Facing Globalshitation with Dialoge Among Civilization

Globalization is described as the condition arising from shrinking distance by instantaneous or real-time world-wide electronic communication. Globalization, therefore, is identified with information and mass media communication. In this era, information and mass media is playing central role in shaping human destiny, making it possible even to claim that they had surpassed military and political might as the main source of power.

However, we are all aware that there are bright and dark sides of globalization. The Leftists are trying to create a consensus that globalization is bad. A column in the New York Times by Joseph Kahn in May 2000, seems to echo this view with comment that “Among mainstream economists and their left-leaning critics, it has become axiomatic that globalization leaves too many poor people behind.”[1] Rather than creating wealth and opportunities, globalization has been making the money for the rich and sucking the energy of the poor.

Another vice of globalization with more far-reaching impact than the economic deprivation and devastation is the hegemony of Western civilization. Of course, this hegemony has not happened over one night, but rather since the beginning of the Era of Renaissance. Impulses of Renaissance had compelled the Western civilization to new era of revolutionary changes. First and foremost is what later on called by modern historians as The Industrial Revolution. The term Industrial Revolution refers to the changes that occurred during 1700’s and early 1800’s as results of rapid development of industrialization. At the same epoch, social and political revolution wreaked French. The revolution, which lasted from 1789 to 1799, also had dramatic effects on the thinking of the rest of Europe.

Unfortunely, the most striking impact of these two big revolutions is the exorbitant spread of Western colonization and occupation over the rest of the world. Here I will quote William H. McNeill from The Rise of the West: “At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, the geographical boundaries of Western civilization could still be defined with reasonable precision (i.e. within Europe)…(But) whithin a few decades settlers of European origins or descent were able to occupy central and western North America, the pampas and adjacent regions fo South America, and substantial parts of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.”[2] And now, as another Western historian, J.M. Roberts, in his The Triumph of the West, said: “We may now be entering the era of its greatest triumph, not over state structures and economic relationships, but over the minds and hearts of all men.”[3]

Historians such as William H. McNeill and J.M. Roberts are correct in describing the central flow of history for the past two hundred years as one-way street. It is almost impossible for many Western intellectuals, even now, to conceive the notion of two-way street of ideas and values, “because,” as mentioned by Kishore Mahbubani, “many believe that they have created the world in their own image.”[4] And this belief has also entered non-Western minds. V.S. Naipaul demonstrated this with his claim that Western civilization represents the only universal civilization.[5]

Therefore, globalization has mainly been characterized with Westernization. Kishore Mahbubani provided us with simple arithmatic of todays globalization. Mahbubani Wrote: “The West has 800 million people; the rest make up almost 4.7 billion. In the national arena, no Western society would accept a situation where 15 percent of its population legislated for the remaining 85 percent. But this is what the West is trying to do globally.”[6] So, globalization simply means Western domination through softer tools, i.e. information technology.

But, ironically, Moslem community cannot isolate themselves from or stand alone in this Western-dominated information world. Such a thing is even undesirable and practically impossible as the global extent of information constantly excel. Awareness of today’s world events is an imperative for understanding our place in the world and planning our future in it. Being isolated from the world’s information networks can only turn us into pawns of others. So, the main question that we must answer is what (or how) the Moslem community should do?

Here, I will present some points of Dialogue Among Civilizations as the proposed solution which put forward by Sayyid Muhammad Khatami, the current President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to the annual session of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), on 29 October 1999. Khatami urged Moslem community to lead the humanity toward dialogistic and pluralistic environment. Only by this paradigm can the world be freed from the hegemony of one group over the other.

Khatami suggested that Dialogue Among Civilizations is the humane key in solving the modern world from unilateralist policies and actions. With dialogue, Khatami meant changing the course of modern history so that Western technology and achievement will over time enable other societies to accumulate enough affluence and luxury to rediscover their own cultural roots. “There are,” Mahbubani pointed out, “deep reservoirs of spiritual and cultural strength which have not been affected by the Western veneer that has been spread over many other societies.”[7]

Nevertheless, we must fully recognize that excessive optimism about the immediate outcome of the proposed dialogue among cultures and civilizations can be 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 tough 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.

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.

Another precondition for the dialogue among civilizations is tolerance. Even though tolerance is something necessary for the early stages of the realization of the dialogue, we should be careful to distinguish between negative tolerance and positive cooperation. The former is a modern concept and the latter is a proposal put forward by Eastern religions and philosophies. For dialogue to become universally accepted as a new paradigm, it must be able to elevate its level from negative tolerance to positive mass cooperation. Any Muslim who is familiar with the Holy Quran will be reminded of the divine call to mass participation in humanitarian activities as soon as he or she hears the word ‘cooperation’ in the verse ‘…And cooperate in goodness and piety…’. All human beings are entitled to participate in the activities that will shape the world in the third millennium. No nation should be left on the sidelines because of some philosophical, political, or economic argument. It is not enough to tolerate others, but one must work with others. The human world should be shaped by the massive cooperation of all human beings.

This cooperation is not merely of an economic and political nature. In order to bring the hearts of human beings closer together, we must also think of ways to bridge the gap between people’s minds. One cannot be very hopeful of this prospective union of hearts by believing in conflicting philosophical, moral, and religious foundations. To bring hearts together, it is necessary for minds to be brought closer together, and this will not be achieved unless great thinkers of the world make a special effort to understand the main concepts in the thoughts of others and then to communicate these to their own people. It is necessary to talk about the basic concepts related to the heart and to the mind; everyone should express what they think of the meaning of life, the meaning of happiness, and the meaning of death. This may not yield any immediate results, but without it, any agreement reached merely on political and economic grounds will prove to be very fragile and short-lived.

The theory of dialogue among civilizations will not develop without conducting a comprehensive study into the roots of wars and conflicts. Such a study of conflicts cannot be undertaken in isolation and without taking into account the present state of the world. Wars often have deep psychological roots in the study of which psychologists, social psychologists, and psychoanalysts have long been engaged. However, they break out due to political and economic factors as well. With the terrible gap between the rich and the poor in various communities and countries of the world, how can we naively call for peace and mutual understanding? How can we call for dialogue if this inequality persists and if no fundamental steps are taken to help the deprived peoples of the world? When on the eve of the third millennium, thirty percent of the world’s population will live in abject poverty, how can we talk of peace and security and forget justice? Even if the West decides to save its life and forget the fate of the people in the rest of the world, it is obliged to help others in order to protect its own security. For a number of social, political and technical reasons, all the people living in today’s world find themselves aboard the same ship.






[1] New York Times, 7 May 2000, section 3, p. 4.

[2] William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (University of Chicago Press), 1991, p. 730-731.

[3] J.M. Roberts, The Triumph of the West, (Little Brown & Co), 1985, p. 14.

[4] Kishore Mahbubani, Can Asians Think?, (Time Books International), second edition, 2000, p. 111.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kishore Mahbubani, Op, Cit. p. 96.

[7] Kishore Mahbubani, Op, Cit. p. 112.


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