Wednesday 12 November 2008 (15 Dhul Qa`dah 1429)
Editorial: Dialogue among civilizations
12 November 2008
The importance of the UN meeting today and tomorrow in New
York on dialogue between cultures and civilizations under the heading Culture
for Peace cannot be overstated. Dialogue goes to the heart of international
relations. The world is no longer made up of different cultures living in their
own separate spaces - if it ever was. Thanks to technology, we live in an
interdependent global village, mixing in with each other to an extent that was
unimaginable even 50 years ago. Muslims, for example, now constitute the second
largest faith community in several European countries while in the US, the
father of the next president was a Muslim; but equally there are several
hundred thousand Christian expats working here in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in
the Gulf. Whatever our faith or culture, we live and work side by side with
each other. If we cannot do that without respect for each other, then there is
no hope for humanity. There can be no peace in the world.
The issue is all the more vital because of the way in which
religion is being attacked, abused and twisted the world over, invariably for
political purposes. It is seen on the attacks on religion in the secularized
West, ostensibly in the name of freedom of speech. It is seen in the fanatical
and hate-filled variants of mainstream faiths - of Islam as well as of
Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism - that have sprung up across the world and
which have done so much to damage peace and understanding.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has taken a
lead in promoting international dialogue between faiths and cultures, with the
first historic interfaith dialogue conference in Makkah in June and then the
meeting in Madrid in July. But he is far from being alone in understanding the
need for dialogue. The presence of so many international leaders at the UN
meeting is testimony to that.
There is a poignant but powerful irony in the fact that
today's meeting at the UN should come a day after ceremonies were held in many
countries across the world to mark the 90th anniversary of the end of World War
I, the war that was supposed to end all wars, and two days after the 70th
anniversary of Kristallnacht, the attack on Jewish shops and homes in Nazi
Germany that has come to symbolize Hitler's demonic effort to wipe out Judaism
and the Jews.
The remembrance of those events gives future generations the
chance to avoid repeating them. Dialogue provides another means to ensure that
humanity does not go insane again and launch new wars out of fear and hatred
for the beliefs and traditions of the "other". Would there have been a world
war or massacres in Rwanda or Srebrenica if there had been dialogue beforehand?
We can never know but it is worth considering.
Over the centuries, the world has seen where ignorance and
bigotry lead. The Crusades, the Inquisition, forced conversions, massacres,
suppression of indigenous cultures in the name of colonialism and imperialism,
9/11 - and that is just the tip of a blood-soaked iceberg. We saw it again in
India just weeks ago with the politically instigated anti-Christian riots and
killings, and earlier anti-Muslim riots. There is a long and painful history of
mass slaughter in the name of this religion or that, this civilization or that.
In a world where we have the capacity to kill on an industrial scale and hate
can be spread at the click of a mouse, the ignorance and fear has to end. It
has to be replaced by respect. Otherwise we are all the losers.
The 20th century was a bloody and murderous one. We must try
and ensure that the 21st is a century of peace. Dialogue is the first step.