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The intercultural imperative

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 22:12 -- razinadmin

By: Ramin Jahanbegloo

Dialogue of cultures is a concept that is hopelessly general and varies hugely across systems. This observation might suggest that no necessary linkages, positive or negative, can be drawn between cultures and a dialogue that promotes a peaceful and democratic world. But it is worth exploring the relationship between culture and dialogue, not least because so many assertions, both favorable and critical, abound in the public discourse about dialogue of cultures. So there is a merit in shedding a new light on this subject. It is probably a sign of the times that the issue of dialogue of cultures is raised again among politicians, academics and social actors. It goes without saying that all over the world globalization is bringing fundamental changes. The pace, at which established cultures are changing as a result of the mixing of peoples and ideas, and flows of goods and services, means that it is not always possible to identify what has remained unchanged in different cultures where these transformations have taken place. As such, the only way for cultures to creatively construct a common future is to have a dialogue together instead of retreating in an exclusive identity paradigm or abandoning their cultural heritage in the face of a uniformizing political and economic globalization. For this to be possible, two conditions must be present in every culture: first a readiness to seek in the dialogue with other cultures, and, second, general agreement on the aim of constructing a "common shared values" beyond the legitimate diversity of the cultures. That is to say, different cultures can see the world in very different ways while sharing norms that are universal. Cultures with shared common values naturally look to the universal, and hence mutuality and solidarity, while the process of dialogue among them thrives on diversity, and hence encourages difference. Dialogue of cultures is a philosophical and hence an urgent political task for our world.

In the beginning is dialogue. This is one of the great mysteries of human existence. There is no search for meaning in the face of life’s finitude, fragility and finality without the process of dialogue. Human life is not just a random act of living in the present, but also that of speaking and interacting with others. As such, dialogue has a projective dimension in the lives of human beings in a society. There can be no dialogue on culture without a culture of dialogue. People often think of dialogue as merely an exchange of words. But there is more to a dialogue than a simple human interaction and exchange of messages. It is what Martin Buber describes as the I-thou relationship. This means that one will relate to and experience another person as another person. Parties relate to and experience each other as ends and not means to achieving goals. Dialogue, therefore, implies an ethical meaning, since it allows participants to come to a mutual understanding. There is a hidden sense of openness and respect in dialogue that translates into a moral enterprise. That is to say, dialogue is a reciprocal relation to the ethical as a way of relating to truthfulness. Dialogue is, hence, a hermeneutic act of remaining true to the ethical, while engaging oneself to perceive the spirit of the other in a threefold perspective of mutuality, solidarity and hospitality. Valuing hospitality, mutuality and solidarity could well act as a necessary antidote to the endemic fears that are the result of the misperception, misunderstanding and stereotyping of the other. As ethical categories, solidarity, mutuality and hospitality embody a dialogical function, but also extend the hand of friendship to others as an extension to the spirit which moves within them. As such, any dialogue starts with a spiritual effort of openness in the midst of ethnic diversity and cultural plurality. The protection of diversity cannot be effective unless the threats of ignorance and rejection of the other is ward off. Indeed, perpetuating harmful stereotypes against others has always blocked paths of dialogue in the history of mankind. Stereotypes are engines that drive intolerances. They proceed from the inexperience of the world and from underestimating other cultures and civilizations. This matter has been a perennial source of debate from its conception. It touches all the cultures which base their judgment of others on a minimal or limited knowledge of them. Stereotype is created when cultures look at each other without really observing and understanding each other. It is interesting that though people have been discussing about prejudice for centuries, they continue to type and stereotype each other. They continue to perceive others not as different, but as inferior in their capacity of learning, making decisions and governing themselves. The devaluation of the Other has always created a sense of security to nations that remedies the fears brought by domestic violence and chaos. By externalizing an evil to another race, culture or religion, one “purifies” oneself by declaring the Other “impure”. The responsibility of the evil is projected on another culture. The Other, therefore, is perceived as a threat and as a potential enemy, who can be harmful for the communal unity of the nation. As the image of the enemy develops, the Other is progressively dehumanized. All this can progress to the point where the enemy is perceived as literally demonic and as the incarnation of the evil. However, the image of the enemy tends to impoverish a nation's own self-identity in that it is tempted to define itself primarily as the opposite of its enemy. That is, the image encourages monolithic rigidity, lacking in depth and complexity. As such, a universal feature of the enemy image is the necessity of violence against the enemy. By projecting the blame for one’s responsibilities on the enemy, one protects its own self-esteem from the errors and injustices that it has made. Therefore, the enemy phenomenon is a powerful excuse for not keeping in with reality. But the image of the enemy is not only very dangerous for the dialogue among cultures but leads also to highly negative consequences for the national life of cultures. Therefore, transcending the image of the enemy inevitably requires rising to a new level of thinking and acting toward the other cultures. Once such a mode of thinking has been created there will be a desire to see everything in a light which will reinforce the dialogue. Dialogue opens the minds and ends resistance to change in cultures. But it also extends the scope of the debate on the idea of “culture” itself. Dialogical understanding as the true matrix of hermeneutical encounter always generates a logic of on-going differentiation and negotiation that seeks to authorize a new approach to the phenomenon of civilization as a process of human self-consciousness. That is to say, there can be no phenomenological process of civilization making without a strong of caring for and sharing with other human beings as citizens of human history. However, the claim that dialogical citizenship rests on the authority of tradition in general denies the possibility of critical self-reflection and its ability to break with the dogmatic elements in every tradition of thought which works against any effort of dialogue. One needs to add that the hermeneutical understanding of traditions, (both religious and cultural) inscribed in a phenomenology of dialogue, contributes to the discovery of a common voice in different traditions of thinking. Therefore, even in a closed and dogmatic society where citizens are discriminated and divided, there is still a space of dialogue which could be strengthened in the absence of a culture of dialogue, by giving voice to elements of solidarity and togetherness which underlie civic life of each tradition. As such, what can make this state of interconnectedness authentic and practical, is neither the work of rationality, nor our use of language, but an empathetic perception of togetherness. In other words, feeling of empathy is necessarily a matter of sharing life with others. It is the recognition of the fact that in the context of human life certain others are similar to us as humans though different from us as members of another tradition of thought. We can see from this that, living in a tradition of thought is accompanied automatically with a sense of shared values with other members of the same community but it has also to do with what we might call a universal impulse, in the sense that its orientation toward its own life experience is based on the understanding of other communities as different experiences of the same shared life. This idea of shared life binds members of different communities together in various ways, though this bind is not the result of a recognition that other communities and cultures are or must be like each other. But it goes without saying that our situatedness in a specific culture or tradition is indistinguishable from an effort to subsume one’s individual history in a common history of humanity. This common history stands before us as our common destiny and through its presence our shared fate is called forth, put into play, discussed and revised. Through this give and take something comes into being that had not existed before and that exists from this shared destiny. It is coming- into- history of a human destiny that is common to us. We can say, then, that that the discovery of a common fate is a productive result of the dialogical process of cultures and traditions. Each culture discovers oneself in the other cultures and other cultures in oneself by seeing at the same something common and something distinct. As such, there a sense of solidarity is created not only because of the consciousness of similarities, but also because of the dissimilarities and differences that exist between human cultures. In fact, dissimilarities potentially bring every culture to an awareness of solidarity with other cultures. This awareness is not only based on knowledge of the Other but also on a reciprocal empathy. Dialogue with the Other is a dialogue with the self. In other words, every culture sees the other culture as an event and an openness. The presence of the other culture is vital for creating new possibilities and so a new horizon of truth is brought forward by the encounter with the other cultures. Therefore, each culture can serve as a corrective to the other cultures. The solidarity that emerges from a dialogue of cultures will always be accompanied with a horizon of a shared life and what we have in common as humans. This general sense of what binds cultures to each other emerges also through an awareness of the particular ways that cultures are bound to each other. It is interesting that this territory of plurality and solidarity can emerge despite ontological and anthropological differences between cultures. Each culture has a specific way of perceiving the world and a particular way of being in time. Not every culture in the world views the concept of time in the same way. Some cultures are wary of time and some ignore the time that passes by. There are cultures (for example: the American culture) which define their way of being in the present and in the future through time. Some (like the Amazon Piraha Tribe) don’t have a sense of time in the western sense of the term. They have no past tense, because everything happens in the present. Their culture is a culture of “carpe diem”. It is interesting to see that even when cultures live in the present with no modern conception of time, the collective experience of the immediacy of time could be translated in a form of dialogue. Human beings are narrative animals and all human cultures have a way of giving an account of what they do.

