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 INTER-CULTURAL DIALOGUE IN A GLOBALIZING WORLD

In many respects, globalization is a paradoxical phenomenon. Thus, on the one hand, modern information and communication technologies as well as extensive migrations and travels have brought about greater awareness about the salience of ethnic and cultural diversity across the world. This has also resulted in greater contact, interaction and intermingling among people from diverse ethnic, religious and national backgrounds. On the other hand, there is a far greater awareness of the existence of wide asymmetries of power, resources and opportunities across the world, the spurt in ethnic, religious and regional conflicts in large parts of the world, growing xenophobia and racism directed against ethnic and religious minorities, and the growing tentacles of global terrorism.

Conflict seems to be an endemic phenomenon. The roots of conflict lie in a complex interplay of multiple factors, including the inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities, the tendency on the part of the dominant majority to establish and perpetuate its hegemony, the exclusion, marginalization and demonization of minorities, and a long-suppressed sense of deprivation and frustration. Social and ethnic conflicts can be triggered with ease in an atmosphere which is suffused with mistrust, resentment and hatred. Conflicts are often embedded in cognitive and psychological processes. It is now widely recognized that conflict is not inevitable, that it is possible as well as imperative to manage and resolve it through negotiation and dialogue and through the creation of an environment which fosters a spirit of mutual trust, understanding, good will and accommodation.

The creation of an atmosphere conducive for inter-cultural and inter-civilizational dialogue entails certain prerequisites. First, it requires an open recognition and tolerance of ethnic, religious and cultural diversities. Evidently, the need for dialogue arises in a situation where people have different perceptions and attitudes, which are largely conditioned by cultural and religious factors, towards certain issues. Second, self-righteousness, xenophobia, bigotry and a condescending and exclusionary attitude are the biggest stumbling blocs in inter-cultural dialogue. (The US Lieutenant-General William Boykin, while describing his battle against Muslims, remarked, "I know that my God was bigger than his (Muslim's), that my God was a real God and the Muslim's was an idol." International Herald Tribune, August 27, 2004.This kind of bigoted and obscurantist attitude leaves absolutely no room for inter-cultural or any other dialogue.) Inter-cultural dialogue cannot be set in motion unless there is a substantial measure of openness, inter-cultural sensibility, magnanimity and an accommodative and inclusionary spirit between the dialogue partners. Our perceptions and judgement about other people are conditioned for the most part by uncritically held assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes. No fruitful and viable dialogue between peoples and communities can take place unless such assumptions and stereotypes about others are set aside, unless simplifications and generalizations (which are often distorted) about different groups and communities are eliminated. Third, the dialogue process should be informed by a sense of optimism and hope. One should bear in mind the fact that differences are neither irreconcilable nor inevitable and that they can be ironed out and resolved through discussion, negotiation and dialogue. Fourth, inter-cultural dialogue cannot take place in a socio-cultural and existential vacuum. It should address the historical, social, political, cultural, and psychological dimensions of the issues and problems that cause mistrust and friction between different groups and communities.

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