BRIDGE AMONG CIVILIZATIONS-LOOKING FOR COMMON VALUES
Mediterranean Institute, Barcelona, 26 June 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great pleasure indeed to address such a distinguished audience and on such a “hot” topic.
The clashes between individuals, communities, peoples or nations are as old as the history of human kind. Various reasons may have been used as a pretext for these clashes, but the most common one may be the feeling of being different from the “other”. This “otherness” may stem from ethnic, cultural, social, religious or economic differences.
.For a long period in the human history the religion was one of the most distinctive features that made a person different from another person.
It was natural to consider the adherents of another religion as the “other”. It was probably natural also to look at this “other” as a potential threat. The salient element that made a person, a community, a people “the other” may have evolved as the time went by.
The religion may have been used as a pretext, because it was easier to motivate masses by addressing to their pious feelings.
Despite the fact that the three monotheistic religions, that is to say Islam, Christianity and Judaism, share innumerable common values, religious wars between these religions dominated a very important part of the history of the last 2 000 years. Many destructive wars were fought not only among these three religions but also between various sects of the same religions.
After the emergence of nation-States, the nationalistic feelings started to be used instead of the religious feelings to motivate the masses to go to war. There were lesser references to the religious differences during this period as a cause of armed conflicts.
Later in the history, ideologies such as communism and capitalism became as strong a pretext as the nationalism to motivate people as opponents of each other. Capitalism and communism regarded each other with utmost suspicion. Huge financial resources were mobilized to arm the nations for the sake of protection against the threat that was supposed to come from the “other” side. Now that communism ceased to be a threat, there is a search for a new pretext to demonize the “others”.
Samuel Huntington theorised that a Clash of Civilizations could replace earlier pretexts. It remains to be seen whether this theory will prove to be true.
The 9/11 attacks gave the supporters of the Huntington theory an excellent opportunity to put the blame not on the perpetrators of the attacks but on an entire religion, in this particular case on Islam. It was easy to do so, because the perpetrators tried to justify their attacks claiming that they were defending an Islamic cause.
The US military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq are carried out as a response to these attacks. However, instead of eliminating the root cause of such attacks, it spread the terrorism to a wider geographical area and to various social levels. The terrorist gang that carried out the 9/11 attacks was able to use the US occupation of these two countries and the misconduct of the occupation forces as an opportunity to spread its ideology to a wider public and to recruit more terrorists.
On the other hand, the xenophobia that existed in certain countries transformed itself, after the 9/11 attacks, into islamophobia. The introduction of this concept into the vocabulary of the international relations widened the fault line between Islam and Christianity and increased the tension between the adherents of these two religions.
Every effort has to be made to defuse the tension between the two sides of this cultural fault line. However, the fault line does not exist only between Islam and Christianity. It exists also between Jews and Muslims in Palestine. Within the sectarian framework, it also exists between the Protestants and Catholics of the Northern Ireland and between Shia and Sunnis in Iraq. At the ethnic level, it exists in the Balkans between Croats and Serbs and between Kossovar Albanians and the Serbs.
Our efforts have to be focused now on what could be done to reduce tension between the two sides of various conflicts. There are several initiatives are already under way in various areas:
a) One of them that is called the “Alliance of Civilizations” and it does not an introduction in Spain since one of the Co-Chairmen of this initiative is His Excellency Aznar, the Prime Minister of Spain. A Turkish participant in this meeting will be failing his duty if he does not mention this initiative, since the other Co-Chairman is His Excellency Mr. Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey. This initiative is placed under the auspices of the Secretary General of the United Nations. It thus has a wider coverage in the international community than other similar initiatives.
The UN Secretary General appointed His Excellency Mr. Sampaio, the former President of the Republic of Portugal as his Special Representative for this Alliance.
This initiative is already making a difference. The strong global interest in the initiative proves that the international community prefers an environment of cooperation rather than confrontation.