Cultures evaluate the world around them even if they do not qualify and classify it in the same way. That is to say, when we think of cultures before thinking of a dialogue among them we need to identify them as worlds of representations and significations which create some degree of internal and external differentiation. As such, each culture represents itself as the “other” of the other cultures. In Tzvetan Todorov’s famous words there is a “Nous” (us) and there are “Les Autres” (them). But who are “us”? and who are the so-called “them”? More than often in history, this Manichean binary of “us” and “them” has prevented dialogues and encounters between cultures. This sort of generalization, viewing cultures through the filter of exclusion, equally contributes to the spread of fanaticism with respect to one’s past, present and future. The imposition of a ‘monistic’ vision on a culture, thematizing a singular, collectiveidentity and destiny is the end of that culture. Here resides the key contrast between the monistic standpoint of closed--ended cultures and the pluralist standpoint of open-ended cultures. Unlike a close-ended culture, an open-ended culture does not exclude a priori other cultures with different values or ethical backgrounds. Any culture which is open-ended, inclusive and reciprocal should be viewed as dialogic. I say “should” because by understanding the idea of dialogue too narrowly, we stand to miss the true meaning of a cross- cultural dialogue as minimal norms of mutual respect and solidarity. These norms are themselves situated within the horizon of a specific culture of dialogue which holds together in an equal and fair way different life-experiences. This culture of dialogue is positive in the sense that it always generates the coexistence of different ethical and political views. However, this inclusion and openness is not unconditional. There can be no dialogue without prejudice, fanaticism, dogmatism and exclusion. To use a deconstructive phrase, the condition of possibility of dialogue is its limit or absence of dialogue. Not only does dialogue require the absence of dialogue or let us say the non-dialogue, but the limit between dialogue and non-dialogue requires certain conditions that are conditions of possibility of norms of dialogue. In short, the threshold of dialogue is both the outcome of dialogue and posited prior to it. One way or another, dialogue is rooted in and allows open public space deliberations. Therefore, dialogue serves to include cultures and ideas in a space where they were absent. Thus, dialogue ameliorates a lack. It is arguably the most radical form of learning and liberation in thinking. To understand this is to rise beyond the one-dimensional identity which is provided by culture, social class and sex. Conversely, it is to let the idea of another person, but also of another culture expand in us like a living thing.

Let me turn here to one of Spain’s greatest minds, Jose Ortega Y Gasset, who in his “Commentary on Plato’s Banquet” of 1946 writes, “The world is toward us and we are towards the world.”  In other worlds, the self, far from being a closed subject, is “par excellence the open being.”  Ortega went on to say later in his book Man and People, that “being open to the other, to others, is a permanent and constitutive state of mind.” That is the reason why, in Ortega’s view, humanity as such, “does not appear in solitude... (because) Man appears as the reciprocator.”  That is to say, human being, in order to find who he is, needs first to ask himself who and what the things around him are. As we can see the dialogical implications of such a view are obvious. The driving force here is the constant search for what Ortega Y Gasset called “an all embracing connection.”  It is in this spirit that he defines philosophy as a “general science of love” and a mode of thinking against hatred which “ to the extinction of values.”  As he delved deeper in this direction, Ortega was led to an interpretation of life as an intercultural dialogue. Consequently Ortega, in the opening lectures of his university courses, insisted that the students had to begin with the culture in which they found themselves, but that, in the same way as the creators of culture, they should analyze it critically and change it by understanding other cultures. This is why, Ortega defined “culture” as the system of living ideas belonging to each period. “What I call living ideas or the ideas on which we live”, he wrote, “ are those that contain our basic convictions regarding the nature of the world and our fellow human beings, the hierarchy of values for things and actions, which ones are worthy of esteem and which ones are less so.”

Intercultural dialogue as the highest form of dialogical thinking thrives on a wealth of perspectives, but it remains alert to the danger of relativism while stressing the difference of values. Dialogue of cultures has operative values such as inclusiveness, mutuality, solidarity and hospitality. They all function in service of a sovereign value which is the principle of “remaining truly ethical to the other”. That human life is violent is part of the dramatic truth of the human condition. But the fact that humans are also capable of going beyond violence and distinguish between good and evil and choose the good is what makes humanity confident of its future. It is true that we know nothing about our future, except that some day each of us will die. Nevertheless, humans can live ethically, and by doing so, future appears to them as a task, a goal and a choice. The ethical choice of ourselves as men and women involved in distinguishing the good from the evil preserves a grain of nonviolent heritage. This can only be accomplished via face-to-face interactions and cross-human conversations. This assumes that every culture is capable of intertwining selfhood and otherhood, by responding to the other culture and transforming oneself anew.  Therefore, the idea of an intercultural dialogue takes as its starting point in the recognition of differences and the acceptance of the multiplicity of the world in which we live. These differences of outlooks, opinions, and values exist not only within each community or nation but also between cultures. A dialogical viewpoint seeks to approach these multiple cultures and traditions with a desire to understand and learn from them. An effective dialogue of cultures is, therefore, an enriching and fruitful exploration of worldviews which define societies and individuals. As Isaiah Berlin points out clearly, “Life may be seen through many windows, none of them necessarily clear or opaque, less or more distorting than any of the others.” In other words, life is plural by definition, and in a world of interdependent nations and cultures, the ability to engage in a tolerant and nonviolent dialogue is a vital element for communities and individuals.

