Islam, Dialogue and Civil Society
- :Sayyid Mohammad Khatami
Islam, Dialogue and Civil Society
by : Sayyid Mohammad Khatami
This book has two main subjects. One is Dialogue among Civilizations; the other is Civil Society. By Dialogue among Civilizations, President Khatami highlights the significance of culture in international relations as a new paradigm. Such an approach delineates how civilizations can engage in fruitful Dialogue with one another, rather than negating or being absorbed by each other.
The other main topic is Civil Society. It has two aspects. One is the practical aspect, that is, how Iranian society can materialize the ideals of civil society in its political and social affairs by expanding citizenship rights and public participation. The other aspect is the theoretical one, examining how Islam is compatible with notions of freedom, rationality, development and human rights.
President Khatami underlines the importance of the relationship between these two subjects, especially with regard to Iranian society. His emphasis on Dialogue among Civilizations reflects on how Iran can interact effectively with the wider world. Iran is a country with an ancient civilization, which has benefited from Islamic civilization, and has subsequently engaged with Western civilization. It has therefore had a long history of interaction and dialogue. Drawing on this historical backdrop, President Khatami's reforms aim at building civil society in Iran, and at promoting dialogue among civilizations.
Articles and speeches in this volume include those written both before and after Mohammad Khatami's election in 1997 as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Dr Gholamali Khoshroo has played a significant role in the selection of the contents of the book.
In the name of Allah
The year 2001, which has been confirmed and approved by the world as the 'Year of Dialogue among Civilizations', has certain important and noteworthy messages. Perhaps there are few topics that are accepted and embraced by the world as this has been. What follows, therefore, is a brief summary of the debate over this topic:
1. The eager approval of this suggestion indicates humanity's pressing need for dialogue and understanding.
2. This idea, its delineation and approval, are presented at a time when we have put behind us a century of war, turmoil, usurpation, discrimination and terror. Fortunately, in these entanglements and wars, not only has the world of Islam not played any role, but rather in many instances it has itself been a victim of wars and aggressions. The two world wars have been the bloodiest of the present grievous state. These two wars occurred in the West, at the hands of Westerners. The infringements on the rights of human beings throughout the world have occurred outside the world of Islam. The rights of the peoples of the continents of Asia, Africa and South America, especially the oppressed people of Palestine, have been trampled upon. This inequality has been imposed even upon non-Muslim countries which were not among industrial nations. With this description, at the end of a century full of blood, war and turmoil, the onset of the third Christian millennium, under the umbrella of 'Dialogue and Understanding', augurs a brighter and more promising future for the mankind.
3. Most important of all, this idea, which has been embraced by the world, was outlined by Muslims. This is testimony to the self-confidence and self-belief of the Islamic world and Muslim nations, especially in the second half of the twentieth century. The proponent of 'Dialogue among Civilizations' is himself an heir to a strong civilization and culture. He understands relations between human beings to be comprised not of might and imposition, but of rationality and dialogue. 'Dialogue among Civilizations' is spoken by one who values wisdom and has founded his own life on the basis of rationality, which is the origin of wisdom. We believe in rationality and dialogue. Religion and history have taught us this lesson. It was Muslims who familiarized Westerners with their history of philosophy and civics. The transfer of Greek science, philosophy and wisdom first occurred as a result of Europeans' familiarity with Muslims. Europeans learned tolerance from us. It is now ironic that they suggest the moral value of tolerance to us. The great Western civilization is strongly indebted to Islamic civilization. The world of Islam is endowed with a great civilization. Most assuredly, however, there exists a great distance between our civilization and our present state.
4. 'Dialogue among Civilizations' means equality between peoples and nations. In other words, one conducts a dialogue only when one respects the other party and considers the other party as equal to oneself. The colonial relationship which has ruled over certain parts of the world in the past two or three centuries has been the result of the phenomenon of dividing peoples and nations into first- and second-class citizens: that is, nations which have an inherent right to be masters, and nations which are inferior and have no choice but to be followers. War arises from the phenomenon of one party giving itself a greater right and, because he has power, he is entitled to serve his own interests at any cost, even at the cost, of war. Such a war is the fruit of discrimination and injustice. However, as soon as one proposes 'Dialogue among Civilizations', and it is accepted, it means that equality between nations has been accepted, and this is a great achievement for humanity.
5. Presently, by relying on many common elements, we Muslims must make a sincere effort to reduce differences, because a notable portion of our existing differences arises from differences in religious jurisprudence, culture, and the meaning of words, which can be eliminated. Other difficulties have been imposed by people who have not wanted the unity of the world of Islam or, if the plan did not originate with them, they have at least taken advantage of already existing differences by aggravating them. Thus, it is possible to eliminate differences, except for those which are natural, for people are by nature different; we do not all think alike, and we do not have identical interpretations. Therefore, in light of agreements and numerous common elements, we can minimize differences and render them a means to perfection and progress. Similar thoughts never confront each other. To have two ways of thinking set against each other is not only problem-free, but they ought to confront each other, for this causes the evolution and perfection of the thought. What is important is that the dichotomy of thoughts not turn into disagreements, contradiction, aggression and war. In order to achieve this, we must first return to the roots of unity, and, secondly, we must understand that if we wish to hold a dialogue, we must be inclined to wisdom and rationality.
