I am delighted and excited to see you all here on this lovely island. For those who made a long journey over the Atlantic, or over the Mediterranean from North, South, West and East in order to get to Malta, I am extending a special and warm welcome. You are indeed brave geographers and colleagues. Your decision to attend this conference and meet with new colleagues is worthy of praise. You have shown commitment to the discipline and your profession. I hope you find this conference and the Maltese landscape a most rewarding and memorable experience.

For those colleagues who were not able to make it this time and who decided to cancel their trip at the last moment due to unexpected personal circumstances, I want to extend a special word of thanks. I truly appreciate their keen interest in this conference and am sorry they cannot be with us today. Let me assure you that none have cancelled their trip because they were asked to do so by others who did not want this event to take place.

So the floor is now open for scholarly presentation and interaction, yes encounter. We await an enlightening series of presentations that will enrich the discourse of the Euro-Arab encounter. An encounter that is more vital and timely now perhaps than ever before. We have gathered here today for one simple reason -- to communicate, exchange ideas and to benefit from each other's research and academic experience. The program has a rich and broad range of topics. But informal talks during coffee breaks and beyond the formal schedule are equally important.

As a conference organizer, I have special request to all paper presenters: please stick to time schedule and the theme of your paper. Please do not try to detour from the topic while presenting your paper. This conference is conceived as an academic forum beyond politics. Over the past few days, I received two requests from participants who wanted to change the topic of their paper and address the recent crisis in the US and West Asia. I declined to accept this request not because geographers should not address these events (and their imminent aftermath) --but because we have gone through a lengthy process in accepting individual abstracts for this conference. We would like to respect and stick to our original plan. The organizers of the conference do not intend to impose any kind of censorship on your scholarship, insights and views. We respect each author's ideas and we truly hope by addressing the conference theme, there will be a wide range of academic exchanges in the near future between colleagues and their respective institutions.

As most of you are aware, we have been working on organizing this conference for more than two years. Malta was our first choice. Malta occupies an important indeed unique place in the memory of human civilization. It was always a gateway to the Arab World and to the East. Many Western travelers and explorers either stopped off in Malta before starting their voyage or passed through it in their trip back home. In 1835, the Irish explorer Christopher Costigan started his journey from Malta heading to explore the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. In order for him to get to my home country Palestine, a Maltese sailor accompanied him. William Lynch, another American explorer to Palestine, passed through Malta twelve years later on his way to the United States in 1847. He arrived in Malta from Beirut. In our own time, just several months ago after completing his visit to Syria, Pope John Paul II decided to make a 30-hour stopover in Malta before returning to Rome, linking the Arab East and Rome almost symbolically by touching down on this ancient bridge in the Euro-Arab encounter.

On behalf of my colleagues at The Arab World Geographer, I would like to extend our sincere thanks to the University of Malta and especially to my colleague (and now my friend Dr. Tony Spiteri) who agreed for us to hold the conference here and use the excellent available facilities. And on behalf of the participants, I once again wish to thank The Maltese Minister of Education, The Right Honorable Dr. Louis Galea and the Rector of the University of Malta, Professor Roger Ellul-Micallef, for agreeing to attend this opening ceremony and address a word of welcome to the participants. We are honored to have you among us. You are very welcome to stay and participate in various sessions of the program.

I wish to address a few words to His Excellency the Ambassador of France in Malta, Dr. Didier Desmareau. I would like to take this opportunity Your Excellency to thank your country for providing us with a modest grant to hold our conference in Malta. Without that crucial and generous grant from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the French Republic, we would be unable to hold this conference today. My colleagues and I at the Arab World Geographer are indeed fortunate to have the support of Paris in this endeavor. We are also pleased that the French government did not impose any restrictions whatsoever on us in organizing the conference or on deciding whom to invite. Given your trust in us, we pledge to continue to serve science for the benefit of all scholars and humankind.

Finally, I personally would like to recognize the support and encouragement that I received from a number of colleagues who are present at this ceremony. The list that I have is too long to enumerate. But I would like to pause to acknowledge the special input of Dr. Virginie Mamadouh, who was in constant contact with me and with the other participants around the clock. Thank you Virginie. Another sincere expression of thanks is due Dr. Hussein Amery. Hussein was always available when crucial decisions had to be made. Thank you Abu Hisham, your help has been invaluable. On behalf of the AWG, I would also like to express my special gratitude to two Tunisian colleagues: Dr. Ali Toumi, the President of the Tunisian Geographical Association and Dr. Tawfiq Benhareth, ex-president of the same association. Dr. Toumi and Dr. Benhareth were instrumental in arranging the interpreter team and have brought along three geography students to assist us. Thanks very much, my dear Tunisian colleagues, shukran. We will always remember your help. Rest assured you will find the AWG and its editors at your side in 2008 when you host the International Geographical Congress in Tunis.

Without any further ado, le me conclude by saying WELCOME TO THE 2001 AWG CONFERENCE IN MALTA. I wish us every success. And look forward to speaking with each one of you and getting to know you better in the days ahead.

Was salamu Alaykum.

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