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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Is there a clash of civilisations? - A conversation with Ramin Jahanbegloo

Ramin Jahanbegloo has devoted his entire intellectual life to the project of fostering dialogue between different cultures and societies. However, in April 2006, his endeavours were brought to an abrupt, though temporary, end, after he was arrested and imprisoned by Iranian authorities when on his way to a conference in Belgium. His imprisonment provoked an international outcry. It seemed that he was being punished - possibly even tortured - simply for his contact with the West. In May 2006, four hundred leading intellectuals, including Chomsky, Habermas and Rorty, signed a letter demanding his immediate release. However, it was not until the end of August that he was finally freed.

Despite this brush with what he says was “inhumanity” and “evil”, Jahanbegloo remains absolutely committed to the project of fostering dialogue and interconnections between human beings and cultures.

“The most important thing I got out of my own experience with evil and the inhuman is that one should not live in bitterness, but rather with a sense of humanity,” he tells me when we meet at the University of Toronto, where he has just become the Dean’s Distinguished Visitor in Human Rights. “One should always try to find ways of remaining ethical in the face of evil and to look for the humanity in the inhuman.”

This imperative to engage with the other, to always seek dialogue and points of connection, is a thread that runs through all his thoughts about the challenges of the modern world. For example, his notion of democracy is founded on the idea that it is necessary to engage with people in what he says is “a daily effort of interconnectedness, dialogue and tolerance”. According to Jahanbegloo, democracy is not simply a matter of safeguarding certain individual rights.


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