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Published in the 16-31 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SPECIAL REPORT

Inter-Civilisational Dialogue

The Milli Gazette Online

Globalization essentially connotes the extensive movement of capital, goods, technology, people, ideas, ideologies, lifestyles and entertainment across the world. But, sadly modern information and communication technology are also used for spreading stereotype, exclusion and hatred against certain groups and communities.

Delhi’s Institute of Objective Studies (IOS), organized an international conference on "Inter Civilisational Dialogue in a Globalising World" during 8-10 April to discuss these issues.

The theme of the dialogue was "Peace, Unity and Universal Brotherhood" and its relevance to live a perfect life. Of the galaxy of thinkers and eminent people India overflows with the organisers could find only the Indian home minister to inaugurate the conference which was also attended by the former chief justice A.M. Ahmadi, Anwar Ibrahim (who seems to have been won over by the American administration trying to democratise Islam these days), Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef, former deputy speaker of the Saudi Consultative Council, Adel A. Al-Fallah, undersecretary, Kuwait’s ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, Karan Singh, Archbishop Vincent Concessao and many others.

From left to right: Dr Omar Naseef, Shivraj Patel, Justice Ahmadi, Anwar Ibrahim, Manzoor Alam and Sheila Dixit

From left to right: Dr Omar Naseef, Shivraj Patel, Justice Ahmadi, Anwar Ibrahim, Manzoor Alam and Sheila Dixit

IOS chairman, Dr. M. Manzoor Alam, in his address spoke about the idea of globalization and his hopes and fears about the globalising world. According to him, Globalization is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways: it can accelerate economic development of a large number of people world wide, but it can also destabilize the less-developed societies and deepen inequities. The developing world had been assured that globalization would have a humane face, but that promise is yet to be fulfilled. On the other hand globalization has enabled powerful countries to become more powerful through new military technologies and a devastating fire power. As a result the so-called superpowers have been able to exert extraordinary and sometimes illegitimate pressures on other not so powerful countries. The world has become more dangerous after the cold war. The geo-political and social climate has been changing rapidly. Today people are more concerned about ‘ME’ and not ‘WE’. There is a need to talk about "IN-BETWEENNESS", that combines the elements of different and often contesting identities. To face the challenges and emerge as winners against the powerful and dominating countries, there is a pressing need for coming together. Inter-civilisational dialogue is just a first and a positive step towards a peaceful and harmonious society.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil said that science and technology have shrunk the world. He rejected Samuel Huntington’s theory of "Clash of Civilisations" saying that civilisations civilize human beings, they do not teach people to fight or clash as the basic nature of all human beings is kind and compassionate. Those who are unable to understand the real meaning of culture, religion and spirituality are responsible for all the misunderstandings and evils that are taking place in the name of religion, he remarked. Variety that we find in culture is its beauty. We should celebrate the diversity. 

Former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, said in his keynote address that "Inter-Civilisational Dialogue", especially after September 11, is a mighty discourse and a global imperative. He further said that all civilisations are living in one global and interconnected village but without talking or communicating with each other. We must talk as equals, he remarked.

He gave his own example. He said that he belongs to Malaysia, which is home of 3 major ethnic groups – Malays, Chinese and Indians. And each ethnic group, in its own way represents atleast one great Asian civilisation – the Islamic civilisation, the Chinese civilisation and the Indian civilisation. These civilisations need to interact with each other, they should talk among themselves. As Asians, we must celebrate diversity. Let Huntington conjure a spectre of clash of civilisations, but Asians will partake in a feast of civilisations. All civilisations are based on certain sets of ideas, only through dialogue we would be able to know the basis and essence of other civilisations. He gave the example of the Indian Moghul Prince, Dara Shikoh, who asserted that there should be a dialogue between Hindus and Muslims as India was, and is, a very religious country. Talking about Indian society Anwar Ibrahim further said that religion also gives rise to fanaticism, hatred and intolerance towards other religions. India should fight against the evil powers through employing the resources of its rich culture that is based on tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
Light and reason have their roots in Asia, but are flourishing in the West. Asians are too busy with fanaticism, intolerance and bigotry, they have to rediscover and relearn their intellect and rational thinking. It is possible only through active interaction between civilisations. Therefore, dialogue among civilisations for our world is an imperative.

Sheila Dixit, chief minister of Delhi said India is an amalgamation of different cultures, religions and languages. It represents a mini-picture of the world. Every time India was invaded, our culture became richer by all kinds of thoughts, religious beliefs and philosophies. And Delhi represents the mini India, which is the home of people of all walks of life and cultures. We should respect others for their beliefs and thoughts, and it is possible only through communication.

Vincent Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi, said that all men, women and children, irrespective of caste/colour or religion, are member of one family. Children of ‘one’ God. Our differences should not threaten us, we should understand that these differences make each and every individual being unique in his own way. Dialogue is an inclusive process, it is open and available for all and rejects the monopoly of one particular sect.

