The Third “Nishan Forum on World Civilizations” was held in Jinan, China, from May 20 to May 23, 2014. The Forum is a major sister organization of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations.” At the opening session, Fred Dallmayr made these comments in his capacity as Co-Chairman of the World Public Forum.
Esteemed Mr. Xu Jialu, Mr. Liu Changle, Organizing Committee, guests and friends:
I greatly appreciate this opportunity to participate in this Third “Nishan Forum on World Civilizations,” a forum which seeks to cultivate and strengthen the mutual understanding and cooperation among different cultures and traditions in the contemporary world. This goal corresponds very closely to the aims and aspirations of the World Public Forum—“Dialogue of Civilizations” which I have the honor to represent here. Due to some other commitments, our Founding President, Dr. Vladimir Yakunin, is prevented from being here. I bring to you his warm greetings and the greetings of the membership of the World Public Forum. In these dangerous times, fraught with so many conflicts and armed confrontations, it is vitally urgent to create a global buffer or antidote to militarism and unilateralism in the form of institutions of global cooperation.
The World Public Forum was established in 2002, in direct response to September 11 and to the fashionable doctrine of the “clash of civilizations.” Two years ago, our Forum was able to celebrate its tenth anniversary. At that time, we noted with joy that the idea of civilizational dialogue and cooperation had also found a home in China, particularly in the Nishan Forum whose first inaugural meeting in 2011 coincided with the tenth anniversary of the United Nations “Year of Dialogue among Civilizations.” Very significant here is the location of the Nishan Forum near the birthplace of Confucius. No better place could have been found for a forum on world civilizations because Confucius—in my mind—embodies perfectly what it means to be civilized.
Here I have to confess to you my long-standing fascination with, and attraction to, the sage of Qufu. It is now more than three decades ago, in 1991, that I first visited China. The occasion was an international conference held at the University of Nanjing on the topic “Traditional Chinese Thought and Culture and the 21st Century.” The central focus of the conference was the relevance and viability of indigenous Chinese traditions in the face of the relentless modernization and Westernization of the globe today. Among these traditions, Confucianism clearly and justifiably occupied the limelight of attention. The University of Nanjing was kind enough to provide me with a guide who, after the conference, took me to Qufu and also to the sacred mountain of Taishan. So, my roots in the Confucian tradition are deep (although I am not, and do no claim to be, a professional Sinologist).
What attracts me particularly to Confucianism is its emphasis on mutuality or relationality—which stands in sharp contrast to the stress on unilateralism and one-sided hegemony which tends to be favored in some quarters (not in all) of the contemporary West. As can readily be seen, the latter stress is not compatible with the idea and practice of a dialogue among or between civilizations. Where this practice prevails, cultures do not spurn or shun each other, nor do they seek to foist one way of life on other cultures. Rather, cultures are willing to undergo a mutual learning experience promoted through dialogue, mutual testing, and constructively critical interrogation. In the case of a fruitful learning experience, the likely result is mutual appreciation and peaceful cooperation.
Let us hope that both the Nishan Forum and the World Public Forum can advance the world in the direction of such cooperation.