6. One of the plagues which can be found in religious societies, and unfortunately the world of Islam has at times been plagued by it, is the misconception that, with the existence of religion, man does not require reason. That is, to believe that one can have either reason or religion, oblivious to the fact that one can understand even religion through reason. Does any mental tool exist other than reason? The difference between having faith and not having faith is not that a man without faith uses his reason, while a religious person is not in need of reason-they equally require the power of reason and must use it. The difference lies in the fact that a man of faith possesses two books while a man without faith, one book. The source of the religious man's knowledge is greater, and thus his achievements are richer. But a man who does not believe in God and inspiration possesses only the Book of Nature, to which he refers with the aid of his reason. A religious maxi also has this book and, as a natural human being, through the aid of his reason, he studies nature, acquires knowledge, comprehends science and philosophy, while, in addition, he benefits from yet another Book, the Book of Divine Law and Inspiration. People who set religion against reason understand their flawed interpretations to be 'religion'. It is true that inspiration lies beyond time and space, however, we exist in time and space. Our understanding, therefore, belongs to the realm of time and space. Thus, our understanding of the Book of Creation and Divine Laws is also limited to time and space. In this way, knowledge evolves. At one time, men of knowledge have one understanding, while at another time their understanding evolves, or perhaps the former understanding is even negated and replaced by our present understanding. Although man is endowed with a divine spirit and it benefits from dimensions that are beyond nature, beyond time and space, a large portion of his love, feelings and thoughts are nevertheless subject to time and space. Thus a great portion of our understanding of the Book of God is limited to time and space. Those who consider their understanding of God, the Book of God, and religion to be identical with 'religion', with the passage of time they are still not prepared to change their view. As a result, they sacrifice reason to their own understanding, which is limited to time and space. If we Muslims wish to have a better future and build a prosperous life for ourselves and a model for humanity that is proportional to the Greatness of God and the message of the Prophet, we must rely on God's great blessing-reason.
7. Our identity is rooted in the past; however, this does not mean that we should return to the past. The revelation of God descended on us in the past, but it does not belong to only one time. We must refer to the past, because the roots of our identity lie in the past, but we must not remain in the past, for this would be a retreat. A reverting to the past is to find a springboard from which we may forge ahead to the future.
8. In order to move ahead to the future we must understand the world and benefit from all positive achievements of human thought and civilization, wherever they may be. It is only under such circumstances that we can renew the greatness and grandeur of the past and, proportional to our present and future, shape a life which is blessed with God-like attributes and inspiration, a life in which at the same time human reason and human rights are held in respect.
9. One of the other blights is a situation where religion and freedom oppose one another. In the Middle Ages, religion was held against reason and freedom-and both suffered. Today, in liberal systems, freedom exists, but a freedom devoid of spirituality, and apart from the spiritual dimension of human life. As a consequence, their contemporary life faces many difficulties which are admitted by Westerners themselves.
Religion without freedom is tantamount to a life of enslavement, a life in which man is devoid of honor. Religion must not be set against reason and freedom. Rather, religion is a cradle and support for the growth of reason, freedom and liberality. God's religion has taught us this lesson. By relying on these standards and many other factors, we must become prepared for a 'Dialogue among Civilizations' and convey to the world the latent grandeur of the foundations of our religion and civilization.
10. With an open embrace, we must benefit from the positive aspects of other civilizations and cultures. This is in the sense of adopting, and adopting is a human art. This is adopting where man has understood his past and his identity, has founded his life on wisdom and reason, and puts to good use what others have already achieved. This is quite different from mere unseemly imitation.
Text of an address by Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and President of the Islamic Conference Organization, to the European University Institute, Florence, on 10 March 1999.
Attending an academic gathering has always been a pleasant and enjoyable exercise for me. For in such gatherings, the proceedings most often revolve around three functions: talking, listening and understanding. Understanding results from talking and listening, and the two functions of talking and listening,, combined with looking, constitute the most important physical, psychological and spiritual activity of a human being. What is gained by looking expands one's realm of knowledge and also consolidates the consciousness of one's own presence, the feeling that I exist. While we talk with others and listen to others, looking takes place from one's home base; from the base labelled 'I', and the world and man belong to the domain of sight, and are subjects of what I can see. But talking and listening combine to make up a bipartite-sometimes multipartite-effort to approach the truth and to reach a mutual understanding. That is why dialogue has nothing to do with the sceptics and is not a property of those who think they are the sole proprietors of Truth. It rather reveals its beautiful but covered face only to those wayfarers who are bound on their journey of discovery hand in hand with other human beings.
The phrase, dialogue among civilizations and cultures, which should be interpreted as conversing with other civilizations and cultures, is based upon such a definition of truth, and this definition is not necessarily at odds with the well-known definitions of truth that one finds in philosophical texts. Dialogue among civilizations requires listening to and hearing from other civilizations and cultures, and the importance of listening to others is by no means less than talking to others. It may be in fact more important.
Talking and listening create a conversation; one side addresses the other side, and speech is exchanged. Under what circumstances is man addressed? In other words, in what kind of a world is he or she' addressed? The world of science is not the world of speeches and addresses-science is a conscious effort to discover the relationship of objects, and for this reason, scientific discourse does not transcend the level of man's self-consciousness. But the world of art and the world of religion are the world of addressing. We are addressed by a work of art, and in religion, words of God address man. That is why the languages of mysticism and religion are linked together by genuine and profound ties, and why the earliest specimens of art that have been created by man are also specimens of Sacred Art. Man is addressed again and again in the Bible and in the Holy Quran, and it is with this call that the individual human being is elevated and becomes a person.
Etymologically speaking, the word 'person' is related to persona, the mask that actors would put on their face in the theatre. But= the important point here is that in the concept of religious address, when man is being addressed by God on a general and universal level, and not in specific terms of religious teaching and codes of conduct, none of his psychological, social or historical aspects are really being addressed. What is addressed is man's true, non-historic and individual nature, and that is why all the divine religions are not quintessentially different. The differences arise from religious laws and codes of conduct that govern the social and judicial life of human beings.
Now we must ask ourselves who is this person that is being addressed.
From the earliest times, philosophers have devoted a major part of their time and energy to answering this question. They have tried to explain how, and in what manner we may get to know man, to know him inside out, in absolute terms. The question of how one can get to know himself or herself; and reach the goal of self-knowledge, constitutes a major part of this philosophical quest.
Recounting the fascinating story of philosophical anthropology, and the episodes dealing with self-knowledge and self-discovery, would take several long nights in the thousand and One Nights of the history of philosophy. Some of these tales were first told in the East and some originated in the West. It is significant to note that the Eastern tales explain the Oriental side of man's being while the Western tales reveal the properties of his Occidental side. Man is in fact the meeting point of the soul's East and the reason's West. Denying the existence of any part of his essence would impair our understanding of the significance of his being. In our effort to grasp the meaning of the person, we should watch out not to fall into the trap of individualism, or into that of collectivism. Even though the views expressed by Christian thinkers have helped the modern concept of the individual to crystallize, this should not be taken to mean that there exists a natural link between the two views. Just as the profound attention focused on the meaning of the person as the recipient of the Divine Word should not be credited, in my view, to the influence of personalism. Of course, it has been said by everyone that in modern society, it is individual human beings who are the criterion and the yardstick for all institutions, laws and social relations, and that civil rights and human rights are in fact nothing other than the rights of this same individual. On the other hand, collectivism, which was launched vis--vis individualism, was formulated by multiplying the same concept of the individual, and therefore the two ideologies have the same philosophical foundation. For this reason we consider, from. our position of spiritual wisdom, the antagonism between individualistic liberalism and collectivist socialism to be superficial and incidental. The concept of the person can be easily explained in terms of Islamic mysticism. The Islamic mystics consider man to be a world unto himself, a microcosm. Man's originality does not emanate from his individuality or his collectivity. His originality is solely due to the fact that it is him, and him alone, who is addressed by the Divine Call. With this address, man's soul transcends its boundaries, and with the transcendence of his soul, his world also becomes a world of justice and humanity.
Anyone who examines even briefly the meandering course of philosophy from its beginnings to the present will clearly notice
the continuous swing of the philosophers, from one extreme to the other. The last swing, the last link in the chain, is modernity. This word, which seemingly is the latest term to be derived from the Latin modernus, was apparently first used in the nineteenth century. But the Latin word itself has been in use for more than fifteen centuries, and it was only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that modernity was applied to a wide range of concepts in such diverse fields as philosophy, art, science, history and ethics. The common denominator in all these concepts is the cataclysm that shook the very foundations of man's existence and thinking towards the end of the Middle Ages. It was a cataclysm that pushed man and the world into a new orbit. Man and the contemporary world (so far as it is affected by man's ideas) result from this modem orbit into which they were sent in the aftermath of the Middle Ages. This new orbit was labelled 'modern' in those times, but today we call it the Renaissance. Italy played a decisive role in the birth of the Renaissance. Although many books and essays have been written to describe and explain this great milestone, there is still a definite need for philosophers, historians and scientists to think and talk about it.
The sole aim of the Renaissance was not to revive classical Greek culture. Its principal aim was-as already pointed out by a number of thinkers-to revitalize religion by giving it a new language and fresh ideas. The Renaissance defined the man of religion not as someone who would contemptuously turn his back on the world in order to repress it, but as somebody who would face the world. The Renaissance man of religion turns to the world just as the world awaits him with open arms, and this reciprocal openness and opening up of the world and man constitutes the most fundamental point about the Renaissance, and inherently it is a religious event aimed at conserving, reforming and propagating religion, and not opposed to it or against it.
But this great event ended up, in due course, somewhere diametrically opposed to the original intention. The opening of the world was transformed into violent conquest and subjugation. This violent conquest did not remain limited to mastering nature. Its fires soon spread to human communities. What came to be known in the socio-political history of Europe as colonialism is the result of extending the domineering attitude of man towards nature and the natural sciences, to men
modernity without adopting a humanitarian and ethical approach. The critique of modernity that I propose is undertaken from a vantage point and angle which is profoundly different from the position of its well-known critics, especially in the domain of philosophy. Someone who sets out to prune a tree should not cut the very branch he is standing on. That is exactly how some of the philosophers of our time are behaving in their critique of modernity. By denying Reason any dialectical authority, they turn it either into a weapon that destroys everyone and everything, itself included, or transform it into a blunt and rusted sword that can only become a museum piece. One cannot use Reason as a critical weapon without accepting its authority and without recognizing its limits.
The critique of pure reason, which opened a new chapter in Western philosophy and may be taken to mean the critique of everything and all concepts including pure reason itself, only becomes possible if reason is endowed with authority. Without the authority of reason-which should be discussed at length and with precision in some other venue and at a more appropriate time, without forgetting to discuss its relationship to domination and power-it will not be possible to have a clear picture and concept of such vital political issues as human rights, peace, justice and freedom. And without this clear concept, our efforts for the establishment of these ideals will not succeed. But this should not be interpreted as a call to rationality and European style logocentrism that preceded post-modernism. Because of the fact that Europe has given birth to modern rationality, it should feel a stronger responsibility for criticizing it and finding a solution to prevent its destructive consequences.
Europe has itself fallen prey to its over-reliance on rationality, and is today engaged, through its thinkers and philosophers, in totally discrediting its own rationality. The Orient, which etymologically speaking has given rise to a number of words pertaining to order and a sense of direction, can undertake in ,the course of a historical dialogue with the West aimed at reaching a mutual understanding, to call on Europe and America to exercise more equilibrium, serenity, and contemplation in their conduct, thus contributing to the establishment of peace, security and justice in the world. This sense of equilibrium and serenity, if it is taken in the Oriental
Age of Enlightenment was an Apollonian era, while Romanticism was the movement of the pendulum in the opposite direction. The next century should be a century for turning to the kind of spirituality that Oriental man has pursued for several thousands of years.
The exuberance and vitality of European culture stems from its critical approach towards everything, itself included. But the time has come for Europe to take another step forward and view itself differently, as others see it. This should not be taken to mean that Europe should forget its great cultural heritage or that it should turn to a new type of obscurantism. It is rather an encouragement to European culture and civilization to embark on new experiences to gain a more precise knowledge of global cultural geography. In Orientalism, we find that the East is treated as an object of study, rather than as 'the other side' of a dialogue. For a real dialogue among civilizations to take place, it is imperative that the East should become a real participant in the discussions and not just remain an object of study.