What could be learned from this cross-cultural dialogue is that one has to be profoundly responsive to the sense of belonging that human beings experience in different cultures. But who says “response” says also “responsibility”.  That is to say, responsibility is not the attribution of guilt to an agent for his/her acts or failure to act. Responsibility moves the individual to respond to the call of the world and to create a future which would otherwise not happen.  We can join here the thoughts of two French philosophers, Levinas and Ricoeur, With the Jewish background in his philosophical thinking, Levinas could not accept the primacy of the ontological subject over the other. For him, ontology is the philosophy of injustice because it is an understanding of Being over an understanding of the relationship among persons. Levinas points to the distinctly ethical character of dialogue against the existential metaphor of the monadic subject. Indeed a dialogic understanding of subjectivity would seem to offer us a way to rethink the problem of responsibility as a response that the subject owes to the other in an ethical life. Levinas’s ethics takes the other as a vital element in the dialogical formation of the self. The subject’s irreducible engagement with otherness must be understood as an experience of humanness that takes place in the face-to-face encounter. As Levinas writes, “ with the appearance of the human- and this is my entire philosophy- there is something more important than my life, and that is the life of the other.” For Levinas to live as a human is always already to respond to concrete others. The response that one offers to the other in dialogue is an act of openness and solidarity that condemns all forms of violence.

For Paul Ricoeur, the ethical response to the other is also a reaction against violence in society. According to him, responsiveness means not only to be aware of the otherness of the other, but learning to see oneself as another. Seeing ourselves as existing in interdependence with the others imposes the responsibility of acting in accord with that understanding to be empathetic toward all those others on whom we depend. Confirming our mutual interdependence reminds us that it is dangerous to carve up life between national or confessional selves and others. There can be no “them” and “us” in this understanding. As such, it is violence that gives nonviolence its power. If violence is the mainstream of history, therefore as Ricoeur says, nonviolence is a “history which remains to be made.” For Ricoeur, politics becomes a source of violence because it is an arena where man desires power. This is not to say that politics is violent per se. Violence is possible in any political order, but it is not necessary to the existence of politics. Rather it represents a degeneration of politics. Therefore, the problem of politics is to diminish the possibilities of violence by ensuring a social order in which power is not centered in the hands of a political authority. Considered as an instrument of violence, political authority degrades politics into lust for power. In this perverted and degenerated form of politics, common practice of social life through dialogue and debate transforms into a violent confrontation between members of the society. The self is, therefore, no more affirmed as the other and no more esteemed in the social dimension, because it finds itself in a mutually exclusive relation of power. In other words, the individual becomes fully human only within a public sphere where the humanity of the other is recognized. The idea of humanity, thus, is not merely a “formal” objectivity since it is completed in a concrete culture of responsibility. The leap from responsibility to communality reveals the necessary condition of the human situation.

As such, transforming a culture of irresponsibility into a culture of responsibility will help taking it out of a form of self-isolation or of aggressive self-assertion at the expense of the surrounding world. This means the more demanding task of providing empathy and compassion and accepting the agency of other cultures and traditions of thought. That is to say, only an open-ended, hospitable and empathetic dialogue which takes otherness (Fremdheit) seriously could be a genuine civilizational encounter. By “civilization” I do not understand progress in science, technology and industry, but a moral enterprise which shows to us the path of being human.