The initiative has established a High Level Group, composed of Ministerial level representatives. It has drafted a report containing a Plan of Action. This Plan is now moving into the implementation stage and is strengthening the institutional structure of the Alliance of Civilizations.
The Alliance has also a Group of Friends, formed within the United Nations. This Group now includes more than 80 countries and international organizations. The Group provides a useful platform for discussing strategic issues and channelling concrete support for the implementation process.
Here I would like to say a few words on the possible role that Turkey could play in bridging the gap between the two sides of the religious divide, because the concept of “bridge” occupies a central role in our approach in this meeting. Here, we are talking of two types of bridges: One is a bridge in the geographical sense; the other is a bridge between two cultures. Turkey qualifies to be a bridge in both senses of the word. It is located in a geographical area that links the Balkans to the Middle East and Europe to Asia. It also links the Black Sea basin to the Mediterranean basin through the Turkish Straits. This is the reason why Napoleon used to tell the Russian Tsar that the control of the Turkish Straits is equivalent to the world empire.
Turkey is also a cultural bridge. It is located in a region where, for centuries, virtually all major religions existed and moreover, co-habited, most of the time peacefully. The different experiences, practices, traditions, values of different peoples merged and fused to make up a unique indigenous combination. Indeed, Anatolia practically saved and accumulated the common heritage of mankind in the real sense of the word and passed it over from generations to generations. It is not surprising at all that the Ottoman Administration was inspired by this distinctive tradition and it refined this tradition even further. As a result of this, the Ottoman Administration allowed all the different peoples of the vast territories it ruled to preserve their own religious, cultural and other identities.
The dust did not yet entirely settle in the Balkans and in the Middle East after the withdrawal of the Ottoman administration from these regions at the beginning of the last century. Ethnic and religious balance that was established by the Ottoman rule was not substituted with other equally efficient mechanisms.
– b) Another initiative is launched under the title of 2008 European Year of Cultural Dialogue. This initiative is part of a process that was started in the meeting of EuroMed Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Tampere (27-28 November 2006). The Ministers of Culture of the EuroMed partner countries held their third meeting within this framework on 29-30 May 2008, in Athens. It was organized on the occasion of “European Year of Intercultural Dialogue” and “EuroMed Year of Dialogue Between Cultures” and the key theme of the Conference focused on Intercultural Dialogue. The conference marked the launching of EuroMed Strategy on Culture.
c) A third initiative was started by the Anna Lindh Foundation. It is called the “Anna Lindh EuroMed Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures”. This Foundation has initiated “1001 Action for Dialogue” on the occasion of 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue and the Euro-Mediterranean Year for Intercultural Dialogue. The main aim of the campaign is to mobilize civil society groups across the region to unite in a collective action for dialogue and to engage the wider public and opinion-makers on the importance of intercultural dialogue in challenging conflict and discrimination in the region.
c) The fourth initiative is the process of Summit meetings among the countries of Southeast Europe. This process started in Ohrid, Macedonia, in 2003. The title of the process is the “Dialogue Among Civilizations”. Itaims at fostering intercultural and inter-religious dialogue in the region by promoting mutual respect and recognition of cultural identity and heritage. The policies and the instruments adopted by the Summit proved to be timely, useful and relevant. It addressed the urgent needs and requirements of the region.
The Summit has brought together the regional countries around a vital common purpose: understanding and respecting each others identity and culture and thus living together in peace and harmony. The international organisations UNESCO, Council of Europe and EU offered their expertise in protecting the region’s cultural heritage in a context of sustainable development. The Next meeting of the Summit is scheduled to be held in Athens on 13 June 2008.
A streamlining of these initiatives may reveal both duplications and complementarities. Next step in this area may be to carry out such a streamlining and promote the initiatives that are the most target-oriented.
I would like to conclude my words by emphasizing that there is no other alternative but promoting dialogue and cooperation between the two sides of various dividing lines, first and foremost of them being a closer dialogue and cooperation between different cultures.