This is a very important step that Europe and America need to take towards the realization of the 'dialogue-among-civilizations' project. Of course this is not a one-way invitation. We too, as Iranians, as Muslims and as Asians, need to take major steps towards gaining a true knowledge of the West, as it really is. This knowledge will help us to improve our economic and social way of life. Taking such bold steps by us and by Europeans would require a character trait that was first recognized and promoted in Europe by the Italians.
Renaissance historians have written that as a result of the continuous contacts of the Italians with Byzantium and the, Islamic world, the people of Italy developed a sense of tolerance. The Italians had been familiar with Islamic civilization since the time of the Crusades, and they admired it. This knowledge and familiarity with a foreign culture, and the sense of wonder that accompanied it, was the biggest factor in developing this sense of tolerance among the Italian people. It is ironic that this concept of tolerance that was adopted from the Muslims and is a result of the contacts made by Europeans with them, is now, in our time, being offered by Europeans to Muslims as an ethical and political piece of advice. Evidence of the Muslim influence in the creation of this spirit of tolerance among Europeans is clear and can be traced in Europe's literary history. A very well-known play by the German dramatist Lessing entitled 'Nathan the Wise', which is itself based on an Italian work called 'One Hundred Old Tales' (Cento novelle antiche) is a case in point. But the influence of Muslim thought and culture on Italian and European culture is not limited to the question of tolerance. No nation has the right to confiscate the contributions of others to its own civilization, and to deny the share of any civilization in the history of human culture. Apart from the influence of Muslim philosophy, theology and art on Europeans, something that has been very instrumental in refreshing and purifying the temper of Europeans is Islamic literature, in all its diversity and richness. As an example, one can cite the influence of Ibn al-Arabi upon Dante, but here fortunately much has been said and written by well-known European scholars.
Speaking of the historical past without any reference to the future would be an idle academic exercise, whereas it is imperative upon us, for the sake of helping human communities and improving the state of the world, to find out how the relations of Asian countries, and especially those of the Muslim countries, with Europe stand today. Why? Because Muslims and Europeans are next-door neighbours, and nations, unlike individuals, cannot choose their neighbours. Therefore, apart from moral, cultural and humanitarian reasons, Islam and Europe must, by force of historic and geographical circumstance, get to know one another better, and then move on to improve their political, economic and cultural relations. Our futures are inseparable because our pasts have been inseparable. Even today, in our schools of philosophy, the views of Plato, Aristotle; and Plotinus, and those of Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Wittgenstein from among the modernists are taught alongside the views of al-Kindi, Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Suhrawardi and Mulla Sadra. If the great civilizations of Asia view themselves today in a Western mirror and get to know one another through the West, it was Islam that served in the not-too-distant past as a mirror to the West; it was a mirror in which the West could see its own past and its own philosophical and cultural heritage. If dialogue is not a simple choice but a necessity for our two cultures, then this dialogue should be ;conducted with the true representatives of Islamic culture and thought. Otherwise, what good will it do for the West to talk with a few 'Westoxicated' types who are themselves no more than inferior and deformed images of the West. This would not be a dialogue; it would not even amount to a monologue. A profound, thoughtful and precise dialogue with Islamic civilization would be helpful in finding fair and practical solutions to some of the grave problems that beset the world today. The crisis of the family, the crisis in the relationship of man and nature, the ethical crisis that has developed in scientific research, and many more problems of this nature should be among the items on the agenda of an Islamic European dialogue.
Dialogue is such a desirable thing, because it is based on freedom and free will. In a dialogue, no idea can be imposed on the other side. In a dialogue, one should respect the independent identity of the other side and his or her independent ideological and cultural integrity. Only in such a case, can dialogue be a preliminary step leading to peace, security and justice.
In the meanwhile, conducting a dialogue with Iran has its own advantages. Iran is a door-to-door neighbour with Europe on one side, and with Asia on the other. Thus Iran is the meeting point of Eastern and Western cultures, just as man is the meeting point of the soul's East and the reason's West. The Persian heart and the Persian mind are brimful with a sense of balance, affection and tolerance, and for this reason, Iranians are the advocates of dialogue and adherents to justice and peace.
Statement by H.E. Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Chairman of the Eighth Session of the Islamic Summit Conference, Tehran, 9 December 1997.
I wonder whether to commence my words with a statement of woes and misfortunes that are, or with the joys and delights that are to be. Is it not a fundamental objective of the Islamic Conference to arrive at common remedies for the woes of Muslim countries, and the attainment of a stature and position befitting them? Is it not to achieve this lofty ideal that the present should be prevailed over and misfortunes remedied? No pain and affliction can be cured unless it is properly diagnosed in the first place, then the best solution is sought after with discretion and reflection, and finally, acted upon with resolve and firmness.
Our predicament is that the Islamic Ummah, once a flag-bearer of knowledge, thought, and civilization, has in recent centuries relapsed into weakness and backwardness and worse still, has even failed, due to the consequent painful state of passivity vis-avis the ostentatious dominant civilization of the time, to properly utilize the fruits of this civilization. Our centuries-old passivity is the outcome of the decline of a once shining human civilization, whose achievements and remnants are still praiseworthy and to which the dominant world civilization is truly indebted. Today, the recreation of the replica of the old civilization is neither possible, for its time is long gone, nor desirable, even if it were possible. Considering civilization as the product of man's responses to his questions about existence, the world, and himself and also as representing the sum total of his efforts in the way of meeting his needs, then what is constant in man is his quest for knowing as well as his need and longing. However, the form and content of the questions and needs change according to time and place. Civilizations continue to live as long as they possess the capacity to respond to the ever-renewing questions and the ever-changing needs of man, otherwise they are doomed to demise. As such, civilization, as a human affair, is subject to birth, development, and demise.
