I am writing this message from Rhodes, Greece, the home for the last thirteen years of the Rhodes Forum: World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations.” Shortly after the 1993 publication by Foreign Affairs of Samuel Huntington’s article, “The Clash of Civilizations?” a few individuals came together and proposed that what the world really needed was a Dialogue of Civilizations, not a Clash. Thirteen years later, the Dialogue is still going strong, as relevant as ever. The goal of the Forum, as I have experienced it, is to bring together scholars whose interests promote dialogue and peace instead of clashes and war. The approach is multidisciplinary and promotes evidence-based discussions. I feel empowered and greatly enhanced by the learning and cross-fertilization of ideas that takes place in venues such as the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations.”
This was my first opportunity to participate in this Forum. Sharing novel ideas and experiences from around the world, it becomes clear that the world’s current chaos is neither normal nor necessary. Therefore, in support of pluralism, the Forum seeks to introduce to the academic community rigorous knowledge that opposes war. It also serves as a place where peace-oriented research can be shared by like-minded scholars. The Forum recognizes that it has a role to play not only in the generation and support of peace knowledge, but also in support of peace action. Toward the former, the Forum has held discussions about starting a peer-reviewed journal to sustain its generation of knowledge for peace. The question that remains is the extent to which these Rhodes scholars will be able to translate their ideas into political action and ultimately to public policy.
The Forum addressed many issues of today, including European Security, Digital Media, The Current Migration Crisis, and the use of Hybrid Wars as a Subversion Tool; but took immediate action to address the crises in Syria calling for a ceasefire and recent events in Turkey, when demonstrators were attacked by government police.
On Day One of the Dialogue, I had the opportunity to speak. I spoke about the need inside the United States for international support for our local peace leadership. I mentioned that the United States is full of authentic peace leaders, but going against the call for war means personal risk, personal insecurity, and oftentimes personal penury. The speakers, other than me, were the Forum’s co-founder and Co-Chairman, Vladimir Yakunin; and former Chancellor of the Republic of Austria, Alfred Gusenbauer. Other notables slated to speak are Johan Galtung, Richard Falk, and Mazin Qumsiyeh. I am particularly happy to meet Walter Mignolo, who also spoke on Day One about coloniality of power—a topic that I wrote extensively on in my dissertation on Hugo Chavez. In it, I quote Anibal Quijano extensively who might be considered the father of the idea of “coloniality”—a power configuration that prolongs the privilege of the few at the expense of the many (who also happen to be non-European colonized, known in scholarship as “the other,” “the subaltern,” and a host of other terms invented as alternative descriptors for race or ethnicity discussions). Because this was my first experience at the Forum, I look forward to participating in future Rhodes Forums in Greece.
One important and interesting presentation was made by Professor Anatoli Antonov (from Russia). Antonov pointed out in a comparison between the Soviet Union and today’s economy, that the capitalist economy opposes family. He pointed out that salaries paid today are only to sustain individuals and that families today cannot be sustained on the wages paid. He suggested that corporate profits should be cut by two-thirds, providing the opportunity to pay a family wage, protect the environment, and then with the final one third to go for profit. Antonov suggested that capitalism provides the wrong incentives concluding that this is so because “family doesn’t produce profit.” Antonov concludes that a capitalist economy opposes family.
Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics from India, deviated from her pre-assigned topic of international development economics and spoke passionately about Europe’s immigration crisis. Her poignant words rang throughout the hall, “The migrants are here because you are there.” For a moment I had to pinch myself because it sounded so much like what I would say! She concluded that the Europeans were fussing hypocritically about migration; she said that the global architecture prevents the formerly colonized countries from real growth and development and that the former colonizers don’t hesitate to use their “financial artillery” to maintain inequality and undue privilege. She said that ultimate equality results when colonization of the mind has been conquered and when there is a free flow of knowledge in both directions. She ended with a plea: “Don’t privilege capital over human beings.”
Karl-Theodor von und zu Guttenberg, former Minister of Defense for Germany, warned of the problem policy makers face in a situation from government to “google-ment” having to make decisions in the context of the influence of Google. Richard Werner, Professor at the University of Southampton Business School, maintained that international borrowing for smaller countries is not even necessary and advocates instead public banking and cooperatives for real growth and development. Vaclav Klaus, former President of the Czech Republic also spoke, adding a note of experience against the current global financial infrastructure of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Professor Chandrasekhar of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University: inequality, environmental degradation are the by-products of today’s neoliberal strategy. Echoing my own writings here on RT, Chandrasekhar concluded that inclusiveness is not on the trajectory of neoliberalism and can never be. He cited Thomas Piketty’s research as having put a discussion of inequality on the table for discussion.
Beatriz Bissio, Professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said that the former colonized world really doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel: the ten principles of the Bandung Conference, according to her, are quite sufficient for taking the countries of the Global South where they need to be. She began her remarks talking about her own vivid memories of the cost of war and how the Bandung Conference was a turning point for the world whose principles for peace, against racism, colonialism, and imperialism are still needed today.
Finally, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, Akeel Bilgrami noted that “One can only resist a master, not dialogue with it.”
This, briefly, is a recap of Day One of the Rhodes Forum. I hope you agree with me that it sounds exciting. It was very exciting for me to be present and I hope to continue this relationship with like minds and like souls. Next week, I’d like to continue my discussion of the research and opinions put forward at the Forum. Resistance was very much in the air in Rhodes, Greece. The question is what can this dedicated group of Professors do to take their ideas to the next level. I definitely want to be a part of that!