New Age Islam
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Islam and Politics ( 20 Jun 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A culture of peace


By Hans Koechler


The requirements of a "culture of peace" do not go along with the facts and necessities of a unipolar order of society, whether national, international or even global. A culture of peace - which is the basis of any stable social order - can only flourish in a multipolar environment. The present global realities - in terms of politics as well as culture - are definitely not conducive to the realization of such an ideal. The process of "globalization" has brought about a trend towards cultural uniformity, with the West trying to impose its life-style and system of values almost everywhere; accordingly, the only (remaining) global superpower has set out to "reshape" all regions of the globe on the basis of its own ideology or, more precisely, interests (e.g. the blueprint for a so-called "New Middle East").


The obstacles to durable peace -­ within and between states as well as socio-cultural groupings - are manifold. They are particularly manifest in the increasing alienation and related tensions between the "West" (i.e. Western countries and cultural groupings) and Islam (i.e. Muslim countries and communities all over the world) and can be identified, inter alia, in the remnants of Eurocentrism, dating back to the colonial era of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which are particularly obvious - and have become especially virulent - in today's globalization drive; in the "cultivation" of anti-Islamic stereotypes in the Western world before and after the events of September 11, 2001; and more specifically in the concerted efforts at redefining the basic tenets of Islam on the basis of the value system of Western secularized society or, under specific circumstances, according to the dogmatic teachings of another religion (namely Christianity). The latter strategy is indeed one of "reinventing" an entire civilization (in particular that of Islam) by measuring it according to the requirements of another religion or perception of the world and the distinct value system related to it - an approach that has been all too obvious in the Regensburg speech of Benedict XVI on Sept. 12, 2006. The underlying attitude of "ideological coercion," i. e. of forced reinterpretation of an entire religion, affects the very integrity of the Muslim faith - and its related civilization and value system - and is in no way whatsoever compatible with the principles of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Therefore, the Roman-Catholic Church ought to seriously reconsider its overall approach towards Islam which, if defined within the parameters of the Regensburg speech, is simply incompatible with the principles of dialogue and mutual respect.


The situation has been made even more difficult by the instrumentalization of the so-called "global war on terror" for the advancement of a worldwide anti-Islamic agenda. The international developments triggered by wars that are being conducted in the name of (Western) "civilization," of "secular" values and "human rights" which, in their Western version, are ex cathedra declared as universal (whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, or other Muslim countries), are threatening the peaceful living together of communities not only in the Middle East, but in many other regions of the globe, including Europe. This modern "crusade" has profoundly destabilized the social order at the domestic and regional levels and it threatens to destabilize the complex web of interaction within, and equilibrium of, modern multicultural societies.


As citizens who are concerned about the course of world affairs and aware of the impact this chain of events may have on our respective domestic communities we have to ask one basic question: What are - against the backdrop of these frightening developments that put in jeopardy the fragile system of co-existence established under the aegis of the United Nations Organization since World War II - the philosophical foundations of an order of peace among nations as well as among socio-cultural communities and civilizations? These principles have been specifically and explicitly enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


One of the paramount norms that comes to mind, in this context, is that of tolerance based on the principle of mutuality. As demonstrated in different systems of practical philosophy, in particular that of Immanuel Kant (as far as the European tradition is concerned), claiming the right to one's self-realization - i.e. to living according to one's own world view and value system - implies granting that very right to the "other": i.e. another ethnic, cultural or religious community that lives within the same polity.


Mutual recognition of rights is indeed the very essence of peaceful co-existence, domestically as well as internationally. This principle seems rather obvious, it can indeed be considered a rule of common sense, but it is not easy to abide by it and implement it effectively. In view of the multicultural realities of today's world - entailing complex interdependencies at the domestic and global levels -, there is no other workable solution if permanent confrontation is to be avoided. The polities in many regions, not least of them the European Union, have still to discover the proper approach towards the now global phenomenon of diversity.


It is to be noted that as much as mutual recognition is indispensable for the preservation of peace, it does not require the respective community to give up its religious, ethnic, or - in the most general sense - civilizational identity. To the contrary: such mutual appreciation enriches each community's (and individual's within a given community) self-comprehension and identity and strengthens its role as a partner in a given society - whether domestic, regional, or global.


In our era of globalization - or "globality," as claimed by some - the different levels cannot be disentangled from each other.


In this context, we have to be aware of the dangers of antagonistic paradigms - such as that of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" - which are being advanced in a highly fragile (or insecure) global constellation such as the present one in which the dynamics of globalization, in tandem with the absence of a balance of power (i.e. under the conditions of political and military unipolarity), has brought about an unprecedented identity crisis which affects many communities, including even communities within the predominant "Western" civilization.


One of the biggest, and most real, dangers at the same time is that of Huntington's paradigm becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, eventually entangling diverse, and potentially competing, civilizations with different social perceptions and value systems in an endless cycle of misunderstandings, claims and counter-claims.


What is required - in philosophical terms - is a novel outlook at international relations that is based on what we have earlier called the "hermeneutics of civilizational dialogue" - an approach that recognizes the "other" civilization as conditio sine qua non for a mature understanding of one's own civilization; such an approach understands interaction between civilizations as essential part of the formation of a community's identity.


The principles of this kind of hermeneutics have been laid out, inter alia, in Hans-Georg Gadamer's "Truth and Method" (Wahrheit und Methode).* This philosopher's method makes it possible to define the cultural (or civilizational) identity (awareness of the specificity of one's culture) in relation to the "overlapping" - if not "fusion" - of horizons of different civilizational perceptions of the world.


A basic normative implication of this hermeneutical approach is the maxim of non-interference in each other's civilizational, and thus communal, affairs - at the doctrinal as well as the practical level: such attitude of "abstention" is the fundamental norm underlying a culture of peace, indeed one of the preconditions of inter-communal harmony and co-operation.


Co-existence among religions and civilizations, as they are incorporated in, or represented by, specific cultural communities in a given polity, cannot be envisaged and, thus, must not be propagated in a hierarchical framework in which one civilizational identity is superimposed upon the other and one civilization is measured according to the standards of another.


Furthermore, co-existence alongside each other does not mean, or imply, forced co-operation in areas (such as that of dogmatic teachings) where each community has to preserve its own identity, i.e. where the integrity of a community's very faith or civilizational mission is at stake.


Such forced co-operation could seriously jeopardize existing modes of interaction between religious communities also in other fields and it would definitely undermine the spirit of civil co-operation, oriented towards the bonum commune, at the domestic level. Good neighborliness cannot be built on a forced "change of identity" - contrary to what some in Europe believe, who tend to impose a so-called "lead culture" (Leitkultur) upon all cultural groups and communities, and contrary to what the propagators of a "reinvented" Islam (namely one redefined according to non-Islamic, Western values) want to make us believe.


Genuine dialogue comes never at the expense of the partner's moral and civilizational integrity and, thus, identity. Mankind has to learn the lessons of history in that regard.


The traumatic experience of the medieval crusades must not be repeated under the circumstances of today's global unipolarity (as tempting as this may appear to the beneficiaries of the present global imbalance). In actual fact, these strategies have almost always led to major upheavals and to protracted civil and eventually regional wars


Source: Nation.ittefaq