It is important to promote real, professional information, not constructed from hatred and ideological simplifications, in order to have dialogue between people and religions, says Andrea Tornielli.
In an exclusive interview with ZENIT in Amman, Jordan, the Editorial Director of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication and a trusted man of Pope Francis in the relationship with the world of information, affirmed this.
The international conference “Media and their role in defending the truth”, reflecting on dialogue between religions and people in the Middle East, is taking place in the Jordanian capital, June 18-20, 2019. The meeting is promoted by the Council of Catholic Patriarchs of the East, the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan, with the collaboration of the Platform for Dialogue and Cooperation between Religious Leaders and Institutions of the Arab World” and the Jordanian Office of Tourism.
Zenit Senior Vatican correspondent Deborah Castellano Lubov is in Amman to attend the conference during the session on “Media and truth: what is the relationship?”
Pope Francis visited Jordan, home to the Baptism site of Jesus, in 2014, during the journey to the Holy Land. He did so in the footsteps of Benedict XVI (2009) and St. John Paul II (2000). Jordan, with a large Islamic majority, where Catholics are less than 1% of the population, has a reputation as a peaceful and tolerant country in the Middle East.
Below is the exclusive Zenit interview with Andrea Tornielli done in Amman;
ZENIT: What is the significance of this meeting in Amman, in which you too take part as editorial director of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication?
Andrea Tornielli: It is an important meeting not only because the Christians of the Middle East organized it, but above all, because its purpose is to promote dialogue, information not made of hatred nor of clashes between believers of different faiths, and above all, to counteract the phenomenon of fake news. There are many problems in many Middle Eastern countries, of course, due to the control exercised on information, but also because, in the Middle East, as in the whole world, there are groups that use social media to try to manipulate information.
ZENIT: How can this phenomenon be contrasted?
Andrea Tornielli: I am convinced that the answer can never be a legislative response, that is, made up of laws that block people’s freedom. The answer can only be education. Hatred is not answered with other hatred. Criticism, on the other hand, can be discussed. One may criticize when one disagrees. But when there are attacks based on hatred and bad faith, one cannot respond by going down to the same level. Readers must be educated and informed with good information, which means professional information, which takes into account the truth, tries to communicate the truth, and which manages to explain the context of the news. What is lacking today in so much information conveyed by social media is the context, that is, the story preceding the news, giving an account of what really happened, of elements that have really been affirmed …
As I said this morning, in my speech, if a communicator can also inform about the context of news or their story, that is a good service of communications. Today, however, the context one should give to news is too often lacking. Also, unfortunately, often professional information is often lacking. The reason is also the fact that journalists today have to play different roles and be timely. But it also takes time to learn, read, think …
ZENIT: On February 4, 2019, during the Pope’s travel to Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Ahzar Al Tayeb signed the historic joint declaration on human brotherhood. I had the pleasure to be there having followed the trip from the papal flight. This document condemned religious extremism. Would you say that even here in Amman, there is the same spirit of that encounter?
Andrea Tornielli: Yes, it seems so, also because the experience in Jordan is a positive experience of dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The spirit is one of fighting hatred, extremism, fanaticism and striving instead for dialogue. And dialogue does not mean giving up one’s principles, one’s identity, but it means recognizing others, recognizing that others can also move forward …
ZENIT: Is there a certain element in that document, which you believe is most important to highlight?
Andrea Tornielli: The interesting point about Abu Dhabi is that for the first time, there was a strong commitment by an Islamic authority to walk in a certain direction. Some might ask, “will it be enough?” No, of course! “Is that authority recognized by the whole Islamic world?” No. But that is how a journey begins. And I believe that establishing human and personal relationships is always a positive step, to recognize ourselves as brothers and not to hate each other because of faith.
ZENIT: What are Pope Francis’ hopes today, in your opinion, around that document? What concrete fruits is the Holy Father hoping for, and would be most appreciated after that historic signature?
Andrea Tornielli: I believe that the Pope’s hope, after the signing of the human fraternity document in Abu Dhabi, is to be able to show and make it clear, that there is an Islam that wants to dialogue, engage in respect for human rights and is also committed to making concrete progress, make significant steps!
For example, I was very impressed by the passages of the declaration about the dignity of women. The great hope of Francis, I believe, is that those words gradually turn into facts.
ZENIT: What then, is the truth about Islam that should find space in the media?
Andrea Tornielli: The truth is that there is an Islam that dialogues and with which, a peaceful coexistence can be built. It is true that there are already so many stories of good coexistence, you just need to know them and tell them. This is not to forget the ugliness that happens because of fanaticism, but to show that reality is not all the same. It is complex. And when I talk about the complexity of reality, I mean we need to be able to understand what is happening inside Islam. The real “battlefield” today is within the Muslim camp, in the clash between Shiites and Sunnis, in the great movements we observe internationally … Never give way to ideological simplifications like those of Daesh, like the final clash between Islam and crusaders … not like this!
ZENIT: Here in Amman, at this encounter of Muslims and Christians, there is such a positive climate. It feels like in little steps like this, that such interfaith encounters between these two faiths are feeling more and more normal…
Andrea Tornielli: These opportunities for meeting must be multiplied. The last time I had been in Amman was three years ago, because my book ‘The Name of God Is Mercy’ had been translated into Arabic. We presented it here in Jordan and there was the Grand Imam of the Mosque of Amman, who greeted me. Then we talked about mercy with a theologian of the Islamic faculty. It really struck me, really, to talk about a theme like the mercy of God that is considered common, because Muslims too speak of God Almighty and Merciful. It is true that Jordan is a place where this dialogue is possible, while unfortunately in many places fanaticism is moving forward … so here is the importance of meetings like that in Abu Dhabi and like this one!