Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Foreign Affairs man from Canberra

from w
Bob Carr sounds very promising, a man of intelligence, humanity, and experience. I hope he can deal well with Fiji in the future. Here is an article from today's Age with a summary of his maiden speech in the Australian Parliament. His idea of 'an overlap of cultures' as a way of life where there is respect despite difference, many cultures and religions side by side without exaggeration is very fair.

History exhibits possibilities of tolerance and respect
Bob Carr
March 22, 2012

We can aim for an overlap of cultures rather than a clash of civilisations.

LAST month, US soldiers burned copies of the Koran at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Days later, young people destroyed 238 war graves in Benghazi, Libya.

Intentional insult or error of judgment, such acts can look like cultures at war, as did the Taliban when it dynamited the Buddhas of Bamiyan, carved in stone 15 centuries ago.

At such times, people might believe we are being tugged towards the nightmare that American writer Samuel Huntington predicted in his 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations.

And yet … I remember King Abdullah of Jordan saying in a speech at Davos: ''Let us avert the clash of civilisations, and help the overlap of cultures.''

An overlap - the idea is inspiring, especially compared with the alternative notion of monochrome monoliths burning one another's books and smashing their statues.

There have been, in the world's history, some very fine cultures of tolerance.

In southern Spain in medieval times, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived and worked together in the polity known as al-Andalus.

As Maria Rosa Menocal wrote in The Ornament of the World, it was a society that had the courage to ''live with its own flagrant contradictions''.

I've sometimes asked Chinese leaders as we've talked over dinner, ''What was your favourite dynasty?''

In my experience, the Chinese usually nominate the Tang, ruling between 618 and 907. It was the time, according to one of my interlocutors, ''when China opened to the world and the world opened to China''.

Its sometime capital was Xi'an, a walled city of a million people with mosques and churches and Buddhist monasteries, where ancient texts from India were being translated into Chinese. Persian princes in exile made it their home.

The grid-like streets were thronged with tradesmen, horsemen, acrobats and musicians who had travelled from central Asia along the Silk Route. It was cosmopolitan. The empire was full of foreigners learning from Chinese civilisation.

Sydney businessman John Azarias recently wrote an account of Greek-Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy, whose ''constant companions of the mind were the multi-ethnic worlds of the Seleucids, of the Ptolemies, of Byzantium and of the Ottomans''.

Again, the culture was untidy, contradictory, pluralistic - not a culture demanding conformity to a single religion or language.

Surely rich enough to fit King Abdullah's ideal of ''an overlap of cultures''. As I heard Bill Clinton say once: ''Our differences make us interesting. Our common humanity is more important.''

What can we Australians do to steer the world away from Koran burnings and the bombing of Buddhas and towards peaceful overlap and pluralism?

We can make sure that our multicultural society continues to tick over. There is no need to fetishise multiculturalism … but simply to relax into our easy-going Australian ethnic and cultural diversity, based on tolerance and respect.

We can enhance our work in the region for interfaith dialogue. We can work with Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim community, which continues to spurn extremism. As Burma democratises we will give it aid to educate and feed its children. We will encourage it to resolve complex internal conflicts and to entrench human rights. But we will also encourage it to value the evidence of its pluralistic past - like the precinct in Rangoon that includes a synagogue created by Jews from Iraq in the 1890s sitting next door to a 1914 Sunni madrasah which, in turn faces a Hindu temple and a Hokkien temple, with Methodist, Catholic and Anglican churches all nearby.

Running foreign policy is not just about protecting our national interest.

It is also being an exemplary global citizen when it comes to protecting human rights and the world's oceans.

We can also promote and defend cultural diversity, the idea of a planet of 7 billion that celebrates and does not deny its contradictions.

This is an edited text of Senator Bob Carr's maiden speech yesterday.

Read more:

No comments: