Hope for Spiritual Democracy

Alliance of Civilizations High-Level Symposium, Auckland 24th of May 2007

Paolo Dall’Oglio

Considering the fact that the members of this High Level Group are outstanding and known representatives of academic and political worlds, I had to address a question to myself: What can it mean, this invitation to the leader of a very local experience in Syria, the leader of something still not 'fixed' either ecclesiastically or socially, committed nonetheless to Christian/Islamic harmony building, in the desert mountains of Syria, to the mission of the Alliance of Civilizations?

First possible answer: just because it is Syria and the Syrian society that represents both a historical and an ongoing positive achievement in keeping and developing a cultural context that is plural, harmonic, inter-connected, traditional, dynamic, and spiritually and religiously fruitful, where different Moslem traditions and many Christian traditions (and up until very recently, Jewish traditions) have been able to synthesize on the ground a durable society of solidarity and hospitality, of great value and beauty. It is noteworthy that the Arabic language is a real common base for a shared symbolic world. We do not have only a social and largely cultural common language but also a very largely common religious language.

Second answer: sometimes local and limited cases, taken notice of by the media and then made known in different ways, can offer a kind of 'in vitro' experience useful for larger 'vaccinations'.

Out of our local experience, I'll try to address this High Level Group on some points that I see as unavoidable.

1. An Alliance of Civilizations is just impossible without seeking justice between civilizations. (We, also in this part of the world, realize that this means a process of coming to an awareness of justice and catharsis, asking and offering forgiveness, reconciliation also through the necessary compensations…) As a matter of fact, in our region of mostly Islamic/Arabic West Asia, we feel very far from justice between civilizations:

a) Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is considered an interesting product of European and North American civilization, somehow imposed on the world at a time (1948) still characterized by colonies and empires. (This does not mean it is wrong, but still needs to be worked on, with a more pluralistic and dynamic concept of human culture.)

b) The overwhelming weapon power, and especially nuclear, is mainly in the hands of non-Moslem countries, and this is even more in evidence after the fall of the Berlin wall, replaced by other walls in different parts of the world … How is it possible to work on a project of Alliance when you feel yourself crushed and raped in your economic resources through the financial globalization system?

c) How to work on a project of Alliance from the cultural point of view when culture models from what is often called the “developed West” are imposed as obvious, natural, human, progressive and scientific, backed by weapon, technological and economic media powers?

d) On a more structural level, the enormous shared desire for emancipation, participation, social justice, self-determination, freedom from occupation, from poverty, from exploitation, freedom from compulsory emigration, the desire to be free from regimes and family powers… is blocked and repressed by the feeling that other powers and superpowers have not so many moral scruples, at least from our point of view, about being accomplices with and clients of local power structures.

e) Speaking from the religious and spiritual point of view, we feel considered as if our religious and spiritual experiences were dangerous and not fitting in the world system. We feel that our agendas, our dreams and our hopes are expected to be always submitted to international realism and to globally political correctness, and are obliged to bow to dogmas like the "absolute superiority" of Western culture together with cultural secularism and materialism.

2. From our point of view, the United Nations Organization is not uniting civilizations but just nations. This often negates/separates the unity of human cultures and civilizations. Moslems feel great solidarity amongst themselves in their combats in many places in Asia, Europe and Africa with the core wound in Palestine/Israel. In West Asia, “Oriental” Christians share very much the feelings and the sorrows of their Moslem neighbors regarding the Israeli-Arabic conflict and most particularly the destiny of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The report of the Alliance of Civilizations speaks mainly about the relationship between the West and the Islamic World as being one of the main issues to be addressed. It looks to me as if, on the contrary, there were important frictions between Islamic desires and the "all-around-it" reactions to those aspirations. Somebody may react saying that it looks difficult for Islam to be peacefully integrated in the global society. We should accept that for some historical reasons, Islam suffers and expresses a particular dynamic of emancipation from within and from without. It is a very strong process, somehow revolutionary and contradictory. It is worth paying attention to it as one of the most dynamic elements in today's world evolution…

3. Still in the world there are so many “nationalities” that are not recognized and therefore do not have a place in the General Assembly. Plus, the veto system is considered by our people as radically unjust and taking away from the UN most of its legitimacy. It is difficult for us to feel that even decisions of the Security Council are implemented or not according to interests of the big power centers.

4) It seems very clear to us that we still have not had global structures able to create spaces for the thirsty for emancipation of many civilization units and shared traditions in the world, little and big, local or transversal, religious or linguistic.

The General Assembly of the UN looks more like a Chamber of Lords, a Chamber of privileges, regimes and interests… a Chamber of Lords is in any case needed to keep a way of peaceful expression of the international reality... perhaps soon without vetoes. But where is our Chamber of Commons? Which steps are to be taken to transversal world democracy?

It will be interesting for the High Level Group to address as many Governments as possible, as well as many NGO's and international organizations representing in different ways super-national civilizations, (these can be religious, political, humanistic, philosophical, charitable, environmental, etc.), calling for a start in a concrete, web-site based effort, to implement transversal democracy. Not everybody will join immediately and many will fight against it, but as much as a tribune for global harmony-building will be offered, so a marvelous inspiring movement will be created, bringing back hope to youth and offering Utopia to fight for non-violently.

This should be thought of as a logic pattern of transversal solidarities somehow in the tradition of syndicate and trade union experiences. The need is for a confluence of aims, leading to global communality, a common effort. When the cause you want to fight for is welcomed in an arena where violence is not needed any more, the evolutionary trend will be attracted to non-violence.

Even democracy, even global democracy, will not be the solution for our problems without the exercise of spiritual example and leadership based on charismatic vision. This can be conjugated or not with political leadership. History teaches us that the immediate combination of spiritual leadership and political power can be very dangerous… but it is still true that without a largely shared and deep process of initiation of youth to a spiritual vision of life, democracy will sink into nihilism. So we need enormous efforts in inter-religious dialogue in order to initiate ourselves and our youth pluralistically in a vision beyond material, personal achievements on one side and beyond sectarian fundamentalisms on the other.

Just to offer a practical example of what I am saying, I wish to mention that many people are today working to realize an Abraham Path Initiative, both inter-cultural and inter-religious, in West Asia, as a call for harmony and hope both to the local populations and to the spiritual 'tourists' walking the Path from Harran in High Mesopotamia in Turkey, through Syria and Jordan to Jerusalem and Hebron/al-Khalil

5) I would like to underline the importance of holy places for the aesthetic, moral and mystic education of human masses. I am inspired by what Louis Massignon spoke about in India ten years after the murder of Mahatma Gandhi. I understood that the drying-up of spiritual sources for new and enormous urbanized human groups (and we can extend this to include those alienated from their traditional values and cultures also in rural areas) will result in a huge increase of violence, because without the depth of the aesthetic and ecstatic experience offered by the "pilgrimage attitude" (in the broadest sense of this word) religiosity and political violence will fuse together apocalyptically. -