Generally speaking, civilization is not merely the freedom to progress and to advance, but also the ability to ensure that what one chooses is the result of an ethical sense of duty and human solidarity. Humanity cannot be an advanced civilization as long as cruelties, vanities, arrogances and hypocrisies are predominant on empathies, compassions and friendships. In other words, civilization in order to be an ongoing moral progress has to combine the dynamic and innovative characteristics of the dialogue. This is what will help resolve the dichotomy between the old and the new, tradition and modernity, continuity and change. Therefore, dialogue as a power of communication entailing both ‘speaking’ and ‘listening’ has the capacity of contributing to the survival and growth of civilizations. So, the idea of a “clash of civilizations” is suspicious of man’s capacity to dialogue and a civilization’s possibility to evolve as a living organism. Today in a time when mankind is confronted with a grim scenario involving clashes of national self interest, religious fundamentalisms and ethnic and racial prejudices, dialogue of cultures can be a well trusted means of laying the groundwork of a new intercultural community. By promoting a better understanding of the other and by drawing on the best in human cultures, dialogue of cultures could help generate fresh impulses of creativity in human societies. Looking towards to the other is an ongoing process of dialogue and receptive understanding through which we can hope to enunciate a global ethic of behavior for the community of humankind. Thus, the dialogue of cultures must take place in the deconstructionof that which justifies violence. The problem is that the desire of violenceexists in all of us and it is necessary to tame it in order to establish a dialogue of cultures. Tolerance is the basic minimal level required to live together followed by a second level, which is respect for the other, and the discovery of shared horizons of moral action. These objectives cannot be attained by violence and counter-violence. Responding to terrorism with violence is the same as falling into the terrorists’ trap. Strengthening the culture of dialogue among cultures proves to be a most important element in combating the calamities of our world in particular terrorism and religious fundamentalism. For,  religious and secular fundamentalisms seek to make the diversity between nations the source of conflict, while dialogue among cultures can help make that same diversity the foundation for human solidarity. Diversity is the driving force for a more fulfilling moral, spiritual and intellectual life. Diversity is thus an asset that is indispensable for avoiding cultural entrenchment and preventing conflict among nations. Dialogue among cultures is thus a vital mean for maintaining peace and world unity. It certainly reveals a mutual belief in the unity of values and cultures among people, and refutes claims that there is no such thing as basic principles of human civilization. It goes without saying that human heritage that is composed of interwoven and cumulative layers which find their sources in multiple and different traditions of thought. Therefore, the experience of history confirms that plurality, diversity, and variation have been the rules and the laws of human civilization and the centre of gravity of history making has changed permanently from one culture or religion to another. As such, the influence of the Hindu, Buddhist or Persian cultures has not been less important than that of the Greek, Roman, Islamic or Christian European cultures in the making of the modern world. Therefore, the current European civilization, from an historical perspective, was not solely an outcome of European history alone, but also a complementary addition to Persian, Hindu, Buddhist and finally Arab cultural and civilization heritage running down for thousands of years. This civilizational and historical approach would undoubtedly create an air of tolerance and open-mindedness among all those who struggle for the betterment of East-West relations, in general, and future prospects of Euro- Islamic partnership, in particular. It would be no exaggeration to say that the intercultural dialogue has been a common practice among cultures throughout different historical periods. Islam, for medieval Christian Europe, was not an unknown religious faith. It was the lifeblood of a vibrant culture which flourished on European soil, in Al-Andalus, from the coming of the Arabs to Spain in 711 until their expulsion under Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. Andalusia, particularly from the Ninth to the Thirteenth centuries, was a beacon of learning, in a Europe languishing, for the most part, in the shadows of cultural and economic-social backwardness. Islamic culture had flourished as well in the teeming metropolises of Baghdad, Damascus, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Cairo, but it was Moorish Spain which most affected Europe. The contribution of Muslim Spain to the preservation of Hellenistic knowledge and to the flowering of the Renaissance has been more important than it has been recognized by some historians. Not only did Muslim Spain gather and preserve the intellectual content of classical Greece and Rome, but it also made a vital contribution of its own in so many fields of human history and world civilization in domains such as science, astronomy, mathematics, algebra, medicine, pharmacology, optics, agriculture, architecture, theology and arts. One can surely say that Islam was one of the major causes of Europe's movement from the fanaticism and closeness of its Middle Ages to the openness and brilliance of its Renaissance. As such, Europe should remember that Islam has been part of its cultural and political traditions. Keeping this historical fact in mind is one way to step beyond the clash of intolerances and to point out the failure of the “us” and “them” argumentation. That is to say, differences in cultures are not reasons for clash and conflict; rather, they can be an important means of creating and promoting dialogue.

History has always been a matter of listening and learning among cultures. History is ultimately more important than the cultures that made it. But cultures can learn from history by reading what has happened to other cultures, though it is the logic of history to be repeated by one and every culture. Culture in a word has no nature, what it has is history. However, history is not only a gaze on the past, but also an endeavour toward better understanding of the future. In other words, dialogue is always on the side of history, because so long as human beings make history, dialogue among cultures is the only path of choosing and promoting the art of listening to history. Without a dialogue between cultures, history walks in the dark. This raises the whole issue of “having something in common” and that of rereading and rewriting history from the vantage point of dialogue. This is a paradigm shift from a “clash-oriented” reading and making of history to that of a “dialogue-oriented” one. As such, a dialogue between cultures necessitates a dialogue within cultures themselves. Therefore, the question is less “Who are the partners in a dialogue among cultures?” than “Up to what point partners in a dialogue among cultures would accept to talk and work together around issues that often cause debates and divisions?”. Actually, one way of addressing the problem of intolerance and prejudice is to promote tolerance and understanding, and to overcome ignorance, misperceptions. This can only be achieved by boosting cultural, educational, intellectual, and people-to-people exchanges, while expanding and facilitating research networking, and promoting cultural diversity. Intercultural dialogue should also be seen as a crucial step in reformulating the idea of “politics” in general. The intercultural dialogue has a great potential to help prevent conflicts on the international, national and local levels by reducing misunderstandings and mistrust, and by laying the foundation for a non-violent management of tensions in the public sphere. It is true that in dialogue relations partners within cultures learn not only tolerance towards diversity but also the search for ethical norms and political values that tame violence in the international arena. The terms tolerance and diversity are tied together with the term dialogue of cultures because the latter is a means of coping with diversity and developing the understanding of what should and what should not be tolerated. Promoting harmony in a global society through the intercultural process means equal partner relations. This is a very difficult condition to be realized economically and politically, but the starting point would be to respect people and their freedom in their cultural environment. Democracy actually means equal dialogue relations. It also means building solidarities across opinions and cultures while developing a sense of global society.

Since violence and intolerance begin in the minds of human beings, it is in the minds of human beings that the idea of shared values and human solidarity must be constructed. It is not because of our differencesthat suspicion and mistrust exists between the peoples of the world, but because we are more conscious of our differences, than aware of what makes us part of the human race. This is what happens when difference becomes a license to kill. Cultural differences do exist, they are real, not imagined and they are part of what makes the human race vibrant. This can only be accomplished via face-to-face interactions and cross-human conversations. This assumes that a dialogical self is capable of intertwining selfhood and otherhood, by responding to the other and transforming oneself anew. This conception is in line with the assumption that both interpersonal and intrapersonal relations are important for dialogicality.  The One and the Many are interrelated. They are the inseparable coordinates of one another. So, dialogue of cultures is an open challenge to the monologism and monoculturalism of fundamentalist views, which shelter themselves from the Socratic task of learning through asking questions and “living in truth”. We can paraphrase the famous Socratic saying that “An unexamined life is not worth living” and add in the context of a dialogue of cultures that “An unexamined culture is not worth learning”. After all, it is only through a dialogue of cultures that open-ended questions are discussed and biases and prejudices are suspended. Socrates chose to honor his commitment to truth and morality even though it cost him his life. In the same manner, cultures cannot live a truthful life if they are not ethically committed to an open dialogue with other cultures. In one way or another, we have seen how cultures in history have lived an ego–centered life and how this has been the source of diverse human conflicts. But when we stand back and take a truly global perspective, it is easier to see that the deeper pattern of evolution of cultures and religions through the ages has always been dialogical and not monological. It is as if all history and cultural evolution has been the interplay of cultures which have been in permanent dialogue with each other. Human civilization is, among other things, a dialogical arrangement among different cultures to tame human violence and bring mankind back to life. The progress of civilization, therefore, corresponds with the spread of dialogue among cultures and traditions. That is why; human history has always been a race between dialogue and violence. We can consider them as the two permanent paradigms of human history. On the one hand, an ego-centric view that is centering its life and world and culture around its own “reality”, and on the other hand, a dialogical view awakening to the idea that history is a profoundly interrelational, interconnected, interactive way of living and being. Perhaps the deepest lesson that we might learn from the evolution of cultures is that human beings are essentially beings in dialogue. We do not stand alone. The vision of human as an ego–centered, independently existing entity has simply been shown to be unacceptable and disastrous in the evolution of cultures. As all religious and cultural traditions would confirm, to become fully human is not only about improving one’s national condition. The heart of Man’s struggle, the soul of his vision for a better future is to be able to live with dignity and responsibility on the basis of an intercultural encounter. The intercultural may be relegated to a place of secondary importance because it is difficult to include it into a model for action which uses only quantifiable data. But a process oriented approach can lead us to appreciate and take account of the fact that the intercultural is far from an addition to our global life today. On the contrary, it permeates all aspects of globalism. It contains not only the local perception of the meaning of life and of what simply constitutes a “good life” to a particular culture, but it also develops the potential of sharing views and values and life experiences with other cultures. The intercultural is, therefore, the cultural matrix of a respectful and responsible dialogue among different traditions of thought. As such, there is no life of culture without a lively culture which accepts to enter dialogue with other cultures. A lively culture is both a historical heritage and a project of history making. It gives meaning and direction to human life and to human history beyond its particular horizon.  As Carlos Fuentes affirms admirably, “Culture is like a seashell wherein we can hear whom we have been and listen to what we can become”. In other words, the intercultural sheds light into cultures by establishing a dialogue among them. Consequently, cultures cannot be fully cultural because only through dialogue they are completed as such.

