Speech at the International Day of Peace , Milan, September 21, 2015
When I received the invitation to participate in the celebration of the International Day of Peace focused on the theme of “Dialogue among civilizations, A journey with love”, I recalled the story of the young Spanish shepherd Santiago, who was travelling from Europe towards the Egyptian pyramids carrying a book in his wallet. He learned Arabic and met an old fortune teller lady, a king, a crystal merchant, a general, a camel breeder, an Englishman and virgin Fatima. He crosses the dessert, the war between clans and the oasis peace. At the end of the road, he learns that more important than any other treasure is to know the “Soul of the World”. The story of Santiago was told by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho in the book “The Alchemist” read by millions of people, proving once again that the dialogue between civilizations is not only possible, but also fascinating.
The place chosen for our gathering, the Milan Universal Exposition, could not be more suitable because, since the Roman period, what we call today “the European civilization”, was built through its capacity to assimilate other civilizations with whom it came into contact, and the vestiges of all these civilizations are still now to be found in Italy. These cultural and artistic relations have not prevented however neither wars or murdering or torturing those with other religious beliefs. If during the first four centuries of the first millennium the Roman emperors murdered and tortured the Christians, after the Roman emperors made Christianity official, started the persecution of the pagans. This led Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, Roman governor of proconsular Africa and prefect of Rome between 384 and 391 Anno Domini, to write then a text that seems so actual today:
“It is righteous to believe that all religions represent a single faith. To all we look upon the same stars, live beneath the same sky, are comprised in the same Universe. There lies no importance in the form of understanding by which we reach the same truth. To a mystery like this there cannot be a single path.”
In 1943, in the midst of the World War II, the most terrible military confrontation in history, the German writer Hermann Hesse publishes a book that describes a peaceful world in which armed confrontations are a sole memory. “The Glass Bead Game”, for which, at the end of the war in 1946, Hermann Hesse received the Nobel Prize in Literature, proposes the model of a society founded on culture and not on violence and glorifies the valences of cultural dialogue.
It is clear, writes Herman Hesse, that those belonging to different nations or speaking different languages do not have the chance to communicate together with the same comprehension and intimacy as those sharing the same nationality or language. But this is not a reason to give up getting along with each other or to refuse dialogue. Between individuals of same nation or speakers of same language there are also barriers preventing a perfect communication and mutual comprehension, generated by the cultural, education, ability, individual differences. So it can be said that all people on earth can, in principle, express their ideas no matter what these are and it cannot be claimed that there is no possibility for two people in the world to be prevented from communicating with each other and from truly, intimately and totally understanding each other. This truth is depicted with many references to Chinese philosophy and Eastern religions.
Unlike the Utopias by Thomas Morus or Campanella, Hesse’s novel does not suggest an isolation - on the contrary, an involvement in the life of the world beyond the peaceful borders of Castalia, ambushed by the danger of self-sufficiency.
We might ask ourselves why after the spectacular development of intercultural dialogue during the last decades, humankind is presently facing so many challenges, freezing adversities and a spiral of violence?
In my opinion, the culture of peace is something more than intercultural dialogue and its construction requires more time and more perseverance. It is about a lifelong learning process – from early childhood until old age. We cannot neglect the fact that a “culture of peace” cannot be separated from a new “culture of democracy” and even a new “culture of market economy”.
The culture of peace is difficult to build also because in the late 20th century and early 21st century, the need of “education” was replaced by the need of “entertainment”, as entertainment brings money, while education does not. Mass killings, genocide, rapes, destructions are the “breaking news”, while the humanitarian actions are not. If this reality will not change, the children now raised and educated in the spirit of violence will migrate, even without any ideological and religious motivations, to those spaces that have become some sort of “reservations” where “manhunt” and “killing and torturing people” are allowed, encouraged, praised and made popular. The “violent images traders” are equally responsible as “weapons traders”, because their motivation is the same: profit, money.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers of this event for proposing the theme of “Power of Dreams, A journey of love”. This is the path towards which Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam – religions of peace and love, are leading us. For too long this has only been a dream. Perhaps a new generation will make it come true.
Prof. dr. Emil Constantinescu
September 21, 2015