The questions and needs of man in our time are in many ways different from those of our predecessors. Our passivity in recent centuries in the face of Western civilization-which is itself a natural response to the quest of Western man-is due to the fact that for various reasons we have ceased to ask. The absence of question leads to the absence of thought, which in turn leads to inevitable passivity and subjugation vis--vis others.
What is important, though, is to discern that such passivity, indolence, and backwardness is not our preordained destiny. The people who once created one of the most glorious civilizations in history still enjoy the potential to create another, provided, of course, that they lend themselves to reason and reflection, and this cannot be accomplished without the realization of the following:
1-Return, with reflection, to the historical self which on the one hand is rooted in eternal Divine inspiration and on the other, carries a unique historical and cultural potentiality nurtured by the past.
2-Proper and deep understanding of the present time. In this respect, it is imperative to discern that between Islamic civilization or to be exact, civilization of Muslims-and our life today-there stands what is called 'Western civilization', a civilization whose accomplishments are not few, and whose negative consequences, particularly for nonWesterners' are plentiful. Our era is an era of the preponderance of Western culture and civilization, an understanding of which is imperative. However, for such an understanding to be effective and useful, it is essential to go beyond its surface and the superficialities and to reach its theoretical basis and the fundamentals of its values.
Recognition of our past is equally imperative, not in order to return and stay in the past, which is pure regression, but rather for the rediscovery of the essence of our identity and its refinement in the mentalities and habits hardened by time and place, as well as for rational criticism of the past in order to find proper support for today's honor and dignity and a platform to go beyond the present towards a future more splendid than the past. Undoubtedly, we will only succeed in moving forward along this path if we possess the requisite fairness and capacity to utilize the positive scientific, technological, and social accomplishments of Western civilization, a stage we must inevitably go through to reach the future. Painful and bitter though we find the passivity and backwardness of Muslim countries, nevertheless the mere happy reminder that we can transform our destiny through awareness, resolve, and solidarity is a matter of elation and delight.
We can certainly move the present as well as future generations towards a new Islamic civilization through setting our eyes on horizons farther away, being together with understanding and helping each other as brothers. For this to become a reality, all of us must put our minds to the realization of an 'Islamic civil society' in our respective countries. The civil society which we want to promote and perfect in our society and which we recommend to other Islamic societies is fundamentally different from the 'civil society' that is rooted in Greek philosophical thinking and Roman political tradition and which, having gone through the Middle Ages, has acquired its peculiar orientation and identity in the modern world. The two, however, are not necessarily in conflict and contradiction in all their manifestations and consequences. This is exactly why we should never be oblivious to the judicious acquisition of the positive accomplishments of Western civil society.
While Western civil society, historically as well as , theoretically, is derived from the Greek city-state and the later Roman political system, the civil society we have in mind has its origin, from a historical and theoretical point of view, in Madinat ul-Nabi. Changing Yathreb to Madinatun-Nabi was not just a change of name, nor did the change from Ayyam ul-jahiliah (Days of Ignorance) to Ayyam-Ullah' (Days of Allah) represent just an alteration of designation. Madinah is not soil and territory just as Yaum-Ullah does not stand for time.
With Madinat ul-Nabi and Ayyam-Ullah there emerged in the early days of Islam a moral geography and history that ushered in the beginning of a new outlook, character, and culture. This culture, with its unique and distinct view of existence and man and their origin, has for centuries lived in the depths of the soul and collective memory of Muslims. Now, more than ever before, Muslims need to take abode in their own common home. Despite the fact that ethnic, geographical, and social differences among Muslims have over time given different semblances and flavors to the Muslim individual, Madinat ul-Nabi remains as our eternal moral abode and Yaum-Ullah continues to flow as current time through all moments of our lives, or else they ought to. Madinah emerged through hegira (exodus) from the land of polytheism and oppression, as Yaum-Ullah began as the result of a break with the time of Jahiliah (darkness) and entry into the sacred realm of Divine 'Time and Presence'.
Taking abode in the 'common Islamic home' does not mean regression, rejection of scientific achievements, withdrawal from the modern world or seeking conflict with others. On the contrary, it is only after such a return to the common identity that we can live in peace and tranquility with other peoples and nations. Living in peace and security can only be realized when one fully understands not only the culture and thinking but also the concerns as well as the ways and manners of others. Sophisticated understanding of the cultural and moral dimensions of other societies and nations entails establishment of a dialogue with them. A genuine meaningful discourse can take place only when the parties concerned find themselves in their own genuine true position, otherwise the dialogue between an alienated imitator and others is meaningless and certainly void of any good or benefit. Seeking abode in the common Islamic home, Madinatun Nabi-is tantamount to the assumption by Muslims of their true position; that is, securing their true Islamic identity.
In the civil society that we espouse, although it is centered around the axis of Islamic thinking and culture, personal or group dictatorship or even the tyranny of the majority and elimination of the minority has no place. In such a society, man, due to the very attribute of being human, is venerated and revered and his rights respected. Citizens of an Islamic civil society enjoy the right to determine their own destiny, supervise the governance and hold the government accountable. The government in such a society is the servant of the people and not their master, and in every eventuality, is accountable to the people whom God has entitled to determine their own destiny. Our civil society is not a society where only Muslims are entitled to rights and are considered citizens. Rather, all individuals are entitled to rights, within the framework of law and order. Defending such rights ranks among the important fundamental duties of the government.
Respect for human rights and compliance with their relevant norms and standards is not a posture adopted out of political expediency or conformity with others. Rather it is the natural consequence of our religious teachings and precepts. Amir Al-Mu'menin Imam Ali (AS) enjoined his representative to observe the principle of justice and equity as regards all people and not Muslims. only, for 'they are of two groups; a group of them is your brothers in faith and the other is like you in creation'.
