Speech of Seyed Mohammad Khatami President of the

Islamic Republic of Iran before The United Nations General Assembly on The United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations
Today, as in ancient centuries, engagement in dialogue requires wisdom, discipline and good will. Today, as then, any exclusive claim to absolute truth needs to be relinquished.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Mr. President,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the circle of those who cherished rational thinking, twenty five hundred years before this, Socrates would employ the method of dialogue to discuss philosophical questions. Those who, unlike the philosophers, felt less love for wisdom and yet showed more passion to grab it in their possession, i.e. the sophists, did all they could to defeat Socrates, and when his life was found to contradict their interests and credibility, they eventually had him put to death. The call to dialogue, however, did not die with Socrates. Inside places of learning, places of worship, as well as in forums on world politics and culture, we can still hear Socrates inviting us to dialogue. That appeal transcends realms of formal learning and philosophy, for Socrates was more than a philosopher. He was indeed a great mentor of morality and a master of culture and politics. It is precisely for this reason that dialogue presupposes and embodies a principled moral discipline of culture and politics.

Today, as in ancient centuries, engagement in dialogue requires wisdom, discipline and good will. Today, as then, any exclusive claim to absolute truth needs to be relinquished. Truth, as absolute as it essentially is, should drive us in light of its true unity not only to recognize plurality in human culture, religion, language and color, but also to embrace this variety as a unique opportunity for establishing peace, freedom and justice in our world. For this we would need to put an end to playing deaf. Devastating wars have always erupted when some party has refused to listen to what others have had to say.

When Iran proposed the idea of Dialogue among Civilization in the General Assembly of the United Nations, few foresaw how soon this proposal could prove so instrumental in saving the world from an imminent war of carnage and devastation.

The horrific terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 in the United States were perpetrated by a cult of fanatics who had self-mutilated their ears and tongues, and could only communicate with perceived opponents through carnage and devastation. The perception of a need for revenge coupled with a misplaced sense of might could lead to failure to hear the cries of children, women and the elderly in Afghanistan: a people whose share in life has been no more than to suffer a prolonged death in the shadow of perpetual horror, hunger and disease.

In the opening years of the twentieth century, some prominent political thinker had rightly prophesied the imminence of a century of war and revolution. This was later attributed to the escalation of violence in the twentieth century: and violence was seen as the common characteristic shared by both wars and revolutions. War of course is always concomitant with violence. But it would be incorrect to identify all revolutions with violence. One could cite examples of revolutions based on the very renunciation of violence. Apt consideration of the liberation movement in India should suffice to patently rebut the universality of the mentioned claim. The Islamic Revolution in Iran, which in a sense re-breathed the soul of morality into the body of politics, was also a revolution that faced fired bullets with flower stems, and did not exclusively combat its opponents with retaliation and revenge. Eventually, it was our revolution and the government emerging from it which in the closing years of the twentieth century proposed the idea of Dialogue among Civilizations to the United Nations.

I am grateful to this august body for embracing this proposal, to the Secretary-General and his personal representative for their invaluable efforts and to the Group of Eminent Persons for their thought provoking and insightful contribution in their recently published book, Crossing the Divide. It is also my privilege to introduce, on behalf of the co-sponsors, the Draft Global Agenda on Dialogue among Civilizations, which has been prepared in a true spirit of dialogue. We hope that this important document would receive the unanimous support of the General Assembly.

Mr. President,

Regrettably, the dawn of this new millennium has turned out bloody and filled with gloom. The apparatus of terror and violence never seized a moment. A most brutal and appalling crime has been perpetrated against American civilians. In the name of the people and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I have firmly and unequivocally condemned that inhuman and anti-Islamic act of terror. I have already asked the Secretary General of the United Nations to bring together heads of states to set an agenda for combating terrorism, and to unify international political will in uprooting this evil phenomenon. This juncture in time provides the most opportune time reflect upon the causes and means of this catastrophe.

In our world today, the issue of political seclusion, transgresses the boundaries of morality, and falls into the realm of impossibility. All cultures, civilizations and faiths are now bound to co-habit the same world by the inviolable verdict of technology. It is therefore the best of times to bring harmony and foster empathy amidst this variety. A rare opportunity has now presented itself, which could either lead to interminable war, or to enduring peace and compassion among human societies.

