As a diplomat you are inclined to believe that bringing peace and making the world a better place is the monopoly of your own breed of people. How wrong could you be?! Understanding among people and cultures does not come from governments. On the contrary, one might say. Artists, writers, musicians, and scholars: they constitute a global community surpassing national boundaries and mentalities, often taking the lead in guiding us on the way to peace.
A shining example in this respect I met here in Kuwait: Abdulaziz Saud al Babtain. As head of his family enterprise he has built up quite a conglomerate of companies, supporting the growth and development of Kuwait as a nation. He invited me once for dinner and he showed me around the office of his foundation.
And then to my happy surprise, under the façade of a successful businessman, a complete different personality became visible: a soft, sensitive, subtle soul, dreaming of a united world of love and understanding. A dreamer, yes, and even a poet, as Dr. Al Babtain showed me the different collection of poems he wrote; unfortunately in Arabic but some of them are even translated.
He explained to me that he decided to dedicate his life to gain a better understanding around the world of the beauty and richness of the Arabic culture and to educate all people, especially the young generation to strive for peace in every possible way.
This sounds idyllic, but is far away from empty talk. Not only is Abdulaziz lecturing at universities worldwide, he also established centers to promote the Arab culture, in Spain, Italy, Britain and recently also in my beloved country, at Leiden University.
The study of the Islamic and Arab culture has flourished in Holland for centuries, as our merchants were sailing the seas and always curious to learn from other cultures, and -different from some other European colonizers- not imposing our culture and religion on the people we met. So Leiden became the natural partner for the Al Babtain foundation to enhance the study of the Arab world.
Only twelve kilometers from Leiden you can find The Hague, not only my hometown, but also the city where King Willem Alexander has his palace. There we can also find the so called peace-palace. It was built hundred years ago for the International Court of Arbitration, where states, instead of fighting a war, could present their disputes for peaceful mediation.
Dr. Al Babtain chose this historic palace as the venue for an international conference to promote education of peace, focused on the protection of cultural heritage in times of war. 13 June 2019 is the date that many distinguished politicians, scholars and decision-makers from all over the world will convene in The Hague, trying to give a boost to efforts to end the devastation of cultural icons in times of war.
For almost 40 years, I am a diplomat. I have never been in a place where I come across so many surprises as in Kuwait. It is a unique experience to get acquainted with someone as extraordinary as Dr. Al Babtain. It is amazing that my beautiful country of Holland is able to play such a pivotal role in realizing the Kuwaiti dreams of respect for each other’s culture and relentless devotion and love for peace.
H.E. Frans Potuyt
Ambassador of the Netherlands