Institute offers chance to think |

Institute offers chance to think

Can Islam and democracy ever become a credible pair? Outside of Turkey, that is.

Right now, that’s an oxymoron much like “American intelligence” when it comes to, say, Iraq.

The Vail Valley Institute again has chosen the hottest of topics for its annual seminar this Thursday through Sunday.

Leading scholars in the field will inform a series of discussions among some pretty learned lay people, along with the occasional provincial newspaper editor listening in.

The full seminar is pricey, though no more than similar gatherings elsewhere with the best minds sharing their expertise. The institute also has packages for just the keynote address and dinner Saturday and a weekend mini-course.

Call 476-6608, visit or do what I’d do: google Vail Valley Institute.

The institute basically is the brainchild of a group of second-home owners here who occasionally like to think. By think, I mean grapple with the toughest topics imaginable. Over 16 years ago they got together and started these seminars.

The audience remains select, owing no doubt to cost and the Vail Valley being in many ways a harbor sheltered from the heavy thinking or normal life back at the primary hacienda.

The institute also provides scholarships for smart high school students.

And I owe a growing debt to these folks for providing some informed sources for my own views of the world.

Last year, retired Gen. William Odom punctured opinions I had held about the United States bringing democracy to Iraq, and U.C. San Diego professor Wayne Cornelius demonstrated the absolute folly of building a wall along the southern border to the tune of billions.

Name brands like Arianna Huffington, Gary Hart, David Brooks, Lynn Cheney, Edwin Meese, Alan Simpson, George Mitchell, David Gergen, Carl Bernstein and Leslie Stahl have spoken at past seminars.

Of course, the idea is not so much rubbing elbows with famous folks, a common part of life for most of the participants, but the knowledge packed into these seminars.

I don’t remember ever hearing of the lineup for this seminar: Vali R. Nasr, Juan Cole, Dr. Tawfik Hamid or Ken Jowitt.

But I know from visiting in the past that they’ll be top-shelf and offer a ton of insight into Islam and its unholy mix with democracy, at least our notion of the concept.

So I’m plowing through the selected readings, pondering the portend of nation-states summarily assigned to the Middle East after World War I, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, certainly the terrorist impulse and my own Christian arrogance about the Muslim faith.

My religious beliefs are not Christian, but I was raised in the Protestant wing of the faith and find the story of Islam even more, um, remarkable, than Christianity.

I also wonder, if given 500 years, the Muslim world might find itself more on par with Christianity today, which does strike me on balance as more civilized than, say, 500 years ago.

The sort of intolerance and ignorance surrounding Christianity in the early 1500s doesn’t seem all that different than the paroxysms in too much of the Mideast today.

Then again, that may well be Western nose-holding coming entirely from ignorance about a culture entirely foreign to me.

If so, I’m in for quite an education later this week.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 748-2920, or Read his blog at

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