Fes Forum 2014 Summary of Forum Discussions

By: Katherine Marshall

June 24, 2014

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The Fes Forum met over five days, from June 13-18, for a full morning, in the Baatha Museum in Fes. Each day a diverse panel addressed a challenging question with repercussions for world peace and stability. The main themes for 2014 were the legacy of Nelson Mandela, challenges for diverse societies (globally and in Morocco), the Israel Palestine situation, and reflections on the significance of the Conference of the Birds (the Festival’s overall theme for 2014).
The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music was born in the turmoil following the first Gulf War (1991), with the objective of working for harmony among nations and civilizations through a sharing of culture and art. It took root in 1994 in Fes, Morocco, a city known as the nation's spiritual capital, proud of its heritage of diversity of religion and culture and creative arts. Thus 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the Festival, now world renowned for its diverse musical offerings and the beauty of the setting.

The Fes Forum is an integral part of the Festival, unparalleled in any other such artistic gathering. Each morning for several hours there is a probing exploration of critical topics, with globalization as a central theme. Eminent people, politicians, religious figures, and artists, come together with the idea that they will be moved by the ambience of Fes to go beyond purely formulaic presentations and seek solutions in new ways. Described as a "spiritual Davos", the Forum’s situation in a volatile region, on the bridge between East and West, Europe and Africa, gives it a special allure.

Though the idea of dialogue was embedded in the ideals for the Fes Festival from the outset, the Forum was initiated some years after the festival itself, in 2001. There was a several years pause, but the Forum has roughly a decade long history. An integral part of the festival, the Forum’s continuing theme is “a soul for globalization” and its goal is to address, in a manner inspired by the festival’s overall spirit, the central challenges and opportunities facing the contemporary world. From the outset the idea was to gather diverse and unusual combinations of speakers and to encourage them to speak “outside” their normal and institutional personae, thus seeking new dialogue and new ideas.

The Baatha Museum courtyard, where the Forum takes place, is dominated by an ancient Barbary oak tree. The towering cover of the tree and the birds who accompany the speakers are durable symbols of the Forum, a source of constant metaphors about life, roots, mankind and nature, and beauty. This ambience also contributes an element of spontaneity, and the engagement of artists and intellectuals, people of action and intellectuals, lends a special character to the discussions.

The Forum in its early years opened each day with music (and still does on occasion). Each speaker introduced themselves with the aid of a symbolic object. Both traditions took the dialogue in new directions by signaling a departure from conventional seminar patterns of behavior. To ensure both a thread of thought and to help in capturing the essence of discussions each day opened with a synopsis (laced with analysis of high points) (http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/wfdd/subprojects/fes-forum-and-festival-of-world-sacred-music) of the previous day’s discussions. Several books were published based on Forum discussions. The ambition from the outset was to translate ideas into action but with a once a year event and limited logistic support this ideal has depended on individual initiatives.

The 2014 Forum included both veteran speakers who had been part of the event in previous years and several new participants. The Festival theme of cultural encounter and diversity, carried through in the opening spectacle of the Conference of the Birds, carried through to the Forum and led to a continuing focus on the challenges of plural societies, in terms of social class, ethnicity, and religion. Another feature of 2014 was particularly active audience engagement. Again there was a palpable desire to build on the spirit and ideas of the Forum in ways that would indeed translate ideas into action and carry forward the dialogue and proposals in tangible, durable ways.
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