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UNESCO - Dialogue among Civilizations

How we see others,
how others see us

Proceedings of the International Symposium
Paris, 13 and 14 December 2001

Round-table Debates

This debate follows up the various papers presented at the symposium ‘Civilizations: how we see others, how others see us’. The speakers who participated in the three half-day meetings took part in a general discussion structured around questions raised at the end of each meeting. Reprinted here are excerpts from this fruitful debate that covered a wide array of topics concerning different historical periods and included burning topical questions, while emphasizing the key role of intellectuals and researchers in the transmission of dialogue.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

Listening to these high-quality presentations has given us new insights and raised questions about the crucial issue of civilizations as seen by others. We have now reached the moment of interaction and exchange, and therefore of true dialogue.

Thank you, Mr François Weil, for participating in this closing meeting on behalf of the Ministry of Scientific Research. Your presence validates UNESCO’s approach to furthering dialogue among civilizations by mobilizing intellectuals and researchers, and also involving governments and states.

François Weil, Technical Adviser for Human and Social Sciences at the Office of the Minister of Scientific Research

Thank you, Mr President, for your words of welcome. I am here this afternoon to represent Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg, to listen and to learn. I see that two prestigious institutions prepared the symposium programme: UNESCO and the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), whose eminent position in the French intellectual and scientific landscape is well known. What strikes me in this symposium and this partnership is a strong signal of this institution’s determination to forge ahead with its own history, and I view the topic dealt with here as one of the major intellectual questions confronting us at the start of this twenty-first century. The message I have pleasure in conveying on behalf of the Minister is a keen interest first and foremost in the topic but also in the institution that has organized this symposium along with UNESCO.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

Before opening the debate, I feel a few preliminary comments may be in order. First, to ensure that this debate on dialogue among civilizations does not become instrumentalized or ideologized, or remain abstract, it is important to state in what capacity we are here. Here, I speak not only as Director of the Division of Intercultural Dialogue but also as a Senegalese and as an African. The concept of dialogue constitutes a central pillar in African life, one that has often been neglected by historians and anthropologists who are outsiders to the African continent. For a long time, connotations of a continent devoid of culture or of a ‘no man’s land’ in terms of civilization lurked behind the term ‘black continent’ or, more significantly, the English term ‘dark continent’. The perceptions of others have produced all the well-known cultural prejudices about the African continent. I also come from Senegal, a country where the value of humankind is expressed by a proverb ‘man is the medicine of man’ and not, as in the West, ‘man is a wolf to man’ (lupus est homo homini). This traditional and ancient culture of dialogue also explains the fact that the Archbishop of Senegal’s brother is the Imam of the mosque of a small town near Dakar.

I would also like you to think about the fact that most of the speakers here have developed their arguments on the basis of written, often European, texts. This has partially overshadowed the fundamental importance of orality in the dialogue among cultures and civilizations.

Three proverbs gave us an insight into the depth of oral traditions and practices in exchange, communication, and therefore dialogue. One of them, from Africa – ‘In the forest, when the branches of trees argue, their roots are locked in an embrace’ – eloquently, almost visually, illustrates the ways and means of dialogue. This proverb highlights the importance of dialectic, of the universal and of the particular in dialogue between civilizations. In fact, we can consider the branches of trees to be the expression of the immense cultural, spiritual and ethnic diversity of the world, and their roots the invisible, yet deep-seated expression of unity and universality.

It is appropriate here to ask ourselves what is meant by the notion of how others see us. This has often been reduced to its outer dimension, to its ability to capture the visible, tangible, concrete and ultimately aesthetic aspect of cultures and civilizations. But in fact everything leads us to believe that it is the inner eye, the one belonging to the roots and to the intangible, but also to the underlying forces, that forms the true foundation of a lasting dialogue among cultures and civilizations. This understanding allows us to challenge or to transcend the notion that, for example, the palace of Versailles bears witness to a civilization ‘superior’ to that of a Dogon mask.

Another proverb, from a different cultural area, the Silk Roads, on which I worked for a long time. It is an Iranian proverb and it says: ‘When a Turkish dog comes in here, it barks in Persian’. The proverb expresses the complexity and also the fundamental importance of the dialectic between nomadic and sedentary cultures. It highlights the importance of the prejudices, perceptions and certainly misconceptions inherent in dialogue between cultures where urban civilizations have often considered themselves superior to nomadic cultures. The paper by Ms Hamayon and Ms Aubin on Mongol civilization sheds light on this crucial debate. Indeed, it is Mongol civilization that lies behind the extreme sophistication of a monument such as the Taj Mahal even though an image of violence and destruction dominates our perception of this civilization. What I would like to ask you to consider is the idea that the others’ perceptions have often obscured and ignored the important factor of contact, interaction and cross-fertilization in dialogue among cultures and civilizations. If we keep to the Mongol example, what is important in the long term is not the military aspect of expansion under Genghis Khan, but the deep and lasting interactions between Mongol, Turkish, Persian, Indian and other civilizations.