Terrorism is begotten through the ominous combination of blind fanaticism with brute force, and it always serves a systematized illusion. In spite of the propaganda it utilizes and the nomenclature it employs, terrorism is nothing more than a projection of destructive forces of the human unconscious.

Should human beings be deprived of compassion, and be divested of morality, religious spirituality, sense of aesthetics, and the ability to engage in poetic visualization, and should they be incapable of experiencing death and destruction through artistic creativity, then horrendous hidden forces of the unconscious should wreak havoc, death and devastation upon the world of humanity.

Whoever chooses to reduce religion, art or science into destructive weapons, bears no other than an inimical relationship to them.

In the intellectual world of Iran and Islam, magnificent achievements attained in the realm of literature are all deeply rooted in the rich resources of divine revelation and Islamic tradition. For instance such an understanding of tradition would be expressed by a Muslim mystic saying, “From the East to the West, should any one man be hurt by a thorn in his finger or by a stone in his way, I shall feel the pain. Any heart encumbered with chagrin, my heart would share the burden.” In the same way, the essence of religious spiritually is expressed by a poet writing in tradition of Zen: “Should I have a black cloak as befitting as it should be, I would have covered all the needy of the world.” Human beings are capable of unbounded love, as the Gospels present love of human neighbors on par with the love of God. The Upanishads teach that the human soul, the lily of the heart, grows from the soil out of which all humans have been created. Precisely for the homogeneity of this common soil, which refuses to be molded by politics and geography, empathic dialogue among human beings is possible.

A Manichean perspective on world geopolitics which dualistically assumes one region to be the source of light and the other to be the source of darkness would lead to appalling political and security consequences. The long-known device of “making enemies” is a product of paranoid illusion, but its products are real and do not remain illusory.

Another question still remains to be elaborated, and that is to inquire in what soil would the seed of enmity and making of enemies grow and produce such unpalatable fruit. It is evident that the seed of infinite enmity grows well wherever infinite injustice is entrenched and begets utter despair and frustration.

Politicians and military generals could simply attribute the recent catastrophe in the United States as well as all terrorist atrocities and casualties in various regions to the evil deeds of a certain state, group or religion. Yet this would simply amount to evading the question, not answering it. The correct answer to this question like that of many other correct answers in philosophy and politics, has a long history. Having a long history in and of itself, however, does not provide a remedy. We can only hope to learn a new lesson from an old answer if we should prepare ourselves to accept the verdict of fairness and justice.

Injustice is neither unprecedented nor confined to particular communities. However, when injustice accumulates so much as it engenders despair and frustration, it turns into an explosive brew. Only when people are deprived of a right to life- merely life in the sense of survival and not even a good life of quality- they could become capable of perpetrating crimes to which they are the first victims. People should not be led into utter despair. I do not mean this merely as a humanitarian advice, but as a precondition for social and political coexistence in a world in which, our fates are inevitably intertwined. Even for those us who have lost the capacity to have compassion for “others,” and their motivation drives from self-love and an urge to survive, it remains imperative not to push others into the dark realm of frustration. A frustrated person may choose death as the only remedy of his predicament: death of himself and death of others. At least part of our minds and hearts need to be set free from the clench of instrumental and utilitarian reason and be opened up to moral rationality and altruistic reason. Thereby having compassion for others should become attainable. Let us have compassion not only for ourselves but also for the others. Let us have compassion for the others within their own idiosyncratic realms. Having compassion for others should not coerce them to assimilate within us, or to succumb to our values. Compassion should come unconditionally. The only condition is a mutual agreement to refrain from atrocity and violence.

Let us welcome any plea to refrain from violence and to embrace compassion. Let us welcome any call that prefers the voice of humanity over and above the noise of explosions. Let us welcome any party that invites us not to racism but to respecting the human race. Let us respect the fundamental right of all parties to existence.

Moral rationality, heartfelt compassion for others, and the ability to share in both the sufferings as well as the happiness of other peoples, have so far managed to sustain our world. Let us breathe into the solemn and dry body of politics the soul of morality and ethics, thereby making it humane. When it comes to enmity and revenge, let us be as inclined to remember as a mirror. A tall clean truthful mirror can reflect to infinity the beauties of our own and of the others. It is unwise to shatter the mirror.

Thank you Mr. President.
Seyed Mohammad Khatam

Source: www.dialoguefoundation.org