New challenges in a world longing for


Lookig for:Peace - Premise:Dialogue

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The promotion of dialogue among different communities and civilizations is, at present, a priority for the international community • It is only in dialogue that communities can truly meet and understand one another • Choosing the route of dialogue however, involves facing a number of difficulties and challenges • First of all, throughout history there have been clashes between groups of people bearing different ´truths´ or worldviews.
This difficulty is ingrained in the centuries-long history of every group and its own self-understanding and, therefore, can be eliminated neither quickly nor through pure will power • Overcoming it implies facing anew this history of clashes and engaging with the 'other' in a process of mutual recognition and understanding, altering thereby the resilient patterns of fear, suspicion and mistrust towards the 'other.'
There is no consensus as to the nature of the triggering factors of historical conflicts In the Western world, and especially since the wars of religion in the 16th and 17th centuries, a current of thought has developed which cites religion as the main source of such conflicts • Those that support this way of thinking believe that religion should be deprived of all influence in public dimensions and reduced to the private realm, a view which sometimes seems to amount to secularist fundamentalism • In response to such tendencies, there has been a deepening affirmation of the public value of religion in large groups of the world population, which, in certain cases, has led towards forms of religious fundamentalism.
Due to such a conflict of interpretations with regards to religion, different strategies of dialogue have been developed • For some, dialogue among cultures or civilizations must take place on a strictly cultural level so as to avoid the dangerous symbolic-affective worlds of the different religions, worlds with vast sentimental and historical burdens • For others dialogue among religions is of prime importance precisely because of the effect that religions have had on the core values and motivations of every civilization • Leaving them out, therefore, would be to reduce dialogue to a certain superficiality.
Another issue is the division that exists at the heart of the international community • There is no shared authority beneath which a strategy can be established to forestall possible conflicts between countries and between different visions of the world and society • The barrier, raised in the 19th century, which divided the world into two ideological blocks, has all but disappeared following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 • A new and wide range of ´identity´ factors (anthropological, cultural, historical, religious) have become the nuclei of new blocks struggling for self-affirmation, for international recognition, and for an adequate level of power in the concert of nations • For countries that are better positioned in said concert, the movements that these ´identity´ factors produce are felt to have destabilizing potential • For the actors themselves however, they are a means of liberation from previous impositions and are, therefore, necessary for survival and development.
Underlying this issue is the question of how we are to understand this concept of ´identity´ • It is by no means clear whether or not any human group can have a totally separate identity of its own • History teaches that civilizations and religions have intermingled constantly throughout the centuries, and that the identity of any given culture or civilization should, therefore, be construed as an ongoing and complex process during which several "identities" never cease to interact • With this understanding it seems that the close adhesion to an identity or value-based essentialism is an expression of fear before those who seem different, is a failure to take into account that there are, in fact, many things that are shared with this ´other.´
This may take the form of a dangerous exclusion of all those who are different, eventually serving as a justification for war against them • A relatively new phenomenon may help in overcoming this danger • The vast migratory movements across countries and continents should be treated as an essential part of any modern-day dialogue • Many countries (mainly developed or fast-developing ones) face the reality of culturally and religiously pluralist societies, a reality which they must learn to manage • Such societies provide the possibility of new perspectives on the meeting of civilizations • They produce vastly promising cultural and religious interactions at the heart of countries that, until recently, had rather more homogenous cultures • Daily interactions are converting these homogenous identities into identities marked by diversity and are also making essential the construction of a shared social project capable of accommodating and protecting minorities .
Today debates about such issues focus on how we are to advance from the fact of multicultural and multi-religious societies towards intercultural and inter-religious societies on both a local and a global level • This is a debate of great conceptual complexity which requires patient and genuine dialogue founded on mutual respect • Two things seem to be clear in this debate • The first is that only the mutual recognition between different groups and individuals can lead towards the construction of an effective dialogue • The second is that respect for difference does not entail the creation of societies populated by enclosed ghettos.
The fact that different groups clash on the basis of difference (whether political, cultural, religious or other) usually masks an important truth, i.e., that they share in many spiritual resources and values, which may ultimately be essentially similar.
The congress will stand as a platform for the exploration of these key themes, taking into account the outcome of other conferences and the different declarations concerning these or similar issues, such as the 1995 UNESCO declaration concerning tolerance, the 2000 UNESCO declaration concerning cultural diversity and the 2001 Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilisations with its Programme of Action, among others.