Dr. Abdullah Omar Nasseef quoted a verse of the Holy Quran, which says that all human beings are children of Adam and Eve. The very fact that we all have the same origin, gives us the potential to come together for mutual harmony. Secondly, all religions call for better human life, prosperity and fraternity of all, thus all the followers have one and the same goal, though the paths to reach the ultimate destination are different. According to him, there is no better example of coexistence of different cultures and religions, other than India. Therefore, there is a need to understand different religions and their values. Thirdly, evils like drug abuse, homosexuality and AIDS are increasing at an alarming rate, due to lack of knowledge. We should come together for a dialogue to help each other, to save each other and to understand each other from such menaces. Dialogue is needed for mutual harmony, understanding and saving each other from evils. 

Karan Singh said that Samuel Huntington’s approach of ‘Clash of Civilisations’ must be refuted but can not be ignored. Clash of civilisations has been a fact of life since the ‘Life’. Every civilisation wants to impose itself on others as it considers itself to be better and superior than other. Colonialism or imperialism are nothing but forms of clash and one civilisation’s will to impose itself on other. He said that it is an irony that "all religions talk about peace and compassion but a lot of people have been killed in the name of religion all over the world".

Karan Singh talked about religious conflicts in India. "There are conflicts but due to free and fair Constitution of India, which talks about equality of all without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed or religion and the Indian culture which gives great importance to peace and tolerance, there has emerged a secular tradition.

India is a land of religions and cultures, Mr. Singh said further. It has given Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainsim and Sikkhism to the world and has taken Islam, Christianity, Judaism and different other religions. Saints of all religions who talked about peace and unity are still seen with high reverence. He gave the example of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s Dargah, where thousands of people of all religions visit to pay their homage. He further said that globalization is not a new concept for India. Our old scriptures like Vedas have talked about it.
Vedas consider the whole world as a family, and not as a market since markets are exploitative whereas families are supportive. This idea actually is a very positive aspect of globalization, which is required in today’s world. Vedas further say that God exists everywhere, in every human being, in each and every creation of God. Therefore, all individuals should be treated equally and with respect. They further say that there is only one truth. All religions are different paths to reach one reality – the ultimate truth.

Justice A.M. Ahmadi emphasized the need to understand and accept the diversity as a ‘unique’ feature rather than hating each other on the basis of differences. He said that "Its high time, we must understand that all ideologies are unique in themselves and not conflicting or challenging. Genocides and ethnic cleansing in the name of religion are a stigma on any culture or civilisation, he said.

Ahmadi said that all sensitive and rational minds should come together to combat the feelings which teach people to hate one another. There is an urgent need to initiate a dialogue to understand one another. To rise above the identities of religion, caste or class there should be an Inter Civilisational Dialogue, that would include one and all.

Panel Discussion
On 9 April, the conference held a panel discussion on the Relevance and Need for understanding the essence of religious traditions in the Contemporary World. Representives of all the major religions practised in the world took part in this discussion which resulted in a realisation that all religions in this world stand for peace and unity of all. There is a need to understand each other, to open our minds for rational thinking to think about 'WE' instead of 'ME' and to use 'religion' as a uniting force rather than the dividing one. 

Apart from this two business sessions were also held. The first was about the role of Religion in harnessing creative energies and fostering a culture of peaceful coexistence. The second business session discussed the relevance of India's composite civilizational legacy in promoting dialogue & reconciliation 

Two parallel sessions were also held on the sidelines of the conference. The first discussed the role of women in making a humane civilization while the second parallel session discussed the role of Ulema in making a human civilization.

The last session of the day was devoted to discussing the role of youth in making a humane civilization. Dr. Noorwali said that usually we, the elders speak on behalf of the youth. We also rarely give them chance to take their decision. This practice should change. 

On the last day a panel discussion was held to discuss the challenges, impediments and prospects relating to inter-civilizational dialogue in the global, multi cultural scenario. Speakers asserted that the biggest challenge to dialogue is lack of understanding among civilizations. Globalization should be used in a positive way to promote understanding among civilizations. 

In the valedictory session resolutions were read out. These emphasised on the urgent need to harness the creative potential and energies of religious traditions in the service of global peace and harmonious coexistence among different peoples, religious communities and ethnic groups; Asian religious and cultural traditions need to be projected and highlighted in the contemporary world; In order to broaden the base of inter-cultural understanding and dialogue and to disseminate the message of inter-cultural and inter-religious harmony and amity among large sections of the society, there should be the widest possible cooperation and collaboration among institutions and agencies that are engaged in promoting inter-cultural understanding at different levels and in different parts of the world. This has become necessary in the context of the growing importance of the institutions of civil society; Modern information and communication technologies should be harnessed for disseminating the message of inter-cultural understanding and harmonious coexistence and for networking with like-minded individuals, institutions and NGOs. The Conference also recommended the setting up of a Centre for Inter-Cultural Dialogue and Reconciliation at New Delhi, which will serve as a nodal agency for addressing the concerns articulated at the conference.
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