The dialogue of civilisations

Salma El-Nashar
Friday 5 Jul 2019

International law is the fruit of cultural and intellectual interaction between civilisations in its search for a world of peace and mutual understanding

The dialogue between civilisations has always been an indispensable way to understand the different cultures, lifestyles, and worldviews of different people in the international community. 

In 2001, then secretary-general of the UN Kofi Anan proclaimed that year as the International Year of Dialogue among Civilisations, saying that “the United Nations itself was created in the belief that dialogue can triumph over discord, that diversity is a universal value and that the peoples of the world are far more united by their common fate than they are divided by their separate identities.

“Alongside an infinite diversity of cultures, there does exist one global civilisation in which humanity’s ideas and beliefs meet and develop peacefully and productively.”

The dialogue of civilisations is not a temporary condition or an emergency required in certain periods, however. It is a continuous matter needed at each stage and period because of its strong relationship with the variable lives of human societies.

Thus, this dialogue opens the door to the understanding of different societies and leads to a convergence of civilisations and cultures in what we call cultural interaction.

Like with international cultural cooperation, this dialogue should highlight ideas and values that can create a climate of friendship and peace and condemn any manifestations of hostility and hate.

The necessities of such dialogue come from the fact that human societies are in constant need of understanding each other and exchanging common interests and benefits.

Dialogue is the most effective way to achieve this. It helps to express different opinions, leading to finding solutions, reaching settlements, and limiting and mitigating the effects of conflicts. 

It should also be noted that the relationship between civilisations and international law is a strong relation that goes back hundreds of years. Many scholars and researchers have made it clear that the basic concepts of international humanitarian law stem from non-European civilisations, particularly from Islamic law.

They have affirmed the great similarities between Islamic norms and international humanitarian standards of conduct in armed conflicts, for example.

The modern interaction between European and Islamic civilisations has played an important role in shaping international humanitarian law as we know it today. 

International law, including its written and non-written sources, treaties, international customs, general principles of law and other sources, is considered the fruit of cultural and intellectual interaction between nations and civilisations.

The dialogue of civilisations has always been an important factor in drafting the different principles and provisions of such law and creating several methods to solve disputes and conflicts.

In spite of the international situation and the tensions the world faces nowadays, the dialogue of civilisations will continue to be a humanitarian process and continuous intellectual and cultural movement from many perspectives. 

The United Nations has adopted various resolutions to support and encourage the dialogue of civilisations, confirming that the interaction and cooperation among different civilisations started in ancient times and has continued despite wars and conflicts.

However, developing international relations between nations needs collective efforts and international cooperation to assist in solving the various issues facing the world today. 

Studies and research indicate that the attention of the United Nations and many world leaders to the idea of dialogue among civilisations has come for several reasons, perhaps the most important of which is reducing violence and hate speech, as well as reducing the gaps between the different civilisations as a result of cultural and religious differences and building good communication among peoples through social, religious and cultural tolerance. 

We cannot deny that this dialogue has been a major milestone throughout the history of human culture and international relations, and that it will always be a valued method for achieving peace and reconciliation. 

*The writer is an attorney at law.

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 4 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The dialogue of civilisations

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