Our civil society seeks neither to dominate others nor to submit to domination. It recognizes the right of other nations to selfdetermination and access to the necessary means for an honorable living. Determined not to yield to force and coercion and in its drive to stand on its own feet, our civil society, as instructed by the Holy Quran, considers itself entitled to acquire all requisite means for material and technical progress and authority. The rejection of domination and subservience no doubt means the rejection of force and duplicity in relations among nations, and their replacement with logic and the principle of mutual respect in international relations.
The civil society we champion is based on our collective identity whose attainment requires the continuous and ceaseless endeavors of intellectuals and thinkers. It is not a treasure that can be unearthed overnight, rather, it is a fountain of life and morality from whose constant effusion we will benefit. Therefore, enjoyment of this treasure is gradual and is dependent on scrupulous cognizance and re-examination of our heritage as well as our doctrinal and intellectual tradition on the one hand, and sophisticated scientific and philosophical understanding of the modern world on the other. Hence, it is the thinkers and men of . learning who are pivotal in this movement and play the central role: Our success along this path depends upon politics serving thought and virtue and not acting as a confined and restrictive framework for them.
What I have just stated is not an exercise in imagination but the panoramic outlook of a future situation, whose achievement is possible and for whose realization it is our urgent duty to strive. We are of the belief that movement along this clear path has commenced in Iran thanks to the victory of the Islamic Revolution. The honorable people of Iran are pursuing their way with self-confidence and through perseverance in the face of difficulties and struggling against internal restrictive and regressive habits and mindsets on- the one hand, and external pressure and conspiracies on the other. Along this path, they extend their hands, in fraternity and cooperation, to all Muslim nations and states and also to all nations and states who are committed to the principle of mutual respect.
Regaining Islamic honor and dignity, which God has discerned for us, and acquiring the requisite capabilities to claim our due share in the present world and in the creation of a new civilization, or at least, actively participating in the genesis of the civilization that will inevitably replace the existing one, we Muslims should rely on two important factors: one, wisdom and reason, and the other, cohesion and solidarity. In order to realize these two prodigious marvels can there be anything for us but recourse to the Holy Quran-the eternal heritage of the Glorious Prophet of Islam? Which Divine Book or Message more than the Quran has so much emphasized reasoning, meditation, reflection, contemplation, and deliberation on existence and on the world, and on learning from the fate of past peoples and communities? Furthermore, against all 'racial, ethnic, linguistic and even religious differences, the Holy Quran is the most trustworthy anchor of bond and unity among us Muslims, provided, of course, that we appreciate it and rely on it, with wisdom, and enlighten with its bright rays our life today as well as our future horizons, without rigidity and habituality on the one hand, and a sense of inferiority vis-d-vis others on the other hand.
At this juncture and on the occasion of this august assembly, I briefly present to the distinguished audience, with deep fraternal feeling, the priorities that Muslim countries need to address and find remedies for, on which I seek the assistance of the conference.
1-Towards a New and just World Order
Despite the efforts of American politicians to impose their will on others, as the remaining pole of power, around whose interests the world should gravitate, international relations are in the process of transition from the previous bi-polar system to a new stage of history. In our view, a new order based on pluralism is taking shape in the world that, God willing, will not be the monopoly of any single power. What is imperative for us Muslim countries-is that while valiantly resisting all kinds of expansionism, we should strive to secure our proper position and stature in contributing to the shaping of the new world political order and new international relations. This entails understanding, planning, and common endeavor.
It is imperative that Muslim countries should engage in a meticulous evaluation of their position and capabilities, and upon undertaking an objective assessment of their external environment, proceed to adopt appropriate policies to arrive at political solidarity and consolidation of all 'their internal resources, and thereby strive towards ensuring effective participation in international decision making. Initially, relying on principles, common heritage and interests as well as on negotiation, we should strive to bring our views closer together in all areas and then create a chain of well-connected complementing possibilities through proper utilization of capabilities.
2-Security and Peace in the Region and the World
Parallel to joint efforts towards fulfilling the historical mission of the Islamic world in contributing to the shaping of a new humane world order, the full-fledged cooperation of Muslim countries towards the provision and preservation of world peace is an undeniable necessity. However, the provision of security and lasting humane peace in the world entails that the cold-war paradigm which was based on the necessity of the existence-for public opinion-of an actual or imagined external enemy be cast aside. It is unfortunate though that certain expansionist tendencies in the world are seeking to create an imaginary enemy , of Islam. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us all to strive, through effective and continual participation in the promotion of peace and security at regional and global levels, to strengthen confidence, reduce security concerns and moreover, render ineffective the wrong inculcations by the enemies of Islam. We should be vigilant, however, about what is most threatening to our security, that is, the trend of increasing threats against the very political, cultural, and economic existence of Muslims, particularly because the extension of the range of these threats, law, pursuit of state terrorism, and development of nuclear weapons, seriously threatens peace and security in the region.
In the sensitive and strategic region of the Persian Gulf, the regional states themselves should undertake to preserve security and peace. In our view, the presence of foreign forces and armada in this sensitive area serves not only as a source of tension and insecurity, but also has tragic environmental consequences.
What is happening in the dear land of Afghanistan is indeed a massive human tragedy, as well as a fertile ground for foreign intervention and disruption of security and stability in the whole region. Muslim countries, and for that matter, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, should insist that there is no military solution to the Afghan problem. The painful predicament in this country should be resolved, initially through negotiation with the parties involved and finally, by the Afghan people themselves. The Islamic Conference is expected to help guide this country towards peace and tranquility through inviting all the parties involved to engage in negotiation.
The situation in Iraq, particularly in the north, is also a cause for concern. While inviting Iraq to cooperate properly with the United Nations, we believe that foreign intervention, particularly conflict and war in the northern area that has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians, has created the grounds for widespread insecurity in the region. We attach great importance to the territorial integrity of Iraq and declare our readiness to undertake all humanitarian measures in this important country of the region.
