13th Rhodes Forum. Concluding Remarks

Concluding remarks of the Presidency of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations” on the occasion of the 13th Annual Rhodes Forum, October 11, 2015

Meeting for the 13th time on the island of Rhodes that is a crossroads of civilizations, this year’s Rhodes Forum gathered once again people from over 60 nations representing a variety of cultures and traditions. All the participants were united in their commitment to search for new ways of overcoming the contemporary global disorder – the immense human suffering as a result of military conflict, economic crisis, social dislocation and environmental destruction. By sharing novel ideas and experience from around the world, the Forum debated alternatives beyond the dominant ideologies and power systems. Key to this is the recognition that current chaos is neither necessary nor normative and that a spiritual humanism can transcend the logic of inequality and violence in the direction of justice and peace.

The World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations (WPF-DoC) has always defended the irreducible diversity of civilizations and supported pluralistic ideas at the service of inter-cultural and inter-civilizational dialogue. Based on a fifteen-year tradition, the Rhodes Forum seeks to offer a rich and rigorous analysis of the world as it is – outside of conventional categories that fail to capture the lived experience and reality that confronts people across the globe.

After 1945, the creation of the United Nations was at a heart of a concerted effort to provide for all nations a future without war. 70 years later we are deeply concerned by the persistence of old conflicts and the occurrence of new wars. Amid a shift from more tangible threats to more nebulous risks, there is a growing fusion of physical force (including new instruments such as drones and robots) with subversive tactics (like disinformation, “cyber warfare,” irregular forces, deception). This evolution towards hybrid warfare has the effect of blurring the lines between the military and civilian spheres, state- and non-state actors as well as regular and irregular tactics. Hybrid warfare represents the contemporary version of ‘total war’, which aims not only to achieve military victory but also to undo the political and social systems of states. As such, it precludes efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement through dialogue between the warring parties and destroys the very fabric of a world order based on the co-existence of sovereign nations.

During the 2015 Rhodes Forum Special attention was paid to West Asia and North Africa (WANA). Wars are raging in at least four countries in the region, tens of thousands of people have been killed, and millions more have left their homes in fear for their life. The rise of terrorist outfits such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Jabhat al-Nusra – targeting Muslims and non-Muslims alike – suggests that the world is facing a battle against barbarism, not a clash of civilizations. Fighting the barbarians who slaughter innocent men, women and children is a battle for civilisation – for ancient ways of life, ancestral homeland, millennia-old traditions and different faith communities such as Oriental Christians and the Yazidi who confront an impossible choice: forced conversion, expulsion or death. We are convinced that such and similar conflicts cannot be solved by military means alone but require political settlements that reflect cultural realities. We echo Pope Francis’ recent words that “war only brings destruction and multiplies suffering, while hope and progress can only come from peace. The concerned parties should broaden their horizons beyond the immediate interests and use international law and diplomacy to resolve current conflicts”.

This spirit also extends to other spheres such as the economy, society, and nature where a neo-colonialist system and mindset underpin the practices of exploitation that we are seeing around the world. What is required are new models of inclusive and equitable development that can lead to prosperous future – individual fulfillment and mutual flourishing. Therefore the objective of economic, financial and developmental policy should be shared prosperity for all – not just small global and national elites. This was the aim of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and the underlying holistic strategy, which now also includes a greater emphasis on ecological resilience. Unfortunately, international organization that should play a key role in this process too often fail to foster sustainable economic growth or to create sufficient jobs. We call upon them to lend to the real economy, particularly to micro-, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and to individuals who either live in abject poverty or struggle to make ends meet.

We are also concerned about a policy of creating a society of individuals who focus only on satisfying their selfish desires and ignore the needs of others or the fate of the planet at large. We stand in solidarity with all those who consider the family to be a fundamental social and cultural institution that is the basis for human flourishing and civilization – as set out in the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the constitutions of more than 100 countries as well as reflected in the holy scriptures of various religious traditions.

In the course of six plenary sessions and five workshops, the Rhodes Forum debated both current affairs such as the migration crisis and long-term issues such as European security, the importance of digital media, the network of schools of dialogue, as well as the cultures, history and future of China and Russia.