Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Hans Köchler

Chairman, Department of Philosophy, University of Innsbruck, Austria

Life Fellow, International Academy for Philosophy (IAPh)

President of the International Progress Organization (I.P.O.)

Member of the International Advisory Board, “Youth for the Alliance of Civilizations” Initiative

A Philosophical Foundation for a Culture of Peace:

 An Insight for Community and Faith Leaders

Lecture delivered at the seminar on

 The Role of Community and Faith Leaders towards Promoting the Culture of Durable and Lasting Peace

 jointly organized by

 Jamiyah Singapore


 Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO)

 Singapore, 22 June 2007

I.P.O. Online Publications

International Progress Organization, A-1010 Vienna, Kohlmarkt 4, Austria

 © International Progress Organization, 2008


 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.



The attitude of what we call “responsible realism” will alone preserve the stability of today’s multicultural societies – and of the global multicultural (or multi-civilizational) society which mankind fast appears to become due to the dynamics of globalization, i. e. the rapid development of information and communication technologies.

Unlike in previous centuries, the domestic realities of multiculturalism are interwoven with multiculturalism at the international (or worldwide) level. The latter has become even more visible, and thus real, due to the dynamics of globalization with its means of instant and worldwide information and communication, bringing with it new threats of cultural uniformity and a subsequent loss of group identity, a process that may profoundly undermine each particular civilization’s (and socio-cultural community’s) unique world view and system of values. The discourse on a supposed “clash of civilizations” is seriously impacting this situation and, in a sense, obfuscating the real problem of civilizational rights and civilizational identity in our era of globalization.

Thus, the prospects of peace have to be assessed realistically under the circumstances of an increasingly fragile international order – which some (immediately after the end of the Cold War) have prematurely idolized as a “New World Order” of peace and justice among all nations. What we see, at the level of international relations, is – regrettable as it may be – the contrary. It is to be hoped that existing examples of successful – i.e. peaceful – multicultural co-operation at the domestic level, eventually going beyond mere co-existence, will have a positive impact on the regional as well as the global situation. Regrettably, due to large-scale Western interference at the military, political and cultural levels, the situation in the wider Middle Eastern region is not very encouraging and the gap between the differing perceptions of the world and the related value systems is becoming ever greater.

The failure – or even total collapse – of domestic co-existence in geopolitically vital countries (such as Iraq) or regions (such as Central Asia, e. g. Afghanistan) may adversely affect the climate of co-operation in other parts of the world and may lead to enduring global instability, not to speak of a worldwide confrontation along civilizational lines which, if it takes hold, it would be extremely difficult to contain. Such new threats emanate, inter alia, from the effective destruction of multicultural (and in particular multi-religious and multi-ethnic) societies such as that of Iraq by intervention of outside forces that follow a geopolitical design which is alien to the people of the respective region and which aims at implanting a system of values incompatible with the predominant religion – a system that is undoing the complex web of social interaction which hitherto has secured the internal stability of that polity.

The spirit of hatred and fanaticism, based in the crusader mentality of an earlier era (which has again become obvious in the essentially anti-Islamic “ideological crusade” now being waged under the pretext of creating a “New Middle East”), can only be countered effectively by a persistent reaffirmation of the principles of co-existence in the countries and regions where the multicultural social web (i.e. the network of co-operation among the different faiths and ethnic communities) has not yet been destroyed. This is also an issue of increasing relevance for Europe whose societies have increasingly become multicultural, but whose political elites do not yet know how to adequately deal with this novel situation.

In this context of “civilizational geopolitics,” I would like to emphasize the special role of multilateral organizations such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, but also the (differently structured) European Union, in working out a feasible alternative to the logic of confrontation which presently appears having taken roots in global affairs, a process by which the United Nations Organization has effectively been sidelined, even marginalized. In the absence of an international balance of power, the organization has in fact become “hostage” to the veto privilege of the Security Council’s most powerful member state. It is to be hoped that these regional organizations, together with other regional groupings such as ASEAN, will join forces and promote the spirit of co-operation particularly among religious communities within their member countries as well as between the regions of Europe and the Muslim world; these two regions undoubtedly play a key role in the geopolitics of the 21st century and may provide some leverage vis-à-vis the overwhelming power of the global hegemon, thus contributing to the future emergence of a truly “new” world order that will have to be multipolar in terms not only of civilizational diversity, but of power relations as well.

According to our experience in international NGO networks affiliated with the United Nations since almost four decades, a further ray of hope may lie in the grassroots movements at the local level in the different regions. The rationale – or philosophy – underlying efforts at genuine dialogue within countries (i.e. domestically) is undoubtedly the people’s awareness of sharing the same fate – something which is often elusive in the more abstract realm of world politics. More than in matters of global affairs, people at the local level are aware of the long-term dangers (or negative effects) of social discord: they know that by succumbing to distrust and mutual hatred, their very future – in a polity where all communities can freely realize their identity – is put in jeopardy. This grassroots awareness is of paradigmatic importance also for the international domain; it should gradually be transformed into a “global ethos” of co-existence among civilizations – a strategic goal that should be endorsed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the overall UN as well. Our NGO – the International Progress Organization (I.P.O.) – has been promoting this very goal since its foundation in 1972 and is committed to continue its efforts in close co-operation with other NGOs, particularly in the Muslim world.

What is actually at stake is being tragically, and most drastically, demonstrated by the events unfolding in Iraq since foreign intervention has destroyed not only the state structure, but the complex social fabric of which that country’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious polity was made up.

Summing up: Philosophical ethics, anthropology and common sense meet in the affirmation of the basic maxim of co-existence (which is also at the roots of universal civilizational hermeneutics): namely the imperative implied in the principle of mutuality – in the sense of the mutual recognition of social and cultural rights as stipulated in the respective United Nations Covenant of 1966. Mutuality is indeed the conditio sine qua non for a peaceful living together under diverse socio-cultural circumstances and in different regions of the world. In view of the increasingly fragile balance of civilizational relations (which is not only negatively affected, but existentially threatened, by the use of force for supposedly “civilizational” goals, often carried out under the disguise of “humanitarian intervention”) and in the absence of a balance of power, that principle’s level of application will be the defining criterion of the stability of world order – and it will directly affect the conditions of co-operation not only between civilizations and religions at the transnational level, but within regions as well as countries. World peace is indeed a function of civilizational harmony.


Hans Köchler’s initiatives and writings on civilizational dialogue: