The First Annual Presentation of
Ibn Rushd, better known as Averroes in the Western Hemisphere, lived from 1126 to 1198 in Andalusia and Marakesh. The scholar of the Middle Ages, disputed and influential at the time, tried to mediate between philosophy and religion in many of his works. His interpretation of the writings of Aristotle and Plato, as well as his commentaries, contributed largely to introducing Greek thought to Arabic culture. The Latin translations of his works transferred Greek thought to Europe. Thus he was the best mediator between the Arab world and the West.
His influence on European thought can easiest be estimated if one recalls that in the 13th and 14th century, Averroism was as influential in European thought as was Marxism in the 19th century. Not always did his works find appreciation with religious leaders: he was condemned for heresy by both the Christian and the Islamic orthodoxy and his works were frequently banished and burnt in public.
In the spirit of its namegiver the non-governmental organization Ibn Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought dedicates itself to supporting the right to free speech and democracy in the Arabic World. On the occasion of the 800th anniversary of Ibn Rushd's death, the Ibn Rushd Fund was founded in 1998. The Ibn Rushd Prize will be awarded for the First Time on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Fund's foundation on December 10th, 1999. From now on, it will be awarded annually to persons who rendered outstanding services to the right of free speech and democracy. In 1999, the prize will be given to the TV station Al Jazeera.
Al Jazeera means 'the island' in Arabic. The independent TV station was only founded 2 ½ years ago. However, Arabs throughout the Arabic world as well as in the European Union and in the USA regularly refer to it as a source of information. This is probably due to the fact that this TV station differs significantly from other Media in the Arab World. Mass media in the Arab world are subject to the respective head of state, who uses them as legitimization and mouthpiece for his politics. A democratic discourse about current topics or events is not allowed and the opposition has no platform from which to spread its convictions.
Al Jazeera TV is broadcast via satellite from Qatar, the smallest Arabic country. The private TV station attends to current topics, whether they are of a political nature, such as the Gulf War or the Arab-Israeli conflict, or of a social nature, such as the emancipation of women or the defense of human rights. The channel also reports on religious themes, such as Islam and democracy and political Islam. Great attention is paid to always shed light on both sides of a problem. One example is a live discussion that took place between a feminist Jordanian member of parliament and an Fundamentalist Egyptian woman, and on another occasion a politician belonging to Algeria's opposition appeared in disguise. The programs' names are indicative - The Contradictory Direction, More than One Opinion, Without Limits and Religion and Life, to name just a few of the most popular programs.
Muhammad Jasem Al-Ali, Al Jazeera's chief editor, describes Al Jazeera's principles as follows: "Other TV stations hold too many taboos. We do not know any taboos, our audience have a right to the truth." And a right to voice their opinion publicly: spectators are often invited to phone a program, and these phonecalls are transmitted live and uncensored.
Obviously the TV station is a target for criticism from all directions - some are not pleased that progressive forces are given room to express their convictions, those again are utterly opposed to the fact that their worst enemies are given the same amount of time. The neighboring oil countries seem to fear a cultural revolution, because "Al Jazeera is like a virus, a contagious virus exercising a positive influence on freedom of speech in other Arab countries", says the owner of al Jazeera TV, Sheik Hamad Ben Thamer Al-Thani confidently. He has good reason to believe this, as shows the closure of Al Jazeera's office in Kuwait, after the Emir felt insulted by Al Jazeera TV. On another occasion, US diplomats tried to keep Al Jazeera from broadcasting an interview with Osama Bin Laden.
Al Jazeera TV is literally an island of freedom of speech. To support the existence of this medium so important to democracy and freedom of speech in Arab countries, the Ibn Rushd Prize for Freedom of Thought will be awarded in Berlin on December 10th, 1999, to Al Jazeera's representatives, Vice director Mahmoud Abdul Aziz As-Sahlawi and Managing Director Muhammed Jasem Al-Ali.
The Ibn Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought will from now on annually award at least one prize. In the year 2000, the prize will be given to a person who has rendered outstanding services to women's rights in the Arabic World.
For further information, contact Tel. / Fax ++49 - 30 - 446 50 218, or Tel. ++49 - 2962 - 5162 or http://www.ibn-rushd.org.
30 / 11 / 1999