Finally, the third proverb is a response to Mr Guerra’s paper, which, in my opinion, did not accord sufficient importance to the African dimension in the construction and dynamic of American and Caribbean cultures. The proverb comes from the people living high on the Andean plateaux of Peru, and says: ‘Whoever does not descend from the Incas descends from the Mandikas’, meaning that Amerindian and African roots compose the core of many Peruvians’ identities.

Finally, in order to illustrate the complexity of the issue of perception, I will conclude with Africa’s view of colonization, characterized by three M words: the monk, the military and the merchant. The Monk, often on first contact with non-European peoples, spoke to them of love and universality, but ignored the traditions and values of these societies. The Military then imposed by fire and sword a colonial order where dialogue had no place. Finally, the Merchant has been the instrument used to introduce and impose foreign cultural models and practices.

I would now like to open the debate with a question addressed to Ms Aubin: The mythification of historical characters to ideological ends is a topic of great interest. In the case of Genghis Khan, for example, does the myth foster rapprochement, conflicts or mutual forms of exclusion among fighting peoples or those who appropriate the myth?

Roberte Hamayon, Director of Studies at EPHE

Genghis Khan was a warrior hero of his time and Françoise Aubin demonstrated the extent to which history has been rewritten, and how our knowledge of it is a Western construction inherited from Persian accounts that all post-date the actual period of Genghis Khan by about a century. Ms Aubin has attempted, as have other colleagues, to return to the original sources that fabulate less about Genghis Khan. What is most interesting is that Genghis Khan is now thought of in completely new terms. Today, he is seen as a Buddhist divinity (statues of him are to be found in most yurts, houses and apartments in Ulan Bator). He is not represented with a sword in his hand, but with a book; he does not bear arms and is considered to be the founder of Mongol civilization and of the laws that constitute its state.

I would like to explain why this has become the dominant conception today. Without establishing a relationship of cause and effect between nomadic organization and specific societal and power structures, correlations do exist, especially in the region of the steppe, particularly the dispersion of groups and the fact that these societies are so organized as to prevent concentration of all effective power in one person. The real power is one based on strength and is, consequently, ephemeral; powers connected to societal status are fragmented to allow the circulation of power among all groups. For the nomads, this concept is associated with freedom, and they consider incorporation into a state to be an impediment to or breach of this freedom. The steppe peoples have always been torn between two rather contradictory trends: the temptation to have sufficient political power, which has meant joining ranks in order to carry out raids on sedentary peoples to lay hands on goods that the nomads lack, while at the same time taking care to maintain their freedom and circulate power among groups, which they consider to be a form of equality.

Finally, it remains a mystery why the Mongols living in Mongolia are the only ones to truly claim Genghis Khan as a figurehead around whom to rally, as I mentioned earlier. Siberian Mongols, for example, do not defer to him, and invoke a reworked Latin Caesar-figure instead. Others call forth other figures still. The Mongols are the only ones to truly claim him as a central figure and, at the same time, they are the only ones who have had a state, a state structure strictly speaking, in the past.

I would like to refer to Mr Grabar’s conclusion, where he mentioned that we could perhaps consider these facts, like those concerning the figure of Alexander the Great, in the light of the myth of the Other as king, or alternatively, of the myth of the king as Other. I think that in the history of these nomadic peoples of Central Asia, the cultural dynamics, or socio-political dynamics, of societal transformations have almost always involved borrowed figures and, in our discussion of dialogue among civilizations, I would like to emphasize the notion of borrowing. Borrowing is by no means done in order to fully appropriate a foreign model. Often the borrowing is a mere formality, but since its object is not well known within the society, it is likely to be manipulated by the borrowers. The point is not to copy a model, but to be inspired by it, to have an outside reference in order to retrieve one’s values, which occurs when society is in some way deadlocked and cannot move forward by itself; that is when borrowing is called for. Conversely, I would say that we Westerners who see a number of borrowed Eastern religions flourish among us are surprised to see that they differ from their models. I believe that resorting to something else in order to be able to re-examine ourselves is part of the whole issue of borrowing. I would like to hear Mr Grabar’s point of view on the subject.

