Flaming Islamophobia or Promoting Dialogue

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Interview with Gholamali Khoshroo
Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam

Q: What urgent need in the world, in general, and in international relations, in particular, has led to the proposition of the idea of dialogue among civilizations?

A: The idea of dialogue among civilizations came into being following the collapse of the bipolar world system, and as a result of debates about the clash of civilizations. The latter idea was actually based on the assumption that ideological confrontation between capitalism and socialism did not exist any longer, but new identities had come into being which were civilizational and religious in nature and which would most probably or imminently come to blows. That idea gradually gave birth to “policies.” The policies were put forth by the Western countries which believed that the West should react to major human civilizations which gradually emerged and should not allow them to unite with one another; they should not be allowed to find a consolidated identity and stand up to the Western civilization which is by nature an overarching civilization.

The idea of dialogue among civilizations came into being against this theoretical, cultural and political backdrop. This idea was in fact an example or paradigm which saw the world from a different angle. Instead of analyzing the main gravity center of this emerging process through confrontation, it showed more willingness toward an analytical approach based on understanding, cooperation and dialogue. This was, in fact, a major paradigm-based shift in the approach to new identities and emerging realities. Therefore, there is no doubt that this approach is an ethical as well as rational need for human beings. Conversion of civilizations into antagonistic identities within the framework of international relations and getting ready for confrontation and conflict is the mirror image of the dialogue among civilizations. The ultimate goal of this theory is not elimination or destruction of other civilizations, but to promote respect, understanding, and cooperation on the basis of common grounds.

Q: Following your introductory remarks, one may conclude that the idea of dialogue among civilizations is an answer to globalization which has become quite inevitable. The question is to what extent the idea of dialogue among civilizations has been able to help these newly emerging cultures and civilizations, which you said are gaining in importance, to achieve their goals? Has this theory been of considerable assistance to them since it was first brought up by the former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami?

A: The globalization can be defined in a different way in which it will negate diversity of cultures in favor of unification of cultures. The dialogue among civilizations is a responsible and informed approach which seeks to awaken human beings in order to help human societies avoid confrontation and conflict and to put them on the right track toward cooperation and understanding. This was a remarkable human demand at that time which is still an issue and even more than that, is an inevitable must.

As to the degree of this idea’s success, it should be noted that everybody knows veneration of values and respect for the right path does not mean that everybody is actually treading that path. However, the fact that many people do not choose the right path does not rule out the human need to a path free from violence. In fact, many people seek violence and conflict in order to achieve their interests. The important point is that important elements like land, water resources, energy, and sphere of influence have constantly caused rivalry in relations among the states. Following the Cold War, this issue has been of more cultural and civilizational importance. Therefore, differentiation should be made between civilizations and rivalry over strategic interests.

Conflicts among humans will never end. I don’t think the time will come when international relations would be free from any kind of conflict and violence. However, abusing cultures and civilizations and killing people in the name of a certain religion or culture is an issue, which should be restricted as condemned as much as possible. Cultures and civilizations must show a new path to human beings in order to settle their disputes not through war, bloodshed, and misunderstanding one another, but via dialogue as well as interaction and cooperation. This is a human need both for today and the future. However, human ambitions, on the one side, and shortage of resources and human vanity, on the other side, join hands and make the most valued human achievements which include culture and civilization, an excuse for violence, discrimination and humiliation. This is a very dangerous issue. Dialogue among civilizations wants to prevent such a catastrophic situation from happening.

Q: You have mentioned two important points here: one is inevitable necessity for dialogue among civilizations with the other one being the issue of resources. Now to take a realistic approach to these points, we will have to ask why the idea of dialogue among civilizations has not been very successful at the global level and among powers and the states and it has not been appropriately followed up.

A: The issue of dialogue has been, and continues to be, a major concern at international level. To some extent, this idea has turned into a culture. Special centers for discussing dialogue among civilizations have been established in many universities across the world. I have personally visited a number of such centers in Europe and Asia. They are arduously working on this idea. A simple browsing of the cyberspace will show that there are many public centers which focus on such themes as dialogue among cultures, dialogue among civilizations, and dialogue among religions. Many books and articles have been written on this issue and frequent seminars are held on such issues every year which are attended by world-famous policymakers and thinkers.

Q: I mean that this idea should materialize and must even slightly go beyond the limits of a simple theory…

A: The warmongers stand on one side and thinkers on the other side. Proposing dialogue among civilizations as an initiative by Iran has opened a new way. As a result, following a few years, both Turkey and Spain came up with a new initiative they called coalition of civilizations whose main goal was to promote dialogue and mutual understanding among various states. The idea proposed by Mr. Khatami was a new way of thinking which called on thinkers, experts and scholars to give up a confrontational approach in favor of a new approach based on understanding and cordiality. However, the main goal of those two countries was to engage all states in this issue and even make them committed to implementation of plans for the youth, immigrants, media, minorities and so forth. Such measures are taken at the level of the states; however, relevant measures are not very extensive and governments do not invest heavily in this regard. Such measures are directly related to human nature and human needs, but the money which is spent in such fields is by no means comparable to the budget which is allocated to war or manufacturing weapons of war. However, nobody can say that this idea has not been successful because it has received less than adequate attention. When you know something is right, you have to encourage others to tread the same path. Of course many world leaders have no claim to be intellectuals, nor are they committed to religious tenets or are thoughtful and cultural people, but they attach the highest degree of significance to their countries’ strategic interests. The famous Iranian poet and globetrotter, Nasser Khosrow, has said in his travelogue that once he was short of money and decided to sell the books he was carrying. He put the books up for sale on the side of a mosque, but “people who came out of the mosque wore swords around their waists and did not buy books!”

