Prerequisites for Dialogue among Civilizations

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hossein Kaji 

Active ImageIran proposed that a Day for Dialogue among Civilizations be established in order to help countries promote peace and morality, and in 2001 the United Nations decided that the occasion should be observed on September 21. And since today is September 21, we should return to the idea and reflect more deeply about dialogue among civilizations.
At first, we should acknowledge that the concept of civilization does not mean that we have a progressive world. Civilization is not civilized. Civilization means we have different groups with different ideas, ideals, and norms. So civilization is not a normative term which describes our transcendent culture. It is a descriptive concept that reflects our conflicting world with its many problems and crises. It says that we live in a vulnerable world with many different questions.

When we focus on the term “civilization”, it indicates that our sphere is extended beyond the nation-state structure and this is a sign of our development. So this approach shows our progress in opposing the traditional world. But this doctrine should not be used as an excuse for us to neglect our problems and crises, which are producing a very bad impact on the world. The Dialogue among Civilizations proposal casts light on these problems and therefore it is a problem-oriented proposal.

The other important point is that when there is an inclusive theory of clash of civilizations, which was presented by Samuel Huntington, then the proposal of Dialogue among Civilizations is not a theory.

There are many critical differences between a proposal and a theory. A theory can predict events but a proposal can only describe them. In addition, a theory tries to answer specific questions but a proposal is meant to demonstrate our ideals and norms. So if we are interested in formulating an inclusive theory of dialogue among civilizations, we should try to convert its important ideals into specific questions. In this domain, some similar theories, such as the global ethics theory proposed by Hans Kung, can help the theoreticians who are seeking to turn the Dialogue among Civilizations proposal into a Dialogue among Civilizations theory. There are many events that are predicted by the theory of clash of civilizations, but this is not the case with the Dialogue among Civilizations proposal.

Despite these points, the concept of culture is more important than the concept of civilization for illustrating the events and transformations of our world. Culture shows our inclination toward understanding and dialogue, but civilization reflects our need for a separate identity from the other. So civilization has a deep relationship with ideological viewpoints, but the concept of culture goes beyond these controversies. Thus, the term Dialogue among Cultures has deeper meaning than the term Dialogue among Civilizations.

Whether we accept the theory of Dialogue among Civilizations or Dialogue among Cultures or even the theory of clash of civilizations, we have a common foundation, and that is that our world is not based on the nation-state structure. And this shows that we live in a world that has transcended the limitations of the past.

The basis of the Dialogue among Civilizations proposal is dialogue. Dialogue is one of the most important concepts and we should try to provide its prerequisites. We can see different sorts of dialogue, such as political dialogue, economic dialogue, cultural dialogue, philosophical dialogue, and scientific dialogue, but first we should learn how to participate in a dialogue.

To have a good dialogue, we must consider its epistemological, ethical, and linguistic conditions. In addition, our counterpart in a dialogue must have some part of the truth and must believe that dialogue is a way to share views. In a dialogue, we should also observe the ethical codes of dialogue, such as respecting the counterpart and having the courage to change our opinions. Of course, we have to use clear and distinct terms and concepts in our dialogue. Language is the “house of dialogue” and with unclear concepts we cannot have a good dialogue.

However, these prerequisites cannot exist without a creative education system. If we want to create a better world, we should focus on our education systems. And even for dialogue, the improvement of education systems is the first step. Therefore, dialogue among civilizations requires a good education system that promotes creativity, critical thinking, and courage.

Source: Tehran Times

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