Oleg Grabar, Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

I think the relationship between king and other, other and king is correct. It is curious that Macedonia does not celebrate Alexander the Great as a hero, as he was Macedonian. This is because he foreshadowed, I said the Abbasids, but I think especially the Mongols. It is not an accident that the illustrations I gave immediately follow the Mongol conquest; that began in the fourteenth century, and that is where Alexander the Great is shown as the great king who becomes an Iranian king.

The case of Genghis Khan, and especially of Tamerlane (Timur), is slightly more complicated. Tamerlane proclaims himself a descendant of Genghis Khan on the funerary inscription on his tomb, but as he also claims to be the descendant of Ali (nephew of the Prophet) the inscription makes him a Muslim. This brings me to the modern world: nobody speaks of Alexander today, whereas Tamerlane is to be found everywhere, in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. He has become a national hero in places where he never was before. Why? That is a different story. I believe in the notion that the king is Other because his own people cannot have a king, and so it is the foreigner that becomes king. We find this idea expressed on a different level in the way the Arabs related to Saladin, who, in spite of not being Arab, became a great Arab hero nevertheless.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

A question for Mr Bacqué-Grammont: In Turkey, at a period closer to us, the time of Atatürk, was there an ethnocentric vision among the people and the governing forces, as seems to have existed during the reign of Babur, or was it a new era of tolerance, of alterity as we understand the term today?

Jean-Louis Bacqué-Grammont, Director of Research at CNRS

It is a complex question because it must be seen in context. Of all the peoples that comprised the former Ottoman Empire, the main element, that is the Turkish element, Turkish and Muslim, is certainly the last one to have gained awareness of its ethnicity, its Turkishness. The storm of the First World War drowned this awareness in a cataclysm, from which present-day Turkey emerged only to experience a war of independence and Atatürk’s highly specific precepts regarding national awareness, which are applied in Turkey to this day. Atatürk categorically condemned anything resembling ‘pan-Turkism’, in other words any attempt to unite the Turkish-speaking peoples of all Asian regions, once a great but short-lived dream. Turkish authorities never went back on this categorical condemnation. Atatürk reoriented Turkish nationalism towards Asia Minor, towards the new Turkish national territory, and sought national roots in the Asia Minor of antiquity, rather than in the ancient Islamic world or in Central Asia. And so the evolution that began in the middle of the twentieth century has resulted in a fairly cohesive nation with a national identity and an extremely strong sense of identity, but one that neither scorns its neighbours nor has any excessive consideration for them. There is little evidence of any openly hostile sentiment towards foreign or domestic communities. Here is a short answer to a complex question.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

Mr Baubérot asked Ms Ségolène Demougin the following question: You mentioned the existence of a double attraction between Roman ruling forces subsequently conquered by those they had just defeated and conquered peoples hoping to blend into Roman society. Could you explain the original linkage there between the preservation of cultural diversity, the achievement of cultural blending and political unity? And a second question: You said that nineteenth-century European imperialism was deeply inspired by Roman imperialism. But in its reference to Roman imperialism, did nineteenth-century imperialism not forget this linkage to a large extent?

Ségolène Demougin, Director of Studies at EPHE

My talk was extremely succinct and did not allow me to go into the details of the highly complex situation that Italy represented between the tenth and fourth centuries bc, when many cultures coexisted there. The existence of the Greek settlement is especially important, since they would be the ones to truly conquer the Romans. The Romans had contact with Greek cities, and increasingly so as they advanced through southern Italy. But the great shock occurred when the Romans discovered the great Hellenistic monarchies wholly superior to them where culture, though not politics, was concerned. What is surprising in the Roman system is that not only did the Romans adopt a number of Hellenistic practices in cultural, intellectual and educational areas, but that at the same time they succeeded in giving these areas with common customs, such as language, a common political education (the Greek spoken in Asia Minor at the time is called koinè, which means the common language, not pure and classical Greek, but rather Greek understandable by everybody). The Roman provinces show how this common political education worked: on the one hand territorially they remained Roman tax-paying areas, but at the same time they preserved their distinctive characteristics, and that was what made Rome a success. Political unity was not created solely by conquest; it was a two-way road, with the Romans explaining just how important their own citizenship was, and those in the Greek-speaking countries (to take an example of where people were accustomed to multiple citizenship rights) recognizing the advantages that Roman citizenship offered. On the western side of the empire, in regions like Hispania and Gaul, the attraction of Roman citizenship played the same role. After conquering the Gauls, Caesar quickly understood that the conquest ought to be immediately followed by shared citizenship. Indeed, very soon afterwards Roman citizens appeared in all three Gauls, even though initially this plan was aimed at the elites: the princes of Gaul were the first to be drawn to the city and to become Roman citizens. However, it is true that, culturally, the western provinces were less attractive, and inspired Rome less, although there is the example of a prestigious school of Latin rhetoric in the first century ad, whose rector from Bordeaux received considerable acclaim on coming to Rome.

