Welcome Address By 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

Mr. Chairman, 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.


Ladies and Gentlemen:

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.


As globalisation 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.


Globalisation also 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.


The 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. Huntington’s theory.


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.

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