The purpose of intercultural dialogue is to clarify cultures and to bring them forth to full presence. In the context of such encounter and dialogue “we” the human race can discover our humanity as a whole and hence disclose a new way of transcendence, a new way of being united together at a global scale. As if something magical has happened. It is as if the intercultural dialogue has managed to transport cultures to a different dimension, one where the institutions and citizens of different cultures would be literally soaked in a dialogical global community. The task of intercultural dialogue, therefore, would be to bring forth philosophically, politically, socially, and morally, the common heritage and shared values of humanity in the present. In order to promote and to advance the inter-action, co-existence and mingling between different cultural life experiences and the expansion of public sphere on global level an open and free dialogue among cultures and religious traditions is an indispensable premise. A global dialogue is, however, only possible and necessary with respect to a shared minimum ethos. This ethical awareness is not specific to individual cultures and times. It is a universal ethical constant which eliminates the traditional border between religious and non-religious and between traditional and modern. If there is a European identity to be realized, it will be based on shared fundamental values, respect for common heritage and cultural diversity as well as respect for the equal dignity of every individual. Intercultural dialogue has an important role to play in this regard. It allows us to prevent ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural divides. It enables our world to move forward and to deal with its different identities constructively and democratically on the basis of shared universal values. That is to say, intercultural dialogue may help our global world appreciate better diversity while sustaining its normative cohesion. It seeks to provide an ethical framework and a conceptual guide for policy-makers, cultural animators and global actors. However, intercultural dialogue cannot be prescribed by international law. It must retain its character as an open invitation to dialogue. Nevertheless, as an ethical compass, it provides the framework for a culture of tolerance, and notably vis-à-visany form of discrimination or acts of intolerance. The challenge of living together in a global world with global challenges could only be met if we can live together as equals in dignity. The intercultural, therefore, requires the protection of the weak, as well as the right to differ, to create and to innovate. It needs to give a voice to the voiceless cultures of the world and to those who have been silenced by the uniformization of the world. In other words, defining the ethics and epistemology of the intercultural in the face of a hard universalization would mean to understand cultural diversity as the common heritage of humanity. The essential aim here is to go beyond simple respect and tolerance of the other and to reach out for other cultures and seek to know them better. The intercultural imperative is, therefore, a dynamic and not a static phenomenon, where the changing self is observed in regard to the Other. It is not one dialogue, but a series of dialogues incorporating a multiple of diverse and colliding voices. This leads us to what we can call a “dialogic of empathy”, to which each culture in today’s world respond in creatively changing oneself and perhaps inventively changing a little of the world by being mixed and entangled with other cultures. However, in order to be able to ground the “dialogic of empathy” in more than a mere fancy of wishful thinking, it must have an ethical quality of a direct realization of the future. This dialogic connection of empathy is the basis for each “I”s notion of itself in relation with Others. This is the dynamic through which each self can become a community of selves or let us say that each culture can become a community of knowledge, in which knowledge necessarily includes Self and Other. Knowledge in a dialogic of empathy would be the opening of a culture to itself as an inner movement of seeking the Other. Each culture is called upon to take part in the world of the Other. As such, the “I” and the “Other” realize through mutual recognition that they are together in dialogue. Dialogue as an ethical distance is a constant reminder of the need of each tradition of mind to pay regard to other traditions of mind. The principle of “dialogic empathy” as an ethics of cross-cultural conversation obligates cultures to act against forms of denial, dissociation and projection which could obscure and cover up the presence of the Other.