Now, turning to your second question: it is a fact that Roman imperialism inspired European colonization. Let us take the example of the Maghreb, where there are texts showing how colonization was conceived of in Algeria. The notion of the soldier-ploughman, of the Roman veteran placed in a colony and given a plot of land by sword and plough, represents the Algerian mythology found in the nineteenth century and conveyed mainly by French officers.

French officers’ journals from about 1848–50 published recently include a particularly interesting one written by an officer who was the colonel of Carbuccia, an educated Corsican who found himself in command of the Legion regiments in Lambez. His journal is fascinating, as he considers himself the absolute successor, though not the direct descendant, of the great forefathers of the Third Augusta Legion, and what is more, has a passion for archaeology: ‘I had excavations done by my soldiers, and they were so enthusiastic that they would go and dig after their day’s work’. He also writes that, upon discovering the tomb of one of the commanders of III Augusta, he made his entire regiment parade in front of it and lay down arms before the commander buried there. There is clearly direct inspiration from Roman imperialism.

I mentioned the example of Algeria, but when we study other countries conquered by France, we again see in the nineteenth century how colonization, though an annexation, serves to spread civilization by way of the settler who is an avatar of the Roman colonist. Now the Roman colonist was a soldier and a veteran who was settled somewhere. Analysing Mussolini’s fascist regime in the twentieth century, we find exactly the same ideology behind the dispatching of Italian settlers to Africa between 1925–26 and 1938: following in the footsteps of the great ancestors, we did as they did and we sent Italians to propagate our ‘civilization’.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

Two questions for Mr le Rider: you seemed very sceptical about cultural policies on linguistic diversity. Are there measures that would seem useful to you in France? And do you think it is possible none the less to identify cultural areas that could elicit joint, coordinated initiatives?

Jacques Le Rider, Director of Studies at EPHE

I was indeed sceptical about linguistic policies, both foreign policies and domestic policies, within a state. It is true that the example I had in mind was Hapsburg Austria at the end of the eighteenth century, at the time of ‘Josephism’ and the enlightened despotism that embarked on a policy of rationalization, centralization and Germanization of the multicultural monarchy. But these attempts only resulted in the radicalization of national movements and, though originally intended to consolidate the monarchy, actually weakened it considerably. Since the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many examples of authoritarian linguistic policies in Eastern as well as Western Europe have yielded disastrous results. 

Today, the problem facing a pluralistic and democratic society like France is maintaining linguistic diversity. And on this score we have encountered serious difficulties since the efforts undertaken by those in charge of the education system have not succeeded in maintaining linguistic plurality in France, in terms of proficiency in living foreign languages among young French students graduating from secondary schools and universities. We are heading towards what is commonly called ‘all-English’, with the perceptible decline of languages such as German and Italian that, for decades, were thought to have a solid future. The only languages that manage to survive are those with an ethnic foundation and I consider this a most unfortunate development as it contradicts a certain humanistic ideal of teaching foreign languages and civilizations. It would be most unsatisfactory if in France only Germans, Austrians and Swiss Germans, and children of mixed marriages, manage to keep up the German language.

These, then, are the reasons for my scepticism, which is not a question of principle but stems merely from anxiety and perplexity. What can be done to steer the right course between authoritarian linguistic policies, which are incompatible with our liberal conception of culture and education, and a laissez-faire policy that would lead to a misconceived homogenization under the banner of globalization, in which even our British friends would be unable to recognize their own identity?

The second question I was asked refers to cultural transfers that operate spontaneously in Europe, all the while challenging the possibility of a European cultural policy.

Personally, I do not challenge the possibility of a European cultural policy because spontaneously and sincerely I would like it to happen, but I can see how extremely difficult it would be to design and implement. If you ask me for areas that could elicit joint initiatives, I would mention two here, which follow directly from my paper. The first would be that we should tackle, a little more resolutely than we have done until now, the question of integrating candidate countries from Eastern and Central Europe. It seems that until now the question has been dealt with from an economic, commercial, perhaps also political and legal point of view, but that little progress has been made on the cultural front after the initial wave of enthusiasm that followed the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is one area in which the European Union could organize itself and share resources and ideas. 

