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Dialogue among Civilizations: A Way to Contain Sectarian Strife

Monday, September 23, 2013

Gholamali Khoshroo
Senior Editor and vice president of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam

Today, political and cultural trends and processes in the Middle East region and the world clearly show that the dialogue among civilizations is not merely a moral recommendation, but a vital necessity. Sectarian strife in addition to ethnic and tribal massacres, on the one hand, and the continued hostility toward the Islamic world by the West and even the East (as witnessed quite recently by the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar), on the other hand, further highlight the urgency of this necessary idea.

Any kind of constructive and meaningful dialogue would hinge on respectful interaction as well as two-way communication. In no form of dialogue, the negotiating parties make humiliation, threat and subduing the other party their main goals. “Dialogue” is tantamount to the use of wisdom and foresight to understand the meaning, discover the realities, and gain a different understanding through language, logic and empathy. “Dialogue” is a kind of spiritual experience aimed at discovering the “self” and “others.” It is both a journey inside oneself and a journey in the company of the other party to the dialogue. In doing so, the parties to a dialogue carefully and avidly listen to each other; a listening which is aimed to explore meanings and goes quite deep in this regard. In this interaction between the two sides, listening, the interval between dialogue sessions, or even adjournment of talks to get fresh energy for the continuation of the dialogue are not boring.

During “dialogue,” finding common grounds and shared ideas enjoys the same degree of importance as attention to the existing rifts and differences in viewpoints. In the plural world of today, it is through the acceptance of diverse cultural identities that other cultures are recognized. Therefore, negation of the diversity will lead to the annihilation of culture in essence. Mutual cultural relations guarantee the survival, endurance and prosperity of any specific culture and work as a factor to promote peace and friendship in the world.

The main objective of those who advocate dialogue is to find the best way to deal with differences and discrepancies. They neither totally negate the existing differences, nor make them a breeding ground for war and violence. The human essence of every person will be better manifested under divisive conditions. The extent to which constructive interaction and civilized dialogue processes get under way would depend on the extent to which the involved parties resort to wisdom, forgiveness, and tolerance when they face divisive conditions. The human life is intermingled with differences and conflicts. Nobody can lead a healthy and successful life in this world on his/her own. Everybody’s happiness, in fact, depends on the happiness of other people. The points of division cover a wide range of human activities, including economic, political, social and cultural. It is quite possible to zoom in on every single one of these differences, both in personal and social life, and even on national and international levels, to beat the drums of war, violence and hatred, and use them as a ground to stoke unrest and conflict.

However, such a state of affairs will certainly end in the clash of civilizations and increase tension in relations among nations. The vital necessity and moral need of the modern human beings is the promotion of the dialogue among civilizations as a means of facilitating the establishment of a free and justice-based society. Those who consider themselves superior to others, consider themselves as rightful in every respect due to their material power, and also try to impose their own values and methods on others through force and threat, only serve to foster violence and hatred while eroding the civilizational foundations of their own societies. Mutual trust, respect for people’s votes, compliance with the principles of ethics and wisdom, and commitment to promoting friendship and peace are main factors which pave the ground for dialogue and an honorable human life.

As extremism continues to thrive and the culture of dialogue is in decline, sectarian conflicts have afflicted all parts of our region. This situation has its roots in a petrified way of thinking, sticking to crude and primitive ideas, and violence. Frequent armed attacks on mosques, people’s houses, convoys of pilgrims, and funeral ceremonies have turned into a repetitive and heinous show. Such anti-Islam measures have tarnished the general image of Muslims in the world with blood and violence. This form of heightened violence is, in fact, a tool in the hands of regional and transregional powers which use it to achieve their political and strategic goals.

At present, an uncountable number of women and children are virtually waiting in the death row as violence is escalating in the name of various denominations of Islam at the hands of brainwashed youths who are ready to lay down their lives for goals which actually serve the interests of hegemonic powers. The world of Islam is seeing part of its body on fire through violent incidents which take place before the eyes of the entire world and are in total contrast to the core tenets of Islam as the religion of peace and friendship. As if the Islamic world is actually heading toward a big mass suicide. It is now incumbent on the ulema, scholars and intellectuals in the Muslim world to play the important role and mission that weighs upon their shoulders in order to prevent that mass suicide from happening.

Since 2001 when Iran's proposal for the promotion of dialogue among civilizations was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the flames of war have been raging all around the country. The blaze of war is currently consuming Syria as well as certain countries in North Africa. In the meantime, the people of Iran voted for the necessity of applying rationality and moderation to domestic and foreign relations through their high turnout in the presidential election. That election proved without a doubt that Iran is a stable country enjoying a high degree of peace and security. The political developments in Iran and the warm welcome given to the new administration of “hope and foresight,” presage a bright future outlook for the country. In this way, interaction and rationality is prevailing over confrontation and crude thinking.

The revival of the discourse of moderation and dialogue can not only bolster domestic unity, but also improve foreign relations with other countries. It can also bring sectarian and global violence under control and provide people with a happy and prosperous life. It is only through a discourse of dialogue that the injustice and tyranny, which has become inherent to international relations, can be contained while promoting peace and friendship at national, regional, and global levels.

*Gholamali Khoshroo is the Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam and Former Deputy Foreign Minister for legal and International Affairs, Islamic Republic of Iran (2002-2005). Khoshroo is assistant of President Khatami on “Alliance of civilizations” and Dialogue among Civilizations”. He has served as the Dean of the School for International Relations (1983-89); Ambassador to the United Nations (19890-95); Deputy Foreign Minister for Research and Education,  Member of OIC Commission of Eminent Persons on “Enlightened Moderation”. In recent years, he has extensively worked on the development of contemporary political Islam and its implication for western societies. As a sociologist he studied at Tehran University and New School for Social Research, New York, He has published several articles and books on political and cultural affairs.

Key Words: Dialogue among Civilizations, Sectarian Strife, Middle East, West and East, United Nations General Assembly, Iran, khoshroo

More By Gholamali Khoshroo:

*What Decides Fate of Egypt: Ballot Boxes or Powder Keg?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/What-Decides-Fate-of-Egypt-Ballot-Boxes-or-Powder-Keg-.htm

*Government of Moderation: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Government-of-Moderation.htm

*Political and Strategic Roots of Sectarian Strife in Contemporary Times: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Political-and-Strategic-Roots-of-Sectarian-Strife-in-Contemporary-Times.htm

Photo Credit: Aftab.Ir

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