The dangerous designs for foreign infiltration and penetration, particularly by Israel, in various parts of our region are a serious cause for concern, underlining the necessity of vigilance on the part of all countries of the region. We welcome the active and self-assertive presence of the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus in the process of independence and development towards the honor and dignity of the Islamic world. At this point, while welcoming the trend of peace in the friendly and fraternal nation of Tajikistan, I deem it necessary to express our gratitude to President Rahmonov and Mr. Abdullah Noori, the chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission, for their cooperation towards the Conference to exert its utmost efforts in order to prevent the spread of ethnic differences as well as to strengthen the process of peace in this country.
Some Islamic countries are currently facing foreign threats and conspiracies and are also burdened with difficulties emanating from internal differences. The Islamic Conference in general and Islamic countries in particular should declare their solemn support for the independence and interests of these countries as well as their respect for the wishes and aspirations of Muslim nations. Moreover, the Islamic Conference should act and move in a manner and direction that Muslims everywhere in the world, including Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries, find in the organization a source of confidence and assured support.
In any eventuality, we should remain vigilant vis--vis visible as well as invisible sources of threat against our security. We believe that the Islamic countries have reached the requisite stage of maturity to undertake, through understanding and conclusion of collective agreements and treaties, to preserve their own security as well as that of the region in which they live. In this particular connection, the Islamic Republic of Iran, while emphasizing cooperation among states in the Persian Gulf region for the preservation of regional peace and stability, considers the conclusion of collective defense-security arrangements in the Persian Gulf an assured step towards the establishment of lasting security in the region and towards the defense of the common interests and concerns of all the countries and nations concerned.
3-Comprehensive, Balanced, and Sustainable Development of Islamic Countries
Development constitutes another propitious basis for the preservation of the security, stability, and independence of Islamic societies as well as for the honor and dignity of Muslim nations. In our view, proper and preferred development is comprehensive, balanced, and sustainable; it should ensure participation of all individuals, groups, and segments of society, including women and youth. In development defined as such, the human being is the central factor, whose enjoyment of the material and spiritual blessings of life constitutes the very fundamental objective of development.
In order to achieve such development, we should, first and foremost, define and devise the proper patterns of development compatible with the particularities of our respective societies and the Islamic world. We should also acknowledge that no country can successfully overcome all the hurdles of development on its own. Further, it is imperative that Islamic countries undertake a comprehensive, precise, and scientific assessment and evaluation of their capabilities and capacities, and help create through utilization of their respective comparative advantages-a ring of interconnected links of complementary developmental undertakings across the Islamic world. Simultaneously, they should also properly exploit their God-given assets and resources, through efficient management and reliance on knowledge, technology, and manpower, as well as through suitable cooperation and exchange in scientific, technical, and economic fields and through exchange of specialized and skilled labor. The Islamic world will undoubtedly develop into an important pole of power, progress, and authority in the present as well as the future world through adoption and use of these steps and measures.
The existing religious bonds, spiritual affinities, and common cultural heritage among Muslim countries, once complemented with scientific, economic, political, technical, and cultural interaction and exchange, will certainly provide the requisite material and moral foundations and pillars for the establishment of a progressive, advancing and tranquil society and will bring them collective development and security.
4-Reassessment of the Role of the Organization of the Islamic Conference
The Organization of the Islamic Conference, as the only universal multilateral organization in the Islamic world, plays an important role in the accomplishment of the aforementioned and, in general, the realization of the fundamental objectives of 'participation, dialogue, security, and development'. In light of the steadily growing role of religion in general and Islam in particular in recent decades in explaining and shaping human relationships, Muslims all over the world are well-justified to look upon the Organization of the Islamic Conference as a refuge and source to meet their supranational Islamic and human needs and aspirations.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference, with thirty years of experience, enjoys the requisite potential resources for a more effective presence at the international level. Hence, it is natural that we now take up the question of looking for new approaches and mechanisms to strengthen its organizational structure as well as to make more efficient its decisions and ensure their implementation.
Under the present circumstances, it is incumbent upon the Organization of the Islamic Conference to assume a more active and innovative presence internationally, particularly in the resolution of current conflicts among member states or the crises imposed on them from outside. The Organization's initiative in defending the rights of the honorable people of Bosnia stands out as a good start for a serious change in the organization's approach to international difficulties and crises. Preservation and continuation of such a sensitivity and active support of the rights and interests of Muslim societies and Muslim communities and minorities in non-member countries, along with constructive engagement in finding a solution to such chronic cases as that of Kashmir, is imperative for the institutionalization of a more pronounced role for the organization.
All of us should help the Organization of the Islamic Conference so that it can strive, more forcefully and unequivocally, towards a sincere and compassionate resolution of differences within the Islamic world. We should also support the organization, financially as well as politically, in discharging its mandate. At the same time, more vigorous attention to the fundamental and pressing problems and issues of the Islamic world on the part of the organization, along with the enhancement of the content of its decisions;-and further reinforcement of its plans and activities, will certainly make the organization more energetic and dynamic.'
And finally, in closing, I would like to express my gratitude once again to our dear guests and wish every success for this august gathering and greater achievements for the Organization of the t Islamic Conference.
And let our last word be 'Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds'.
'Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Creation, will be the last of our prayers'.
Was-Salamu Alaikum Wa Rahmattullah.
Text of an address delivered by President Mohammad Khatami to the annual session of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on 29 October 1999.
It gives me great pleasure to be speaking here at UNESCO, in your presence, on a major cultural and political issue of our time. This issue is bound to have an important bearing on the life of future generations, purging it from ugly influences, while adorning; it with morality, spirituality, and beauty. I fully recognize that excessive optimism about the immediate outcome of the proposed dialogue among cultures and civilizations can be inhibiting and discouraging, as equally can be an exaggerated sense of pessimism under the current circumstances of the world on the one hand, and the obstacles facing the proposal on the other. Obviously, we have to be fully aware of the long, rough, and trying journey that lies ahead.