Unfortunately, the human history is not history of dialogue, but the history of wars. It is the history of occupation, invasion, bloodshed and violence. It is not an easy task to change this history. A continued and public endeavor especially by the intelligentsia is needed in order to have long-term strategic effects on relations among the nations. We must not jettison the idea of dialogue among civilizations because the powerful countries and bullying powers do not care for it. On the opposite, we must try to promote this idea. Religious and intellectual leaders play a very important role in this regard and this should be also a focus of attention for the mass media in particular. This will take a lot of time and needs a special culture to be built. The world leaders should, for their part, think about long-term human interests instead of just focusing on their own blind and short-term economic and strategic interests. They should avoid of appropriating hefty annual budgets to production of new weapons and selling their old-fashioned arms to less developed countries every few years in order to allow them kill one another at a cheap price. Every bullet kills a human being. In international relations, however, we need words which inspire life and save humans. Dialogue among civilizations is life-inspiring, invigorating, and the least costly way of living for human beings.

Q: Due to the certainty that you consider for the progress of the idea of dialogue among cultures, what mechanisms are there to get the dialogue among civilizations beyond the scope of academic circles and give it a more practical and executive dimension in order to be taken more seriously by world leaders and the global powers?

A: We must try to emancipate other countries and peoples from slavery to their anger, jealousy, and avarice and direct them toward tolerance, understanding and mercifulness. Well, this is a very difficult task. The divine prophets have strived a lot to do this. Just look at the story of Moses and Pharaoh to see how merciless Pharaoh was. He became so insolent and arrogant that at last he claimed to be the God and was finally drowned in the Nile River. Therefore, this problem has existed since ancient times in human history as arrogant powers have always considered themselves to be needless of truth. At present, more endeavors are needed to help the human history to gradually lick the wounds it has suffered as a result of arrogance, rage and violence. International relations should be defined on the basis of a truthful, humane, and ethical foundation. In that case, political geography of the world will change and people’s attitude to electing their leaders will also change in parallel. They will no longer vote for leaders with iron fists and will not elect them. They will elect those leaders who would be able to reduce weapons, impart a new identity to human society, and have great respect for thinking, culture and love.

Q: What possible impact can the idea of dialogue among civilizations have on international peace and security? Considering the recent incidents over production of a sacrilegious film which insults Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) as a special case, what impact can dialogue among civilizations have on this and other similar issues?

A: The first step for the promotion of dialogue among civilizations is veneration of other religions and identities and showing respect for diversity of cultures. Just see how a profane insult to the sanctity of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) by an Egyptian Coptic and the subsequent support provided to him by well-known Islamophobic elements in the United States has led to widespread turmoil and clashes throughout the Islamic world. They target their most insolent insults at a prophet whose name is mentioned out loud by all Muslims every day and night throughout the Islamic world where all Muslims attest to his prophethood on a daily basis. On the one hand, they target the very core of Islam while, on the other hand, introducing Muslims as a violent and bloodthirsty group. It would be a true human catastrophe if the world goes back to conditions when it would witness new wars under religious pretexts. The dialogue among civilizations aims to prevent that catastrophe. Muslim countries, especially the people in the Middle East are seriously upset at the United States behavior.  Relations between the United States and Islamic countries have been characterized by inequality and violence in the past few decades. The support accorded to Israel by the United States during the past 60 years and invasion of Islamic countries by Washington in the past two decades followed by efforts which aimed to turn them into military bases for the United States are just a few examples of these violent relations. Decades of the United States unbridled support for dependent and Western-minded leaders in the Middle East is another instance which has caused profound hatred toward Washington’s policy among the regional people.

One and a half billion Muslims live in the world and they deserve respect. Allowing everybody in the West to freely insult the sanctities will lead to nothing but violence. Values are the most important reason for adhesion among various human societies. When the same values are denigrated and insulted, in fact, the freedom has become victim of inhumane objectives of extremists. Freedom should not be allowed to be taken hostage and used as a tool by people who think about nothing but spreading hatred, violence and terror. There should be a clear demarcation between insult to sanctities and freedom of speech.

Q: What role religions can play in promoting the idea of dialogue among civilizations in view of the existing religious challenges?

A: First of all, religions have come to bring freedom and salvation to humankind, not to encourage destruction of human societies. Various religions should first know and respect one another and engage in dialogue. There is an important law in basic teachings of all religions and ethical schools of thought which says you shall not want for the others what you do not want for yourself. This is an ethical and religious principle. According to this principle, for example, if we do not like our property to be seized by others, if we do not like our children to be exploited, or if we do not like others to lie to us, we must in turn avoid doing the same to others. Therefore, there can be a new paradigm of ethical life in the world which will be supported by all religions and schools of thought. Perhaps some sects advocate such issues as violence and negation of other people’s beliefs. However, even the followers of such sects should be helped to distance themselves from violence and extremism through enlightenment. We must be very careful not to fall in the trap of promoting extremism in societies because it will lead to no other result but violence under the pretext of protecting values. The current wave of awakening and awareness in the Islamic world should be welcomed and be taken advantage of as an opportunity to establish and institutionalize religious democracy.

Key Words: Flaming Islamophobia, Dialogue among Civilizations, Globalization, International Peace, Sacrilegious Film, Freedom of Speech, Sanctities, Religious Democracy, Khoshroo

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