Alliance of Civilizations

This small post serves as an addendum to my previous posts on religion. Yesterday a group of prominent world figures met in Istanbul to discuss tensions between Muslims and Western Societies. The group, The Alliance of Civilizations, including Desmond Tutu and Mohammed Khatami, concluded that:

The chief causes of the rift are not religion or history, they say, but recent political developments, notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The group issued a report that details the problems leading to the growing divide between the West and Muslims, in which they reject the notion that a clash of civilizations is inevitable. I suppose these findings will provide much food for thought and even more fodder for debate, but the report is truly interesting, if only as a sign of the times. The report (pdf) can be downloaded right here. One quote:

3.8 The exploitation of religion by ideologues intent on swaying people to their causes has led to the misguided perception that religion itself is a root cause of intercultural conflict. It is therefore essential to dispel misapprehensions and to give an objective and formal appraisal of the role of religion in modern day politics. Indeed, a symbiotic relationship may be emerging between religion and politics in our time, each influencing the other. As an example from the past, the seemingly secular colonial enterprise of the ‘civilizing mission’ or the nineteenth century conviction of ‘manifest destiny’ in reality has deep religious roots. Conversely, the overtly religious platforms of some contemporary movements conceal political ambitions that appropriate religion for ideological ends.

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About Guy La Roche

Dutch translator and subtitler living in Brittany with his three cats. Has also lived in the Flemish part of Belgium. Speaks English rather fluently and in a former life used to have a decent command of Spanish. Knows swear words in German and Russian. Not quite francophone yet, but slowly getting there. Vaguely centrist observer of the world around him, extremely naive and, sometimes, rather proud of it. Writes Venale Pecus.

7 thoughts on “Alliance of Civilizations

  1. “the seemingly secular colonial enterprise of the ’civilizing mission’”

    Come again? What exactly is secular about setting up missions to bring the benefits of Christianity to the heathens?

  2. The report is simply a restatement of worn cliches and trite platitudes, It offers no solutions beyond the usual. Until Arab nations accept Israel and forswear its destruction there can be solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict. The currents of militant islam run deep and there is little chance of a dialogue that will change their mind about the evils of the west and Israel in particular. To expect anything out of the UN beyond condemning Israel and the west in general is naive and delusional.

  3. 5.6 Of primary importance in this regard is the mutual recognition of the competing narratives that emerged following the establishment of the state of Israel.

    One can be a Zionist (in my own case, a non-Jewish one) and fully acknowledge the harsh reality of the Naqba, as detailed by Benny Morris in his excellent Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. Competing narratives is just a euphemism. We can’t always choose the lesser of two evils. Sometimes we just take sides. In any case, while the Arab-Israeli conflict is no doubt a major incendiary factor, it’s not the only one.

    Of its very nature, the article cannot admit that there is a broader issue and it thereby implicitly endorses irrationality – both theirs and ours. .Religion itself is the problem, and the conflicts, internal and external, are likely to get worse until it is addressed as such. Both in the West and in the Islamic world, religion is at the root of our culture, but the question both sides face is to what extent leaders allow it a political, legislative and educational role, and to what extent they aggressively deny it such a role – as the Tunisian Government briefly tried and failed to do some time ago.

    The article is correct in one essential point – this supposed ‘clash of civilizations’ is a clash between victors and the humiliated, between rich and poor. In practice a religion is not the dogma of its founders or the fine expression of high spirituality. Scratch even a militant western atheist and you’ll find deep loyalties to the particular historical role played by the Christian religion in the formation of his cultural horizon. He is far more likely to excuse the superstitious aberrations of a fellow westerner than those particular to followers of a religion that has long been cast as the enemy .

    The historical hostility between religious traditions cannot be resolved until it has been subsumed under some shared identity – the republic perhaps. We have to recognize that that’s not very likely to emerge; where are the economic, political or geo-strategic forces that would give it momentum? But that’s an opposition we can learn to live with.. It’s not the central issue.

    When we in the west encounter Islam, it is not the thought of Ibn Rushd that repels us, but the superstitious and intolerant cast of mind of those who exiled him. The real clash is between pre and post Copernican world views – and that’s not something we can avoid taking sides about. Perhaps there ought to be a European ‘Remember Giordano Bruno’ Day.

  4. It’s more than a mere ‘expression’ once it has a dynamism of its own. And I did say at the root, not the root itself. Let’s not get reductionist here.

    Tom Sutcliffe had an interesting article in The Independent the other day, in which he speculated about what wonders the great artists might have achieved if their patrons hadn’t imposed repetitive religious themes on them – and of course he’s got a point.

    “Apropos of exactly what I can’t remember, Peter Hitchens had been defending the role of religion in public life and had – as apologists for religion often do – included high art in his inventory of its incontrovertible upsides. For thousands of years, he suggested, religion had provided the subject matter for some of the finest creations the human mind and hand had produced.

    I found myself wondering the other day whether the history of art wouldn’t have been immeasurably improved by the absence of religion. The immediate provocation for this thought was the Royal Academy’s new exhibition of Chola bronzes, a collection of about 40 sacred processional images of Hindu gods and avatars dating from the 9th to the 12th century ”

    But that’s not the world we come from – we have to live in the world we’ve got, and in that world, the church and the city, the temple and the polis, have constantly defined each other’s space – and the Islamic experience of that process has been very different from ours in the West, for all the latter’s variety.

    Hence our current difficulties in the UK over faith schools and suchlike, the moment our existing accommodation is extended to Islamic institutions.

    We could live with getting our kids into a better school on the pretence of being Christians, but we find it hard to accept other British citizens’ little girls being schooled to believe that women are inherently less reliable in court than a man.

  5. I’m amazed that Khatami has now appeared on the international lecture and comment circuit. In fact, he’s the former head of a repressive theocratic state. About the best that can be said for him is that (a) he was never very important, since Iran is really ruled by the mullahs, and (b) he’s less vile than the current president of Iran. Khatami doesn’t deserve honors and he doesn’t deserve respectful attention. Desmond Tutu should be ashamed of taking on such a protege.

    As to the content of their remarks, they are correct that we need to look beyond the “clash of civilizations” to explain why so many states in the Muslim world are so dysfunctional. But we also need to look beyond the fixation on Israel. Israel is not to blame for the lack of economic development and political freedom in its neighbors. As for the Palestinians, the same Muslim countries that profess undying loyalty to the Palestinian cause have done very little to actually ease the Palestinians’ lot. Israel is simply a convenient scapegoat for all these failures.

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