FULL English translation of the transcript of Seyed Mohammad
Khatami's address to Sarajevo Inter Cultural Conference
In the name of God
Different and varied cultures resulting from a collective awareness and self-consciousness of peoples are interrelated with different civilizations. Identity will be named civilization when it is considered as a social lifestyle and calibrates economic and political relations as well as architectural structure, art, industry and science. It will be named culture when collective awareness and self-consciousness, ideologies and life customs are taken into consideration.
And the question is: what is the relationship between varied cultures (particularly in today's uniformed world)?
Is it conflict, confrontation and war or gentleness, peaceful coexistence and dialog?
What we witness as a fact in history is mostly conflict and war including wars that have taken place in the name of faith and religion and wars that have had political origins. Nonetheless, looking into this matter carefully, we would realize that the roots of war are in humans' expansionist tendencies, and want of excessive power. In other words, wars are mostly political and over power and economic interests. Even amid wars, one would see cultures and civilizations exchange very useful deals and agreements.
Humans, in some countries, have enjoyed very much of numerous extraordinary advancements and breakthroughs in all scientific, technological, social and economic areas. Humans' disasters, though, have been as great as their advancements, and of course horrifying.
Humans have, among all things, savored bitter taste of inequality more than everything else. Remnants and consequences of two destructive world wars are still present while regional wars have not produced fewer losses and less destruction than their world peers. The Cold War has left a bad taste in the mouth of both East and West of the world in recent decades.
The West, for instance, not only suffers from losses resulting from a prevailing state of conflict, but is also being troubled by many woes including a lack of spirituality in life and minds and its replacement with utility and materialism, downfall of human beings - who should be God's successor on earth and be worshipped by angels - to a creature that is mostly ensnared by their whims and mundane wishes and materialistic desires. Loose family relationships and a damaged environment are other woes that cannot be ignored.
The situation in a world, which has fallen victim to expansionist and colonial behavior of powerful countries, is even more dreadful. Many people in this part of the world are suffering from increasing poverty, illiteracy, diseases and worse than all humiliation. A major proportion of these people are hostage in the hands of governments who do not even bother pretending to be democracies following from democratic rules. Deprived of a popular support, such governments resort to foreign powerful countries to survive, which makes the situation more complicated.
Terrorism, taking place in various horrifying forms, is another tragedy our world suffers today. Terrorism is a malicious phenomenon that endangers security in both the West and East of the world on the one hand. On the other hand, a lack of attention to freedom and justice, and sovereignty of international systems that are chiefly based on interests of powerful countries, who arrogantly resort to force to resolve international issues by provoking historical misunderstandings among civilizations, nations and different faiths, has had no result but expansion of extremism and an increase in insecurity.
This horrifying image of the past and present of humans should not, however, disappoint well-wishers of securing a brighter future. It would be appropriate that at the outset of the Third Millennium we dig the past and contemplate the future of human beings so we can transform the present into an opportunity to use in order to lay the foundation of a safe life and obtain a form of life in which all humans everywhere enjoy dignity, security and freedom and the insecurity that prevails in the East and West would take the road toward security and further safety. This is a matter to which the theory and proposal of "Dialog Among Cultures and Civilizations" has tried to attend. On this route, followers of great faiths that harbinger a message of compassion, justice, and ethics to humanity have a heavier responsibility to shoulder.
In spite of the mishaps humans have suffered through the history, one may conveniently conclude that the historical trend has been one toward freedom, justice and emancipation of humans. And this very fact is a strong buttress reinforcing dialog.
Our judgment of history depends on our judgment of human beings, who are the pivot and axis of history. Great Prophet of Islam has been quoted as saying that all humans are members of a whole. And Saadi, the great Iranian poet has described this very beautifully:
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
This human is not in reach of biologists and psychologists. To get to know this human, one should have an intellectual, philosophical and mystical touch.
Since human has been created in the hand of God and of His countenance and God has blown His soul into human, he/she is no more than a fact and human's history can be no more than one single history. Hand of God has given humans history, power to choose and option while God's countenance has given humans culture of spirituality and God's soul has given humans life and capability to move. Solidarity of humans and unique human history share not only the origin but also an ultimate result and outcome. And the ultimate outcome of history is nothing but the culture of spirituality and its essential provision, which is actual freedom of human.
Human, trapped in either the ever repeating periods of being or in historical cycles, history, being propelled by history, by desires, by manner of production or by a super hero, one thing is certain: only with the elixir of faith can one rid themselves from the historical hegemony and enjoy freedom. With such an understanding of freedom can one defend human dignity and self-esteem against political rule of governments and against poisonous winds of disappointment and bewilderedness and acknowledge that the historical trend is taking steps toward freedom. History of human is history of freedom, which is why a human free from socially imposed restraints and also free from the chain of untamed animal instincts (such as violence and wildness) will use his humane essence to side with justice. And history of human is a history of glory of righteousness and predominance of justice.
This statement can be an alternative interpretation of the Messianism theory in Christianity and Mahdaviyat in Islam. And this very significant point is a powerful link and an objective these two great faiths share.
It is with such a view of the world and human that we can figure out the significance and position of dialog in our age. This is what can generate a new capacity for a safe and secure life for humans in today's horrifying world. In spite of the many differences between cultures and civilizations, dialog can discover commonalities in history and philosophy and generate common cognitive horizons. Which means despite distinctions, togetherness, staying together and keeping together would make practical sense and the theory of dialog of civilizations and cultures will open such a horizon to a human who is about to quench his/her thirst for freedom and peaceful coexistence.
If well-wishers and peace-seeking people take an effort to institutionalize dialog and replace conflict and confrontation with understanding, they will have a precious achievement to offer to the next generation.
In today's global circumstances, unilateral policies and unjust double standards in tackling global issues and resorting to force to resolve such issues will only bear a misunderstanding, violence and a lack of security. One should rise to those (policies) that will lead to extremism and violence.
All great faiths, and in particular, Islam and Christianity, and their open-minded leaders can make a distinction between the history and content of their faiths, leading the way toward understanding and resolving troubles facing all humanity by relying on realities they both share. In order to attain the high values all Divine faiths share, those leaders may set out on a path to reach a world that enjoys a spirituality, freedom, progress and justice while respecting the difference in cultures, traditions and rituals. The very first and most important step is to carry on a dialog without prejudgment and bias over realities that look for freedom and salvation of humans.
Seyed Mohammad Khatami October 2010
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