Dr M. Manzoor Alam
At the Inaugural Session of the Conference "Inter-Civilisational Dialogue in
a Globalising World"
organised by the Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi
April 8, 2005
honourable Justice A. M. Ahmadi, Mr. Shivraj Patil, Minister for Home
Affairs, Govt. of India, Dr. Anwar Ibrahim, Mrs. Sheila Dikshit, Dr.
Abdullah Omer Nasseef, Dr. Karan Singh, Dr. Adel A. Al-Falah, Archbishop Dr.
Vincent Concessao, Your Excellencies, delegates from various parts of the
country and abroad, representatives of the media, ladies and gentleman, I
feel honoured, priviledged and humbled to welcome you to this august
gathering in the capital of India, which is one of the world’s most
ancient and dynamic civilisations and a perfect example of multi-culturalism.
Heir to a brilliant,
composite cultural legacy, this county is poised for a giant leap into a
future of technological leadership, economic prosperity and cultural
flowering. It is in the fitness of things that the momentous three-day event
that begins now should take place in New Delhi.
My great friend
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, a votary of “Asian values” comes from Malaysia, a
country that calls itself “Truly Asia”. We have amidst us the one and the
only Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, a man of extraordinary learning and
erudition, Dy Speaker of Saudi Arabia’s Majlise-Shura, which is their
National Assembly. A man of great vision and compassion, Dr. Naseef will
tell us how to go about having a more peaceful and humane world. We are also
fortunate to have among us the dynamic Dr. Adel al-Falah, a senior
government official from Kuwait who has dedicated himself to social causes.
India holds a mirror
to the world, in which virtually all civilisations and racial groups can see
themselves. With its amazing diversity of flora and fauna, climates, beliefs
and ways of worship, racial types and cultural patterns, India is the right
setting in which deliberations of such far-reaching consequences as
scheduled for the next three days should be taking place.
With a cutting edge
technological infrastructure and world class human resource base, a buoyant
economy that moves ahead at a fast clip of around 7 percent yearly growth,
India is emerging as a major international presence. The deep anchor of
civilisational values, a remarkable Constitution and thriving democracy
ensure that the march into a prosperous future is not derailed.
We are to examine
the ways and means of fostering inter-civilisational dialogue in a
globalising world. Let us begin by trying to see whether we can come to some
commonly agreed upon idea of what globalisation itself means and what are
its promises and perils. Like most people in the developing world, I have
mixed feelings about the relentless onrush of globalisation, which threatens
to inundate us with entirely unfamiliar cultural patterns, modes of
production and consumption, and new social and moral orientations.
raises expectations of a better quality of life for the middle and upper
middle classes in the years ahead it also threatens to disrupt older life
patterns, impoverish local communities and destroy livelihoods at less
economically developed levels.
Globalisation is a
double-edged sword that cuts both ways: it can accelerate economic
development and prosperity of ever larger number of people worldwide, but it
can also destabilise less developed societies and deepen inequities. The
developing world had been assured that globalisation would have a humane
face, but the promise is yet to be fulfilled in any meaningful measure. A
humane face would ultimately help the markets, globalisation’s reigning
deity, as much as it would helped the common people. A humane face is
ultimately in the interest of us all.
tends to create and aggravate inequity among countries; however, it entails
a contraction of the world and collapsing of distances because of growing
air travel, internet and e-mail. New military technologies, that enable
powerful countries to strike with extraordinary swiftness and devastating
fire power, have made the weaker countries more vulnerable to diplomatic
pressure. New doctrines like Total Spectrum Dominance and Pre-emptive
Strike make things more uncertain in a world where old doctrines of
international legitimacy are giving way to more innovative ideas. The world
has become more dangerous after the Cold War.
In this backdrop of
an entirely changed geo-political climate we are meeting here. It is clear
why an inter-civilisational dialogue is needed today more than at any other
time in the past. The question of inter-civilisational dialogue has at its
centre the issues of “identity”, “otherness” and “hybridity”, to use
familiar terms from related academic discourse. In short, it is about who we
are, and who are the others who are not “we”. It is also about “in-betweenness”,
that is, hybrid identities that combine elements of different, often
contesting, identities like the Jewish citizen of Nazi Germany, in the
extreme instance. However, on a closer analysis most identities are composed
of different elements without any conflict among those elements.
Coming from an
Indo-Islamic background I knew early on from personal experience that God
had intended the world to have a plural character, a home to all colours,
creeds and castes. The Quran clearly lays out that if God had so wanted He
would have made everyone a Muslim. From this and from my social milieu I
learnt that difference had not only to be tolerated, but accepted, even
celebrated. This is how in the great cauldron of time all manner of
civilisations have come together to form a larger human civilisation with
almost standardised norms of civility, compassion and truthfulness.
world in which we live is not perfect. But somehow it got more imperfect
with the publication in the 90s of Prof. Samuel P. Huntington’s famous
article “Clash of Civilisations and the Making of a New World Order” in the
American journal Foreign Affairs. The article was such a sensation
that Prof. Huntington came up with a book with the same title, expanding on
the theme. It presented a frightening picture of conflict between
civilisations in the years ahead. Western Christianity (as opposed to the
Orthodox Church) was alleged to be on a headlong collision course with the
world of Islam, which would possibly be supported by the Chinese
civilisation. This idea was publicly rejected by some of the top Western
political leaders and academics. However, following the 9/11 attacks the war
in Afghanistan and Iraq came to confirm some of our worst fears about Prof.
That the conflict
could escalate to assume the proportions of a truly inter-civilisational
scale was evident from Paul Wolfowitz’s claim that nearly 60 countries could
be on target in a “rolling war” that could last more than a decade. True to
his claims the war rolled on to Iraq after making mincemeat of the Taliban.
It is no coincidence that if we exclude North Korea the number of targeted
countries is almost identical to the membership of Organisation of Islamic
Conference (OIC). That we had been moving dangerously towards a future which
nobody really wanted was quite obvious.
By the time of the
Millennium Summit at the UN, a counter movement was well on its way. It was
called Dialogue Between Civilisations and had the full backing of the UN and
the world community, which was determined to pull back from the precipice
and start a positive trend. Although men like Nehru, Gandhi – and in our own
time Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim – had been working on the idea since much
earlier, many clear voices were heard in its favour, including those of UN
Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iranian President Syed Mohammad Khatami.
Since then the support for it has grown exponentially.
Welcoming you here I
have the extraordinary role played by New Delhi in mind in the formation and
leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement, the movement for the liberation of
Afro-Asian people, and now the movement for a just world order and dialogue
between civilisations. Two years ago, the Government of India had hosted a
similar meet here, which was inaugurated by the Prime Minister and attended
by delegates from 80 countries.
This time round the
initiative has been taken by an NGO, the Institute of Objective Studies
(IOS) which shows that in India, like other democracies, non-state actors
play a significant role in public life. In fact, IOS has been at the
forefront of the dialogue between communities, faiths and civlisations since
its inception in 1986. The IOS has been contributing significant research in
social sciences and articulating issues of concern to national and
international life. We have an exhibition outside this auditorium on IOS
which says it all in pictures.
With this I welcome
you all again and invite you to don your thinking caps.