INTERCULTURAL DIALOGUE AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION: AN INTRODUCTION
European Ministers Responsible for Cultural Affairs;
Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 17-18 February 2003
By Johan Galtung, dr hc mult, Professor of Peace Studies
Director, TRANSCEND: A Peace and Development Network

 

Madam Deputy Secretary General, Excellencies, Ministers, Deputy
Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Permit me to start by congratulating the Council of Europe on
this important initiative, adding my thanks for having been invited
to produce some scattered guidelights in the largely unexplored
terrain the Ministers are now invited to enter.
You have among your papers the booklet Rethinking Conflict:
The Cultural Approach, the Council of Europe Cultural Policy and
Action Department invited me to write, so I will not repeat what is
written there, trusting your literacy level. But I would like to
focus on a couple of points that seem to me crucial.
Everything is a process, so is the important task ahead of
you. Maybe we can distinguish four stages or phases along that
complex road; others may have different maps.
Stage 1: INTOLERANCE. At the extreme end is the holocaust of
many, including the shoa. But intolerance has other articulations.
One of them is the nation-state. The One-nation state. Of the
about 200 states in the world only 20 have practically speaking
only one nation. And even so immigrants are coming in at even high
speeds.
Of the remaining, say 180, 179 are asymmetric, dominated by
one dominant nation. The others used to be called "minorities"
even when, in fact, they were majoritarian, reflecting power rather
than arithmetics. Their choice was between integration into
dominant culture, shedding the traces of the past, or
marginalization, sometimes as exotica. Or worse. Much worse. The
exception is Switzerland: the only country with symmetry.
Stage 2: TOLERANCE. No doubt better than intolerance. But
there is something that leaves bad taste, something like "I am so
great (and merit some applause) that I tolerate that you exist".
Within this package human rights find a place, and that is good.
But asymmetry remains. The not dominant are supposed to acquire
the culture of the dominant; the dominant are permitted to remain
ignorant even of their close neighbors. As a matter of fact, even
in Switzerland, positively singled out above, the two religious and
the four linguistic cultures are not that knowledgeable of each
other. There is a sense of distance. There is a lack of
curiosity. But here is also a sense of safety lacking in Stage 1.
Stage 3: RESPECT AND DIALOGUE. Now we are moving forward.
Instead of the "You are different from me, you are dangerous" of
stage 1, and the "You are different from me, that is your problem,
live and let live", there is "You are different from me, how
fascinating! Let us sit down and talk it over, for instance, how do
you look at ---?" The Other exists in his/her own right as a part
of the wonderful richness of the human culture, the most celebrated
diversity. Each time a language, still worse a whole culture with
its idioms and myths and habits, dies, we all die, a little. In
this stage we see Other as a source of own enrichment, and vice
versa. Dialogue means asking questions, the opposite of the debate
so filled with exclamation signs.
Stage 4: MUTUAL LEARNING. At this stage something new
happens: Other is not only explored; we take him/her on, as a part
of Self. Her language becomes also ours, his cooking becomes also
ours. We not only know his/her history, we feel the trauma, the
glories, the suffering, the hopes. We live Other, Other lives in
us. Above all the relation is symmetric.
Look for a minute at Western colonialism. We assume that they
all talk our languages; we talk none of theirs, only some
specialists, among their exotica. What we got from Other was gold
and spices, some plants and animals. And many, many slaves.
Today we still take it for granted that they, also in their
new roles as immigrants = cheap labor know our idioms, linguistic,
religious, the myths about history and future, and we none of
theirs. We teach them "1789" and rightly assume that if this is a
meaningless figure that person will have difficulties understanding
not only France, but the West in general. But we take it for
granted that we can talk about Iraq, and endlessly so, being
totally ignorant of the meaning of 1258. Think it through. If
nothing comes to your mind silence may be a good guide till you
have not only checked but absorbed. Arab school children know
this, just as they know exactly what Osama bin Laden meant when in
his first discourse after September 11 2001 he talked about
humiliation and "more than 80 years". Sykes/Picot. Balfour.
Liberation from the tolerant Ottoman Empire to be included in
highly intolerant Western empires. There is something about
splints and beams in the Bible. And there is Luke 19:27.
And that brings us to fundamentalism. This very month both
Osama bin Laden (or a committee with that name; the West loses time
asking who rather than what and why) in a statement aired by Al
Jazeera, and George W Bush in a statement to the National
Convention of Religious Broadcasters, made their religious
credentials very clear, as clear as their sense of being chosen by
the Almighty and well equipped to draw the line between Good and
Evil. They were in no doubt that the war to be fought was in line
with their faiths. In short, the DMA syndrome in my booklet,
Dualism, Manicheism, Armageddon were all there. Interchangeable.
In short, there is a culture of fundamentalism, privileged by
the Almighty to justify the criminal violence of 9/11 2001, and
also of October 7. To rephrase Marx, "Moderates all over the
world, unite! you have only your terrorists to lose". But have
dialogue with both those without and those with the backing of a
state or two. Let me only add how fundamentalist many marxists
were: workers were chosen by History, capitalists were headed for
extinction, violent Revolution inevitable. DMA.
There is also a male and a female culture. The female culture
is characterized above all by sensitivity to human suffering; the
male culture by concern with abstract principles. The former draws
on compassion to justify action, the latter on deduction. And if
they are Kantians they add "universability" as a criterion. But
cultures do differ. There is much wisdom in George Bernhard Shaw's
dictum, "Do not do to others what you want them to do to you. Their
tastes may be different". How do we know? By asking them.
The Draft Declaration in front of us is a major step from
stage 2 to stage 3, celebrating diversity, like ecologists do.
Needless to say, these stages are intertwining, mixed, sliding. But
the next stage 4 is beckoning at a distance: the symbiosis. As a
metaphor: take the wonderful diversity of world cuisines. The
French and Chinese masters are not alone in this world. We are
more than tolerant, we celebrate this diversity. But we do not
mix. I look forward to the day when dishes are mixed in the same
meal like I can mix languages in the same sentence. And I have
seen processes: I have seen the British become more intercultural
at the dining table than at the negotiation table. I have even seen
the primitivism of Norwegian "cooking", better described as
boiling, immensely enriched. Ladies and gentlemen: that alone
gives us hope for the world!