Doha Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
Hans Köchler addresses special session on cultural diversity and identifies missing link between diversity and development
Doha / Vienna, 14 December 2011
In his capacity as member of the International Coordinating Committee of the World Public Forum "Dialogue of Civilizations," Professor Hans Köchler, President of the International Progress Organization, earlier this week addressed the 4th Annual Forum of the United Nations' Alliance of Civilizations in Doha. In his presentation on "Politics and Cultural Diversity: An Integrative Approach," he suggested a fundamental revision of the narrative on dealing with cultural differences.
Explaining his notion of the "dialectics of cultural self-comprehension," he said that the assertion of cultural identity can only be understood, and is only possible, on the basis of mutuality. As recent developments in Europe have demonstrated, the traditional, often patronizing, approach has utterly failed. He emphasized that a culture can only realize itself and reach a state of maturity if it is able to relate to other cultures and life-worlds. The strength of a cultural or national community depends on its ability to define itself vis-à-vis "the other" and to interact with other communities in a complex, multidimensional manner, something which includes the capacity to see itself through the eyes of the other. Without such interaction, a community will lack the skills it needs to compete and be successful in today's global environment. On the basis of this approach, he demonstrated how a link between cultural diversity and development could be established, one of the priorities of the Doha Forum. Köchler further suggested an integrative approach towards intercultural dialogue, which must cover the entire spectrum of the life of a community, and not only issues of "high culture." Dialogue without addressing questions of social justice is purely artificial; dialogue without peace is a contradiction in itself. Civilizations cannot be "allied" if the exponents of one civilization wage war against the exponents of another civilization. There must be no wars "with civilizational undertones," he said.
Köchler further expressed the view that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) should be reinstated in its original role as agency that promotes peace through cultural cooperation, and that the repressive measures taken by certain member states in connection with the admission of the State of Palestine to that organization totally contradict the ideals of dialogue or an "alliance" between civilizations. It is to be recalled that, almost 40 years ago, Dr. Hans Köchler, in a letter dated 26 September 1972 and addressed to the Division of Philosophy of UNESCO, had suggested the holding of an international conference on the dialogue of civilizations ("au sujet des problèmes résultant du dialogue entre les différentes civilisations"). Subsequently, in July 1974, the International Progress Organization had organized, in co-operation with UNESCO, the first international conference on "The Cultural Self-comprehension of Nations."
On the basis of a comprehensive approach, he outlined a series of practical measures in the fields of politics, diplomacy, education, sports, tourism, and the new social media. He reiterated the International Progress Organization's earlier appeal for the adaptation of school text books so as to eliminate cultural stereotyping from national curricula, and he particularly called for the phasing out of the practice of racial, religious, and ethnic profiling by immigration authorities. He said that the rationale behind all suggested measures is that, in an era of global interdependence and the simultaneity of different life-worlds, dealing with differences has itself become a culture technique, indeed a strategy of survival for each and every nation.
The special session entitled "A New Agenda for Living Together - Changing the Narrative on Dealing with Differences" was moderated by Fethi Mansouri, Director of the Center for Citizenship and Globalization at Deakin University, Australia, and included, among others, presentations by Tariq Ramadan, Professor at Oxford University, UK, Piotr Switalski, Head of the Directorate of Policy Planning at the Council of Europe, and Akiva Eldar, Chief Political Columnist and Editorial Writer for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
In another session, on Muslim-Western relations ten years after September 11, Professor Köchler raised the issue of the NATO intervention in Libya. Addressing himself to Rashad Hussein, Special Envoy of US President Barack Obama to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), he asked how the US Secretary of State's triumphalist allusion to Caesar's famous dictum veni, vidi, vici can be reconciled with the purported noble humanitarian motives of the states intervening in Libya.
In a special plenary session on the theme "UN Alliance of Civilizations: A New Paradigm to Manage Intercultural Relations," with Beshir Atalay, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, and Kevin Rudd, Foreign Minister of Australia, as keynote speakers, Professor Köchler posed the question as to the rationale of an "alliance" of civilizations in comparison to "dialogue" among civilizations, and asked the two speakers, how, in their view, the principles and ideals of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations can be reconciled with the military interventions of some of the Alliance's supporting states ("Group of Friends") in Muslim countries.
On the sidelines of the Doha Forum, Professor Köchler discussed with the President of the Republic of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, the implications of cultural diversity on contemporary society and the development of the concept of the nation-state. He gave an interview for TV2 of Danish Television on the challenges of multiculturalism in Europe and met, among others, with the Coordinator of the Intersectoral Platform for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence at UNESCO, Katérina Stenou; the Communications Advisor to Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser of Qatar, Dr. Abdul Rahman Azzam; the Syrian-Orthodox Metropolitan of Aleppo, His Grace Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim; and the former United Nations Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith (USA).
Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, Chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and member of the High Level Group of the UN Alliance of Civilizations; the High Representative of the Alliance, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio; the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon; the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova; the President of Germany, Christian Wulff; Prince Hassan of Jordan; the President of Mongolia, Tsakhia Elbegdorj; Andrés Pastrana, former President of Colombia; and the Foreign Minister of Portugal, Paulo Portas, were among the keynote speakers of the Doha Forum. The Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, one of the architects of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, addressed the opening session via a recorded video message from Istanbul.
The President of Austria, Dr. Heinz Fischer, who attended the opening session, announced that the next Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations will be hosted by the Republic of Austria in Vienna.
International Progress Organization