Simultaneously, we should be cognizant of the prospects for the materialization of this proposal which would have a permanent effect on the political and epoch-making events in man's future life. The fact that this proposal has been unanimously welcomed in both international circles and specifically, in the Fifty-Third United Nations General Assembly, besides being hailed by intellectuals and the public alike, is in itself of great significance.
We certainly know that people around the world are not ready to heed any and every call they hear. There are many instances which can be enumerated to elucidate the point. In the past, when people in some corners of the world were invited by some benevolent persons, some thinkers, or some revolutionaries either to renew their covenant or to help establish a new society on the basis of ancient human ideals, they did not conform. However, it was only at one particular juncture where people responded positively to this invitation: the call to dialogue among civilizations.
It stands in no doubt that the elucidation of the reasons for this event on the basis of the accepted social and political doctrines or on current philosophical views is not feasible. Based on this concept and in the hope of finding an answer to the question as to why the proposal for the dialogue among civilizations, first presented by the 'Islamic Republic of Iran to the Fifty-Third General Assembly, was so well received, we are compelled to focus on some implicit factors prevalent in human communication, apart from political considerations and issues of national interest. The concept of dialogue among civilizations may be interpreted in different ways and at various levels. Delving into the meaning of dialogue can be a good starting point for discussion. This will naturally lead us into the realms of philosophy and history which will require us to separate the semantic and the philosophical aspects of dialogue. In addition, we will have to take into account the opinions of the greatest authorities on the subject. This is not naturally the place or the time for such an exposition; however, we are impelled to briefly touch on a few points related to the term dialogue. Assuming that the philosophical and theoretical meanings of dialogue are clear, we suggest that the term in question has been both denotatively and connotatively applied. When we call on the world to engage in dialogue, both senses are applied. Thus meetings held to discuss different questions and points of view are instances of a true dialogue, -while all cultural, artistic, scientific, and literary endeavors may be regarded as instances of a connotative mode of dialogue. This, division is not merely literary or rhetorical, because when we set out to scrutinize the denotative meaning of dialogue, we are required to enter certain domains where the connotative mode becomes inapplicable.
The phrase 'dialogue among cultures and civilizations' embodies certain characteristics that may apparently be conflicting and even contradictory. Dialogue is as old as human culture and civilization on the one hand, and something novel on the other-The resolution of this dichotomy should not be difficult if we are to take the phrase, on the surface, as a factual statement which would fit in as the definition of dialogue that has endured through time. Moreover, considering the factual statement of dialogue among civilizations as an approach will require the definitions of 'culture', 'civilization', and 'man' to be framed in such a way that they do not clash with the very essence of dialogue. This would mean our paying special attention to the collective aspect of man's existence, emphasizing the vast and infinite range of human civilization, and especially, stressing the point that no major culture or civilization has evolved in isolation. In other words, only those segments of cultures and civilizations have survived that have been endowed with the 'power of communication' which involves 'speaking' and 'listening'. Therefore, dialogue among cultures and civilizations entails both speaking and listening. Listening is a virtue which should be cultivated, and is not found easily in everyone. To acquire it one has to embark on a course of rigorous training designed to enrich one's morality and intellectual capacity. Listening is not a passive activity. It is an active engagement where the listener is exposed to the world created, discovered, or experienced by the speaker. Without active listening, the whole dialogue is doomed to failure.
In order to understand the meaning of the phrase 'dialogue among civilizations' in a prescriptive manner, one has no choice but to pay close attention to a number of points, one of which is the relationship between a politician and an artist, the other being the relationship between ethics and politics. What kind of relationship exists between a great statesman and a skillful artist? The divergence between the two seems obvious because they deal with different fields of human endeavor. But what entices them to get together, and in which aspects can they be compared? If -we forego the simple aphorism that explains politics, the practice of exercising certain types of diplomatic finesse in political relations, to be an art in itself, we may then be able to safely discern a more profound relationship between a politician and an artist. Although there are a number of definitions in the philosophy of art for this concept, and we may choose to accept any one of them, we cannot ignore the fact that an artist is a person capable of living in 'the 'present', and that he or she can also transform this present into an 'eternity'. Creating this eternity of the present for the sake of presenting the concept of the time 'when' and 'at which time', the artist is able to create a work of art, and we, as members of the target audience, are drawn to it as the enchanted spectators in its presence. This is regarded as the magic touch of an artist, and only great artists are capable of achieving such a status. The historical fate of an art work is painted in perpetuity. We are also cognizant of the fact that the historical fate of nations is shaped at certain junctures by great statesmen.
I hope these words will not remind you of some old controversies, such as the argument about the influence of 'personalities' on history, because I have no intention of entering into any discussion of this sort. We can only pose such a question about the role of personalities in history when we can separate the individual aspects of man from the collective aspects of his being. Now we know that such a distinction is arbitrary, no matter who makes it.
Therefore, on the basis of the foregoing point, we may state that the common trait between statesmen and artists is nothing other than 'creativity'. When it comes to creativity, repetition and imitation are meaningless. Furthermore, the full manifestation of creativity in a person depends on his or her 'tenacity'.
A great artist tackles the artistic truth with creativity and tenacity, and a great statesman, likewise, tackles the fundamental and vital problems of his country with the same tenacity, resoluteness, and creativity.
Today politicians can take a long stride towards the creation of a better future, which is more just, more humane, and more beautiful, for their countries and for the world by helping the realization of the proposal for the dialogue among civilizations.
Another point that I would, like to discuss here is the relationship between ethics and politics vis--vis dialogue among cultures. Much has been, said about the relationship of ethics and politics on a theoretical level, but what concerns us here is paying adequate attention to the ethical aspects of the proposal for a dialogue among civilizations. A basic change in political ethics
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