Fund for Freedom of Thought

Are peaceful co-existence and progress in the Arabic World possible 
without granting Freedom and Democracy to all its peoples?

Democratic elections, freedom of speech and practical equal rights tend to go hand in hand. Each condition sustains the others. One fails and the others fail. This is how they are experienced in the Democratic World. The Arab experience unfortunately tends to take the opposite form - the absence of all three conditions.

A hundred years ago some very important Arabic thinkers and philosophers had already begun to criticize this deplorable state of affairs. They fought for progress, social reform and enlightenment in the Arab World. To become an equal partner to the Western World still seemed feasible. Today, however, the divergence between the cultures seems so striking that some Western commentators speak of a "cultural gap" that they consider unbridgeable. Yet this was not always the case. Arab Culture exerted an influence on the development of Western civilization that should not be underestimated and made a significant contribution to Western Culture. This influence is still apparent today.

Ibn Rushd was an important philosopher and scientist, known in the Western World as Averroes. He lived from 1126 to 1198 in Andalusia and Marrakesh. His influence on European thought tends to be forgotten by Arabs and Europeans alike. But in the 13th and 14th century Averroism was as influential as was Marxism in the 19th century. Ibn Rushd worked as a mediator between the Arabic and the Western World by commenting and interpreting Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato, making them accessible to Arabic culture. In many of his works, he also tried to mediate between philosophy and religion. Religious leaders did not always praise his works; he was condemned for heresy by both the Christian, the Jewish and the Islamic orthodoxy and his works were frequently banished and burnt.

The philosopher of the Middle Ages, controversial and influential in his own time, has now become the inspiration for the Ibn Rushd Fund, a non-governmental organization that will - according to the spirit of Ibn Rushd's philosophy - support the right to free speech and democracy in the Arabic World. On December 10, 1998, the 800th anniversary of the death of Ibn Rushd, the Ibn Rushd Fund was officially established. The Ibn-Rushd Prize will be awarded for the first time in 1999 and will be awarded annually to persons who have rendered outstanding services in defense of free speech and democracy. The avowed aim of the Ibn Rushd Fund is to provide support to men and women who have the courage to think in an independent and progressive way. This year the prize will be awarded in the field of journalism.