The second fundamentally important theme as I see it stems from the fact that all member countries of the European Union are today, in their foreign ministries (or, in Germany’s case, at the Goethe Institute as an auxiliary partner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), confronted with the heritage of a cultural policy developed at the time of culturally distinct nation-states and nationally designed foreign cultural policies. I believe it would be very useful to reflect upon and act jointly to convert these national systems of cooperation and cultural dissemination into new, more multilateral approaches to cultural, educational and scientific cooperation programmes. For example, currently in the Franco-German sphere what I see is the sometimes contradictory coexistence of a bilateral cooperation system and a multilateral European idea of cultural, educational and scientific cooperation. This contradiction leads to considerable wastage of funds, and hence results that fall short of expectations.

Antoine Valéry, Chairman of the Human Rights and Ethics Committee of the French National Commission for UNESCO

There is a question by Ms Françoise Aubin that seems more like a suggestion and leaves me rather puzzled: Think of the theory of the specificity of human rights in Asia, a theory widespread in India, that is to say among half of humanity.

Jean Chesneaux, Professor Emeritus at the University of Paris VII

I can guess what Ms Aubin is alluding to even though I too am puzzled by the grammatical structure of the note: is it a reminder or a critical question? Personally, I would read it as a critical question referring to what is known as new Asiatism. It is an argument commonly heard in some circles and it runs something like this: ‘human rights are but a particular product of local Western culture and we do not belong to that culture. We have our trees and we do with them what we wish, we burn them, we destroy our forests, but that is our business, we have our intellectuals, we put them in jail, we do what we want with them, it is our business’. Obviously, I am exaggerating, but still this is the basic tenet of new Asiatism: ‘Do not interfere in our affairs; you are just Westerners and you represent no more than a cultural subset and have no right to make universal claims’. Does the wording of Ms Aubin’s question mean to remind us of this current of opinion that ought to be taken seriously, but that she herself remains distant from? I have made no secret of the fact that this is my position as well. We also need to remind ourselves that there are Western intellectuals, and a number of them at that, who have chosen to go the way of what we call cultural relativism, which means considering the plurality of cultures positive to the point of denying the universal character of human rights.

Antoine Valéry

The question was directed to me as a legal expert, and I had come to a similar conclusion – that we were dealing with new Asiatism. I would tend to say that the term ‘denial’ you used is so apt that it chills our spine. This word, especially for a legal expert, is far from neutral, since we know what denials of human rights have meant since 1948. During the Cold War there was a particular form of denial of human rights; we spoke of economic rights but carefully avoided speaking of political rights. Therefore this new Asiatism remains to be defined since it is new, but not really new.

Jean Chesneaux

Nevertheless, it is a banner that has been raised with a cogently argued, quasi-doctrinal, rationale in various circles. Four or five years ago the journal Esprit dedicated a whole issue to new Asiatism. The concept has already taken shape.

Antoine Valéry

What I would like to stress is that new Asiatism, just like any other theory that is to some extent not negative, but rather ‘denialist’, if you will permit the neologism, where human rights are concerned, has its limitations. When it comes down to it, states or peoples, or communities, that to a greater or lesser degree deny the universal character of human rights, usually tend to pick and choose whichever of these rights interest them. Let us take the example of the Universal Declaration, since that was the subject of my talk, where we find peoples selecting such or such clause that brings grist to their mill. The Eastern bloc’s position during the Cold War exemplifies this point – it placed all the emphasis on the economic and social provisions of the United Nations Covenant to the exclusion of all else. 

If we consider Hindu or Indian theory, it is extraordinary to see how law has evolved in India. Indian law tends to be inspired by present-day Western legal norms, which has allowed the country to adopt part of the Universal Declaration even though it was adopted by a United Nations General Assembly that was extremely limited at the time and, what is more, stemmed from Western Enlightenment values. In the final analysis, the Universal Declaration is somewhat like a Decalogue.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

Getting away from somewhat compact terms such as ‘new Asiatism’ and ‘denial’, I feel particularly involved in this debate as an African, since behind the debate on the clash of civilizations is the question of the dialectic between universal value and specific value.

As Mr Valéry mentioned, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was developed within a context determined by certain countries, quite legitimately, taking into account the circumstances and dangers they had recently experienced, while a number of cultural areas and peoples did not participate in the drafting of the document, even though they recognize it.

