The Syrian Fire (Part 2)
Dr. Nasr, twelve years ago, you wrote in an article that, "Within the next few years, it will become clear whether the issue of dialogue among religions and civilizations has been a weak assumption or if it is a serious and vital matter. Does western civilization really seek dialogue with other civilizations or not?" Today, after twelve years, is there a serious determination in western civilization, as the dominant civilization, to begin dialogue with other civilizations or not?
What is related to the issue of dialogue among civilizations in the western view must be divided into several parts. The first part consists of several people in the West who have lost their belief in their own civilization and try to find the meaning of life and the principles of truth in other civilizations. It is here where many western youths become Muslims or Buddhists or turn to different sects of Hinduism. Today, in the US, you see that white women with European origins convert to Islam. This is a very important issue which must not be ignored. But, the second group are those who respect other civilizations, but do not want to turn away from European civilization. These people attempt to create friendship and understanding among civilizations. They include the Christians and the Jews, who are mostly educated or a member of the church or the synagogue. But, the third group consists of people who, with a pragmatic view, believe that the dialogue among civilizations is a necessity. The fourth group are people who are, not only, not interested in creating relations with other civilizations, but also have enmity with non-western civilizations. These people attempt to use dialogue as a tool to dominate the non-western world. The fifth group includes radical people who are, not only, hostile towards other civilizations, but are also not willing to have dialogue and understanding with them. Therefore, there are different viewpoints in the West with regard to western civilization and its relations with other civilizations, and it cannot be said now how western civilization attempts to have relations with other civilizations. This civilization is like a chariot with each one of its horses going in a different direction.
How should this dialogue with the new western civilization take place?
First, the spiritual and traditional aspects of civilizations must be the basis of agreement in dialogues. Second, humanitarian issues and crises, like the environmental crisis, psychological problems and power-seeking, which all civilizations are today confronted with, can be the issues of discussion. Of course, these issues and crises have emerged from ignoring traditional and spiritual principles of civilizations. Another important point is that dialogue between a civilization which intends to force its superiority and one that is willing to take this force will never work. Dialogue must be formed on the basis of mutual respect.
In 1994, you wrote an article entitled “Clash of Civilizations and the Future of Mankind", in which, while criticizing the ideas of Samuel Huntington, you propose the idea of cooperation between civilizations. What do you exactly mean by cooperation between civilizations and how related is this idea with the idea of dialogue among civilizations?
Look, if civilizations feel that they do not need each other, then cooperation would not mean anything. Today, while every civilization is faced with its own problems, with the interactions that have been created, solving the domestic issues of every civilization is dependent on cooperation with other civilizations. This issue also exists between nations. But, today, civilizations are substituting nations and the nationalism which was proposed from the 18th century and with the French Revolution, has been weakened in Europe itself and today Europe is shown as a continental entity. Of course, it is clear that the situation in Germany is very different from that of Greece, but with the weakening of 18th century nationalism, today a united Europe is proposed. Nevertheless, many of the internal problems of civilizations must be solved through cooperation and counseling. Today, more than ever before, human beings need global cooperation, because, considering the consequences of progress of western technology, if we do not cooperate, there will be no earth on which we would be able to live. The tragedy of the attack on the US Embassy in Libya and the killing of 4 people in that incident was covered by the media 24 hours a day and was constantly reported on. This is while there has been no report of the tens of people who have been killed due to their protests against the blasphemous film about the Prophet of Islam. There is no news about them in the media.
As the last question, I would like to know your opinion with regard to the political developments which have occurred during the past two years in the Middle East and North Africa, called the "Arab Spring”. In your view, should the uprisings against the authoritarian regimes and moving towards the formation of democratic systems be considered as signs of the impact of the political culture of the West and the spread of western civilization or are these protesting movements a return to Islamic principles and, in fact, a kind of Islamic Awakening?
This is a very difficult question, for the situations in the countries where these developments have occurred are very different from each other. For example, the movement which began in Tunisia was very different from the killings that are now happening in Syria. But what I, as a student of Islamic history and civilization, see in these developments, is a wave which is caused both by national and Arabic awakening and the Islamic awakening. It is too early to say what the results of these developments will be, because the impacting forces on the political situation of the world try to affect these developments and manage the issue to their own benefits and even attempt to pull this wave towards themselves. But, whatever happens, it is not possible to return the genie to the bottle. If you study Arabs during the past few decades, you will see that they have been strangely depressed and were being transformed into the lowest level in global thought. But, this era has ended and a new era has begun, which I hope will be accompanied by the construction of thought in the Arab world. I say this with a bit of concern, for the awakening which has happened in Arab countries has been accompanied by the awakening of those who oppose awakening. The Salafis and new Wahabbis are among those who are opposed to thinking. But I hope that, in the long run, this Arab Spring would really lead to a real awakening. I am very optimistic about these developments, particularly in Tunisia, because Rachid Al-Ghannouchi, who is its ideological leader, has a vision. Also in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood had, for a long time, pursued narrow-mindedness, but we must have hope in the people of Egypt, because ethically they are very pure-hearted and have maintained their Islamic beliefs, and most importantly, their national interests are their priorities. Today, the most chaotic country among the Arab countries is Syria, where several hostile countries are fighting against each other and lead the situation towards uncertainty. They should know that if Syria explodes, a widespread crisis will, for many years, capture Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Israel. I hope that the conflicting parties in this country and their supporting forces act prudently and do not worsen the situation.