At this point, I think we should talk about three forms of responsibility which concerns the relation of each  “I” culture with the other culture. I mean the responsibility to speak, the responsibility to listen, and the responsibility to respond. The ethics of dialogic empathy immanently implies an ethics of the self. Losing the sense of speaking and listening means losing the self and the other and thus losing the domain of common values as the very core of humanity. The responsibilities of speaking and listening are possibilities of entering not only the domain of conversation as a domain of association, but also entering the domain of recognition s a necessary token of togetherness. It is the power of listening to oneself and to the Other. In learning that the other culture has also a capacity of listening, each culture learns to have a critical view on its own speech. At this level, maybe we should talk about the idea of “maturity, which has been a key concept of modernity. The insistence on thinking for oneself was a dear principle for Kant. According to him, it is the very nature of thinking that requires its public use and an initiating act of resolution and courage if reason is to be developed in individuals and in humanity as a whole. Therefore, the immaturity (Unmündigkeit), or intellectual and moral dependency, that is the opposite of enlightenment is not a developmental stage before maturity, but is “self-incurred” (selbstverschuldet). As such, all cultures have a choice. They have to decide between the challenging demands of intercultural imperative and the comfort zone of conformity and deference to authority of their traditions. Being mature is being inescapably accountable to the other. In other words, the ethical response to another consists in a self-judgment. As such, our relationship with the other does not produce a mutual confirmation, but rather a harsh assessment of our own shortcomings. The “I” against the “Other” as the “us” against “them” are rendered irrelevant and one’s sense of centrality of the world is lost and with it the taken-for-granted meaning of all that this centrality entailed. This is where the concept of maturity links up with that of solidarity. Solidarity does not mean charity, it does not mean intervention and it cannot be reduced to altruism. Rather it is something which grows out of an understanding of common responsibility. As such, more than ever, the destiny of our late modernity lies in the capacity of peoples to have an enlightened view of each other and share their differences and cultures so that, in its infinite diversity, humanity can gather around the values that truly unite it. The dialogic of empathy as an experience of otherness would be the best form of constructive engagement in dialogue among different view of modernity.

Today we are living in a very exciting moment in history. Something profound and wonderful is happening, which can be seen only if we stand back and observe the spectrum of cultures and religions that have been evolving over the centuries. If we can do this and enter into an inter-religious and intercultural dialogue, something amazing begins to show itself, a deep pattern that has been centuries in the making. It appears that the different religions and cultural worlds converge in a common horizon of acting and judging ethically. Civilization is a difficult and daunting task. It is an un-ended quest for excellence and exemplarity. It is the thin distance that mankind has placed between itself and barbarianism. That is the reason why, the intercultural dialogue is a deep change in our being. It is not simply standing where we are in our particular worldviews and speaking it out to others and listening to others from afar.  It calls for a true ethical challenge and a true responsibility. It means a willingness to revise and transform our global culture in a critical and dialogical way. But it also means that this consciousness of dialogue and this essential task of mutuality and togetherness is an effort of making a global ethics across cultures and religions. As such, today there is no ethics which does not try to be a universal moral principle. For our dialogue emerges principally not only at the level of human beings, but also at the level of our responsibility for the non-humans. Our future is at risk and this risk is directly related to the nature of our responsibility towards the non-human. This understanding of the close relationship between the human and the non-human beyond all process of the inhuman is the true ontological ground for all future culture of dialogue. To learn to think beyond the inhuman, as an absence of dialogue, we not only have to unsettle and shake up our well-entrenched concepts and categories;  but also our task is to resist  our comfortable familiar ethical and political categories which turn us away from an ethical and spiritual definitions of life and sink us deeper into barbarism. We should not forget that as Diderot said, “From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.” If we do not want the ultimate tendency of our civilization to be toward barbarism, we need to manage tensions and violence in our world through a nonviolent dialogue of cultures, otherwise we should be prepared to accept barbarism. Dialogue of cultures is humanity caring for dialogue, culture and the future of the globe. If we can really understand this challenge, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the challenge.



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منشور 91

این منشور تلاشی است برای مستند کردن اصول، منش و ارزشهای اخلاقی انسانی  برای تولدی دیگر در جهت ایجاد حکومتهایی پاسخگو، روادار و مستقل.

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Charter 91

A group of Iranian intellectuals have penned a new document that aims to unite the Iranian people around a common human rights and civic agenda.

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