The question posed, therefore, is the dialectic between the universal and the specific, and perhaps the best way to answer it is to consider the universal as a construction, since what our nations experienced during this debate on dialogue among civilizations is a universal mirror. The West told us: ‘we shall be universal, but be universal like me’. Though not the reasoning of all Westerners, such is the global discourse and practice. At stake now is whether it is possible – and it is possible through various international mechanisms, conventions, international conferences on the major issues of the day – to consider the universal as a construction to which every nation and civilization contributes. This means that the relative is a step towards the universal, that my Senegalese culture exists with my values and that these are not values of seclusion, but rather a step towards attaining the universal, a rich, pluralistic and constructed universal. 

Mounir Bouchenaki, Assistant Director-General for Culture, UNESCO

Today’s debate seems extremely important to me and raises questions that would indeed warrant opening up new fields of discussion. The reactions of those who asked questions clearly demonstrate how very topical are a number of points relating to ‘the universal, the particular, dialogue and the perception of the other’, and how deeply they concern societies and individuals alike. The question addressed to me relates to television as a powerful means of sharing and expressing cultural diversity, and whether public television networks, at least, could take some action in this respect.

For the past fifty years, UNESCO has been trying to reconcile thought and action. Thought produces the kind of debate that progressively sheds light on a problem and provides the various members of society with leads and guidelines. But then the question arises of how to translate these findings into action in the field, that is, among communities and society and in daily life. I would like to highlight one of the areas that UNESCO has been particularly concerned with – the cultural heritage. This is an area in which UNESCO has much experience, working in conjunction with specialized institutions in various countries, and it is one that has given rise to a similar debate: is the notion of heritage preservation a purely Western notion stemming from Romanticism, a return to an admiration for Greco-Roman times, or is it a topic and an approach that could be rendered more global and systematic? Many and varied though the answers may be, the fact remains that if there is one area that interests most countries today it is the preservation of the world’s fabulously rich and diverse heritage. Along with publications, television can of course play a crucial role here, as Doudou Diène has demonstrated in his work on the Silk Roads and on other cultural routes and itineraries that he has developed over the past twenty years.

I would like to return to a subject that is directly connected with the question of particularism versus universalism that we are debating here today. In 2001 UNESCO’s concern was aroused about the fate of the two Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan, but it failed in its attempt to stop their destruction. When Pierre Lafrance, the special envoy of the Director-General, spoke with the Taliban authorities, they told him that the decision was in the hands of the assembly of religious leaders of Afghanistan who considered the statues inimical to the principles of Islam. Fifteen Muslim scholars then went to Kandahar once it was known that the problem was a religious and not an economic or political one. But these fifteen religious men were turned away even though the Mufti of Egypt and the Dean of the Faculty of Law at Qatar University were among them. 

The question this raises is whether the principles we uphold, that we consider to be universally recognized and accepted, are as universal and as accepted as we think. Here at UNESCO we believe that the only answer lies in fieldwork, in awareness-raising and in education that spreads a message of preservation and respect for the heritage, whether national heritage, a heritage directly related to a country’s identity, or heritage from other horizons.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

A question addressed to Mr Chesneaux whose talk enlightened some of us here: Mr Chesneaux defined a number of functions of islands, tiny specks on the map, vestiges of empires. These functions thus defined were enlightening and pertinent, but has one of the functions not been forgotten? In the creation and maintaining of empires, islands have an ideological function as imaginary constructs in the minds of the population of the lands that founded these empires, as a magical elsewhere, distant exotic places that somehow mask the violence of imperial domination. Does not this function also exist?

Jean Chesneaux

One cannot consider this question separately from dreams and ideological fantasies, with islands occupying a special place in the array of imperial constructions. Of course it is undeniable that islands sometimes do represent something quite out of the ordinary. An example is the Tahitian dream that has so many works of literature devoted to its poetic and idealized construction. Gauguin is not the only one to have represented this dream, though he offers the most familiar image of one who left his native Brittany for Tahiti and from there, unsatisfied, travelled all the way to the Marquesas Islands.

Although I think the question of the dream is legitimate, I would not be inclined to separate islands and their insularity from people’s representation of colonial empires as a whole, where the point of view of the colonizer obviously differs from that of the colonized. The Dutch colonial empire was not the stuff of dreams, for it was all about money. Nor did the Portuguese colonial empire elicit many dreams, although they did have the tower of Belém, sailed from the banks of the Tagus and travelled far and wide; but they were not drawn by the particular trading posts controlled by the Portuguese monarchic power as much as by the abstraction of overseas. Now when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India, there was a dream, a desire for transcontinuity, a will for sublimated legitimacy that made her heir to the great Mughal dynasties whose last representative had been overthrown in the great Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Similarly, the question of public space and social groups arises where the colonized peoples are concerned. Who, in colonized societies, are those who can allow themselves a dream? Certainly not the ones who work and are at the limit of survival. Nor are they the ancient aristocracies who continue to be locked in the past. I will take just one example, that of Viet Nam, where young, semi-Westernized intellectuals at the beginning of the twentieth century were avid readers of Japanese translations of subversive texts by Montesquieu and Rousseau that the colonial regime preferred to keep out of their way (official circulars containing the colonial regime’s instructions for public education have been found). It took subterfuge to come into contact with Montesquieu and Rousseau, and this is what made these nationalist idealists dreamers.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

