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CULTURE OF PEACE

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Prologue

 

Reading some of the contributions from the seminar organised in 1996 by my friend Baidyanath Saraswati on the Culture of Peace that are gathered in this book I feel called to reflect once again on cultural diversity and on the possibility of a common Culture of Peace on our responsibilities as crafters of peace.

I think one of the most important cultural events of recent decades has been the discovery of the regional nature of all cultures, including the culture of science and technology which the dominant powers in the world today have tried to impose on all the continents as though it were a superior culture to others. Today, knowledgeable people, East and West, North and South, are agreed on the local, partial, limited nature of all cultures. None of them can be considered globally superior to the others. For centuries the cultures of the colonisers were imposed on people everywhere, in the conviction that their values were objectively superior to those characterising the people they colonised, their religions and their way of life. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have seen large-scale attacks by the culture of science and technology against the so-called inferior cultures.

We are coming to the end of the twentieth century (if we measure time by Christian standards) with the certainty that no one culture has a monopoly on knowledge, values or the art of living. For this reason I feel we are beginning an interesting cultural period which will be characterised by a long, patient struggle to understand cultures different to our own. This is a time for intercultural dialogue, for discovering the spiritual, conceptual and experiential originality of other cultures and for respect for the untranslatable or intransferable nature of many poems, concepts or experiences in each specific culture. In this respect, we realise that each language is a universe full of enigmas, mysteries and wonders that can be revealed through sensitivity and respect.

Some of the articles in this book interest me precisely because they bring me closer to symbolic universes and forms of knowledge that are still a long way from my own intellectual tradition. I would like many academics in the Western tradition to reap the benefits of this valuable material. When people in Western universities or research centres speak of the culture of peace or simply of peace they tend to look at political, social or — especially — economic issues, and they lack the conceptual instruments necessary to extend their reflection to anthropological, aesthetic, cosmic or spiritual issues. I am delighted at this book’s contribution to extending the debate on the culture of peace and I think that from now on, luckily, we shall no longer be able to speak of the culture of peace without taking into account its multi-dimensional nature and the original approach taken by the book’s authors. I am convinced that without this type of contribution the search for the culture of peace could become a repetition of the experience of cultural colonialism.

The second reflection arising from reading the contributions to the seminar in New Delhi in 1996 is whether, over and above respect for cultural pluralism, it will possible to agree on a universal Culture of Peace. In the atmosphere at the seminars in Barcelona in 1993 and 1994 and in New Delhi in 1996 we have cause for optimism.

The religious and ideological patterns of our various human communities are different. Extreme injustices exist that make violence understandable. Economic models of development are unsustainable and prevent our establishing a harmonious relationship with nature. Human history, until today, has always included war as an expression of conflict. In this respect we can ask ourselves if it is possible to find a common ground of ideas and actions which we can share and whether we can begin a new culture of peace. I think the essential orientation of the great religious and cultural traditions is similar. Using different myths and languages they speak out in favour of a desirable cosmic order which dignifies human life and makes more harmonious co-existence possible. The different relations they establish between the cosmos, human beings and the divinity always inspire ways of life and responsibilities that keep chaos and violence at bay. I think a leaning towards peace is common to all traditions, although each one picks out certain aspects of peace. To work together for peace, we need not be inspired in the same mythological and symbolic universe or have exactly the same priorities. It is enough if we recognise our common intentions and are willing to discuss the conditions of peace.

The issue of dialogue appears as a fundamental practice which must be made a living part of all traditions. There cannot be dialogue when traditions attempt to be the sole bearers of knowledge or salvation. I think this pretension arises out of the ignorance caused by the isolation or political manipulation of religious and cultural traditions. Those cultures that are not afraid, because they are convinced of their values in any context, are open cultures. So are those traditions which manage to keep clear of political interests. I believe that in a context of ever easier communications and ever stronger interdependences, only open cultures prepared to dialogue will have a future. It could seem that shutting themselves away in ideological and political citadels is a guarantee for the future, but precisely the opposite is true. Cultures, like living species, have a future when, in dialogue with their surroundings, they evolve and adapt. Our traditions, faithful to their sources of inspiration, must generate dialogue, reasonable explanations and proposals for life that oppose chaos, pain, ignorance, alienation and injustice. Our traditions must be well disposed, that is able to stand back wisely from even the appearance of excessive mythicism in their own tradition. Religious fanaticism is not well disposed and is a superficial form of religious life. The depths of religion are mystical, free, luminous, joyful and open.

We are beginning to locate the common ground of the Culture of Peace. Some contributions by the Hindu tradition draw attention to cosmic harmony; some contributions by the Buddhist tradition insist on non-violence; some contributions by the Judaeo-Christian tradition call for recognition of human dignity; some contributions by the Islamic tradition remind us of the need for justice; some contributions by non-religious humanism value rationality and ethical qualities. But each of these contributions connects with the others and this is why no tradition can consider as alien the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Agenda 21 from Rio de Janeiro or aspirations for human development for all peoples.

My third reflection refers to the responsibilities we need to exercise. We must see to it that the value placed on active non-violence becomes generalised. Until now non-violence has been limited to the circles of relatively marginal groups. Policies in most states and international political relations include the resort to war as something quite normal. There are some international decisions in favour of disarmament, but they are still hesitant and insufficient. We must see to it that war gradually ceases to be a normal way of resolving conflicts. We must fight against the historical inertia that colonises our imagination and prevents our thinking of a future without wars. We must make it possible for politicians to have alternative instruments to war. We need to develop more and better mechanisms for solving conflicts. We must multiply the courts of appeal and of law to which demands for the application of justice can be directed. We must create tribunals and mediating authorities for the different types of conflict. We must, above all, create the certainty that any conflict can be solved without the need for violence. At the same time, state and international laws must make life impossible for the mafias of violence. Disarmament and democratic conflict-solving must become priorities on the national and international political agenda.

All these changes will be possible on condition that the great spiritual and cultural traditions are clearly oriented towards the culture of peace. Our traditions have the power to shape the hearts of human beings: the desires, the secret dreams, the most mysterious energies, love and hate, generosity. If our traditions make clear their position in favour of the culture of peace, this will set up a powerful trend that will make it all possible. We need a broad-based agreement to bring together behind a single aim spiritual leaders, artists, thinkers, journalists, educators and scientists. I think UNESCO is the right platform to facilitate the necessary agreement. I hope that in the coming years we shall be able to multiply initiatives in favour of the culture of peace on every continent. The seminars in Barcelona and New Delhi are significant contributions in the right direction. I believe one of their great virtues is that they have created a universal network of friendship between religious and cultural leaders working for peace in different contexts, but in the same spirit. After these three seminars, I am sure our work will continue with renewed enthusiasm.

 

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