President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami:
We Should Listen to What Other Cultures Offer
Iranian President Khatami's speech, as reported by the Iranian News Agency, was presented at a conference sponsored by the UN, UNESCO, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, in September 2001. Title and Subheads have been added.
The General Assembly of the United Nations has only recently endorsed the proposal of the Islamic Republic of Iran for dialogue among civilizations and cultures. Nevertheless, this proposal is attracting, day after day, increased support from numerous academic institutions and political organizations. In order to comprehend the grounds for this encouraging reception, it is imperative to take into account the prevailing situation in our world today, and to ponder the reasons for widespread discontentment with it. It is, of course, only natural for justice-seeking and altruistic human beings to feel discontented with the status quo. ... Today, in this esteemed gathering, allow me instead to begin with certain historical, theoretical, and, for the most part, non-political grounds for the call to a dialogue among civilizations. ...
... Persian thought and culture owes an immense debt to Islam as one of its primary springs of efflorescence. Islam embodies a universal wisdom. Each and every human individual living in each and every corner of time and place is potentially included in the purview of Islam. The Islamic emphasis on the essential humane quality, and its disdain for such elements as birth and blood, had conquered the hearts of those yearning for justice and freedom. ...
In order to call governments and peoples of the world to follow the new paradigm of dialogue among cultures and civilizations, we ought to learn from the world's past experience, especially from the tremendous human catastrophes that took place in the 20th Century. We ought to critically examine the ... glorification of might.
From an ethical perspective, the paradigm of dialogue among civilizations requires that we give up the will-to-power; and [without] the will-to-empathy, compassion, and understanding, there would be no hope for the prevalence of order in our world. We ought to gallantly combat this dearth of compassion and empathy in our world. The ultimate goal of dialogue among civilizations is not dialogue in and of itself, but attaining empathy and compassion.
Esteemed participants, there are two ways to realize dialogue among civilizations:
1. The interaction and interpenetration of actual instances of cultures and civilizations with each other, resulting from a variety of factors, presents one model in which this dialogue takes place. ...
2. Alternatively, dialogue among civilizations could also mean a deliberate dialogue among representative members of various civilizations, such as scholars, artists, and thinkers from disparate civilizational domains. ...
Travelling of ideas and cultural interaction and interpenetration recurs in human history as naturally and persistently as the emigration of birds in nature. Even the inauspicious and abhorrent waging of wars has sometimes led to the enrichment and strengthening of the cultures and civilizations involved. For instance, as a consequence of war, "Great Books" of various civilizations, such as primary philosophical, literary, and sacred books, have become available to other civilizations. ...
The Role of Great Artists
In dialogue among cultures and civilizations, great artists should undoubtedly get due recognition, together with philosophers, scholars, and theologians.... By excluding the artist's "innocent" understanding from the political and social realm, human beings fall down to the ranks of the tool-making working animal. Such a being would surely look with disdain at the possibility of dialogue, and any empathy or compassion that may result from it. A world so thoroughly controlled by political, military, and economic conditions inevitably begets the ultimate devastation of the environment, and the eradication of all spiritual, artistic, and intuitive havens. ...
Poets and artists engage in dialogue within and through the sacred language of spirit. This language has remained safe from poisonous winds of time, and in the very cold and merciless season of faithlessness it still brings us good news of original human ideals. It still calls people to persist on the path of hope and faith. ...
We should listen in earnest to what other cultures offer, and by relying on profound human experiences we can seek new ways for human life.
Dialogue is not easy. Even more difficult is to prepare and open up vistas upon one's inner existence to others. Believing in dialogue paves the way for vivacious hope: the hope to live in a world permeated by virtue, humility, and love, and not merely by the reign of economic indices and destructive weapons. Should the spirit of dialogue prevail, humanity, culture, and civilization should prevail. We should all have faith in this triumph, and we should all hope that all citizens of the world would be prepared to listen to the divine call: "So Announce the Good News To My ServantsThose Who Listen To the Word, and Follow the Best [meaning] In It" (Holy Qoran, 39: parts of 17, 18).
Let us hope that enmity and oppression should end, and that the clamor of love for truth, justice, and human dignity should prevail. Let us hope that all human beings should sing along with Hafez of Shiraz, this divinely inspired spirit, that: "No ineffable clamor reverberates in the grand heavenly dome more sweetly than the sound of love."