A question for Mr Déroche: What is the connection between avatars of translation and interpretation of the Koran here in Europe and deep misunderstandings between Islam and Europe brought to light by recent events? Is there some relationship or explanatory connection? 

François Déroche, Director of Studies at EPHE

What I was most interested in were medieval translations that were always written in a spirit of more or less open warfare. However, the recent translations available on the market and in bookstores are devoid of controversy, insults, etc. Therefore, I am not sure that the contentious component that appeared in the early translations has persisted. Today, two types of translation exist: translations by scholars of the Arab world who try to remain as close as possible to the original text, and those written by religious people who may not be prompted by the same scholarly philological rigour, but translate exactly what ought to be understood by the Koranic text. I do not think, therefore, that translations have a place in this debate.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

A question for Mr Le Rider on the development of the idea of Europe’s pluralistic character as a fundamentally important mission: What are we to make of the fact that, when drafting the European Charter, a number of countries forcefully advocated the idea of designating Judeo-Christian values as the basis of European civilization? Are you aware that there was an in-depth debate that divided countries? What does it mean? Resistance to the universal or return of the repressed?

Jacques Le Rider

This is obviously a highly sensitive question. I can only respond by stating my personal opinion, and I clearly cannot make a value judgement about this highly respectable reference. I believe that such a position has limits and if, for example, we refer to the Greco-Roman heritage, it is hard to see how it can be called Judeo-Christian. The Ottoman Empire, too, left a lasting imprint on Europe, as did scientific rationalist agnostic cultures that are perfectly legitimate and have their place. As pluralists, we obviously cannot say that we object to such a proposition, but we can ask for it to be situated within a pluralistic whole.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

Mr Valéry has a few things to say on this topic.

Antoine Valéry

It is true that we can question this charter, and must not forget that it was adopted at a European summit in Nice that was by and large calamitous. Since something had to be said at the summit, a European Charter was adopted. To this day, nobody knows how it will fit in with the European Convention on Human Rights, which has no jurisdictional enforcement mechanism. Because of this, we are now questioning the respective competences and, particularly, the rivalries between the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that applies the European Convention of 1948 and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg that is supposed to apply the treaty establishing the European Union.

Ehsan Naraghi, Journalist

After a one-month tour of the United States after 11 September 2001, I would like to make a few comments about the fundamental changes taking place from a sociological and cultural point of view. An African-American anthropologist friend in Washington told me something very simple that came as a great surprise to me: ‘I have lived in Washington for the past twenty years. People on the street had never said hello to me before, but since 11 September I have been constantly greeted on the street and in public places’. This means that before she did not exist, but now she does. The administration has been so focused on one thing – terror – that it has not noticed this sociological change. Citizens perceive the 11 September events differently from officials in the administration.

My second point relates to Mr Le Rider’s highly informative talk. I too have observed that, in spite of its initial cultural dream, Europe has become no more than an increasingly technocratic economic and political unit. The shortcomings as regards cultural identity and cultural specificity should be revisited, just as Mr Le Rider suggested.

Finally, anti-globalization protests at major conferences have revealed the limitations of a globalizing approach, thereby indirectly giving a second wind to international organizations that people had begun to consider useless. And so in the end UNESCO, an organization that deals with cultural diversity and problems of recognizing others, is clearly more and more indispensable in this day and age.

Quang-Nam Thai, Programme Specialist at UNESCO

My contribution deals with war and civilizations. Whether we like it or not war is a fact of civilization. War has always existed, and it will continue to exist. However, since it is something that is fundamentally destructive of culture and civilization, what should we do to draw lessons from it and, to the extent possible, avoid future wars?

Just over a year ago, former leaders and protagonists in the Viet Nam war – a war that lasted twenty-five years and was one of the most destructive in history, at least for Viet Nam – met in Hanoi to draw lessons from and understand the causes of this war. During this conference Mr Robert MacNamara, former United States Secretary of State for Defense and former President of the World Bank, recognized that, on many occasions, the war could have been cut short, thus avoiding many deaths as well as material and cultural devastation.

A fact of civilization is always perceived differently from the two warring sides, whatever the war and the period. Once a war is over, the question that arises is what can be done – and how – to ensure that there is a similar perception of the cause of this terrible fact of civilization to avoid its recurrence, and how can the different perceptions be reconciled so that there is better mutual understanding, mutual appreciation and coexistence? What forms of reconciliation and meeting between former parties to a conflict could we organize to create the beginnings of an exchange? What role should specialists in all disciplines play, specialists in war as well as in peace, in order to shed an objective light on the war and also expose the consequences of any war? How can we learn lessons from wars, especially today’s multi-ethnic wars? In a word, what dialogue can we establish for a civilization of peace?

Jean Baubérot, President of EPHE

I would like to quote a text written by a member of our preparatory committee that I believe offers hope in amongst the tragic events around us. ‘Throughout history the perceptions that civilizations have had of each other have led to rivalry and covetousness. Nowadays, there can be no influence without seduction. Do civilizations not exchange beguiling glances and lure each other on with their most prized possessions – be they high technology, social or political structures, clay or concrete architecture, horse-drawn carriages or motor vehicles, costumes, silks, pottery or works of art – which these days they lovingly and freely appropriate for themselves in the common pursuit of happiness? Abduction is no longer acceptable, pleasure must be shared’. This, I think, is what we should take home with us: even if abduction remains a sad reality, the pleasure needs to be shared. I would call this a constructive utopia that we should keep in mind, in the knowledge that sometimes, in spite of everything, some aspect of utopia can come true.

On another point, I would like to welcome the collaboration between UNESCO and the École Pratique des Hautes Études. We have mapped out very many fruitful paths together and I hope that this collaboration will continue so that we can go further along them and explore new ones. UNESCO works closely with many organizations and I believe EPHE can become one of these partners, which would make me personally very happy.

René Zapata, Director, Division of Programme Planning, Monitoring and Reporting, Bureau of Strategic Planning, UNESCO

First of all, on behalf of the Director-General of UNESCO, I would like to thank all colleagues, session chairpersons and the wider public who have regularly attended our debates. During the past two days we have made an initial attempt, in common, to broach a complex subject. In response to Doudou Diène’s question as to whether our position is a voluntarist one, I think that from UNESCO’s perspective, we are indeed adopting a proactive approach in exploring and promoting dialogue between civilizations. And we are doing so for political reasons, in the context of the proclamation of the United Nations Plan of Action for the pursuit of dialogue among civilizations, in which UNESCO is called upon to play an important role, because for the past eight years the question of dialogue among civilizations has been posed as a political necessity that goes to the very heart of this organization.

Obviously I do not wish to confuse UNESCO’s proactive approach with the work scholars have been doing for many years as transmitters of culture and advocates of dialogue. As the President of the General Conference aptly put it, there can be no dialogue among civilizations without looking at history. A purely voluntarist political policy has its limits. I believe that President Chirac’s speech at the 31st session of UNESCO’s General Conference was conveying the same message when he called for the kind of soul-searching that involved looking into the history of every nation and every region. The outcome of this symposium is crucial as it is the first building-block in our collaboration with EPHE as well as with other institutions.

We can already begin thinking about the second phase of this collaboration. On the basis of Professor Khatibi’s paper, I have identified four themes for consideration: places of passage, places of resistance to dialogue, places of rupture or possible rupture, and finally places of absence of dialogue. As I listened to the speakers, I heard one word surfacing incessantly: fragility, the fragility of this dialogue, the fact that everything being built up could just as easily crumble under events beyond our control.

‘Places of absence’ is a topic connected to education. History textbooks clearly demonstrate a major omission in primary, secondary and even university education, not only at the language level, as Mr Le Rider pointed out, but also in many other subject areas. Where education about world religions is concerned, apart from two or three pages on the religions of other peoples, practically nothing is said. This is a subject of great importance to UNESCO, which will be giving priority to the relationship between culture and education over the next two years.

Doudou Diène, Chairman-discussant

To conclude, I believe I can say that this conference is a success since, contrary to common practice in this Organization where meetings end in resolutions and recommendations, today we have come up with clear, straightforward responses to difficult questions. Now the answers must be brought to the ears of our governing authorities.

We have also come to the conclusion that the major questions of our time will not be resolved in the long run by dint of force, as we see in Afghanistan and elsewhere. For this reason, the realm of ideas needs constant stimulation in order to assure tangible changes over time: such is the goal of cooperation between UNESCO and EPHE.


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| last up-dated: 28/04/03