Conference Reports

Intercultural Dialogue in an Era of Unilateralism

Date: 24-Jun-2003

Intercultural dialogue (ICD) in an era of unilateralism

MSRC-KAF Intercultural Discourse series

June 11, 2003

Hotel Nikko, KL

Organized by M’sia Strategic Research Ctr & Konrad-Adenauer Foundation



The terrorist attack in the United States on Sept 11, 2001 kicked off the new century with a sudden blow. Since then, US embarked on a war to wipe out Al-Qaeda, hence the war against the Taliban of Afghanistan, and subsequently, war on Iraq. These actions further intensified the pressure and uptightness in the international relations. The international debates have been focusing on American unilateralism, imperialism as well as negative aspects of globalization. Indeed, these world events have demonstrated the necessity for intercultural dialogue (ICD) for mutual recognition and understanding of diverse cultures, religions and civilizations. More than just academic interests and intellectual discourse, it is argued that such dialogue should be established at the center stage of international politics considering the pluralistic nature of the global scene. Nevertheless, in the creation of a world order, is a peaceful world an illusion? The perceived unilateral actions of the United States were done in the claim of maintaining world peace. How far can dialogue achieve its purpose, and just how effective it can be? Prior to war in Iraq, the international community overwhelmingly supported dialogue, yet US preferred military action and proceeded with the invasion.

Aiming to promote a culture of peace, this seminar attempts to define and improve ICD and its relevance in a so-called era of Unilateralism from both Malaysian and German perspectives respectively. Both panelists, Prof. Dr. Shamsul & Dr Mulack acknowledge the importance of such dialogue and its significance in resolving global conflicts.

Summary of Seminar:



Datuk Dr. Ishak Yakub

(Former Vice Chancellor, UUM)

(1) Prof Dato'Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin

(Director of Institute of the Malay world & civilization,


(2) Ambassador Dr Gunter Mulack

(Commissioner for Intercivilization Dialogue, Ministry

of Foreign Affair, Germany)

Mr. Schier, chairman of KAF, in opening address

Humanity’s enemies are poverty, ignorance, diseases and discrimination, and the most dangerous enemy we face today is the lack of understanding amongst different cultures. There is no alternative to dialogue.

Datuk Dr Ishak Yakob, Chairman of panel

Dr. Yakub suggested the participants to bear in mind the following questions

  1. What is the target group of intercultural dialogue?
  2. What are the relevant subjects to be raised?
  3. How does dialogue reach the global audience?
  4. What are the benefits and how effective the dialogue can be?

Prof Shamsul

ICD is between the unequals, between the collectives (societies, communities, associations, families, peer groups, etc), between individuals. One must consider the parameters of such dialogue, for culture cannot be separated from history (as in who defines the society), economy (as in who controls resources), and politics (as in who has the power). In the era of unilateralism, what does dialogue mean? It’s impossible to have dialogues without US’ participation because it provides the platform of dialogue and it defines global politics, controls global resources, and command global power. Nevertheless, dialogues in UN, APEC, ASEAN, OIC, etc have so far been scripted in history, politics and economy without concern for civilization and cultures.

Dialogue is the narrative component of a large negotiation activity; it is often conducted face-to-face between two or more interested parties. In a global world, pluralized nation-states increased cultural differences, and thus there is need for increased understanding and tolerance. Religions and race are two major groups of differences. There is little hidden Hitler in everyone of us, there is economy of racism (colored, poor), and politics of racism (affirmative action policies). It is not so much about dialogue but negotiation; we negotiate differences.

Dr Mulack

Due to lack of exposure and international dialogue, the German idea of Muslims countries has been confined to the notion of Islam in Arabic countries. Therefore there is no alternative to dialogue. Nevertheless one must not overestimate its practical impact. The German government has set up an intercultural taskforce and specialists abroad with priority to dialogue with others. Indeed, there is a need to bridge the gap between the west & Islam. One of the difficulties that challenges dialogue may be development, which creates credibility gap and mistrust. Dialogue needs honesty, transparency, and intense cooperation between civilizations. It requires all parties to be frank and to have open self-criticism. Unilateralism in US created misunderstanding and mistrust.

Europe, due to historical experiences in war, does not want war, but see multilateralism as an important means to resolve existing problems. The principle of justice and rule of law play important role in human justice. South East Asia has been a model in cultural tolerance.

There should be a joint action in promoting intercultural dialogue:

  1. Education, e.g. educating people to be responsible citizen of civil society
  2. Cooperation from media to paint an objective picture
  3. Empowerment & acceptance of the role of women
  4. While strengthening our cultural identity, we also accept others’ cultural identity.
  5. Recognize and make all effort to find peaceful & just solution to problem.

Open discussion (some highlights):

  1. (Mohammad Nor, Malaysia Interfaith Network): It was important to have good perception and good intention to relate to each other. There should be a continuous discovery of others’ perception. However we tend to limit ourselves in attempt to know others.
  2. (John Gurusamy): All leaders of faiths to admit all religions are equally valid and cease to proselyte; this will end all problems. Instead of spending money on printing tracts and books, religious organizations should spend time and money on social issues.
    1. (Mulack): Both Islam and Christianity are monolithic religions which are intolerant of other religions. Respect and tolerance does not mean equality.
    2. (Shamsul): the suggestion is unrealistic
  3. (Zakat Centre): (1) what to do with bad government? (2) Should Malaysia follow US "if you are not with us, you are against us" or continue to come against it?
    1. (Mulack): Majority Muslim governments in the Middle Eat are not democratic. There ought to be a regime change but not with military power. Decision should be left to the people with empowerment from outside.
    2. (Shamsul): How to leave it to the people? For the last decades Iraqis had not been able to rise up against their oppressive government. The people were practically left to live in misery on their own under the UN economic sanction. In regards to question (2), there is no option because the complication of the matters must be considered. One must also look at US beyond the war, i.e. its foreign policies.
  4. (Participants): "Tolerance be replaced with understanding"
  5. (Arul): (1) How do we reach out to the global audience who are sitting out there passively? (2) What about the reform of UN and Security Council?
    1. (Mulack): (1) Information technology.
    2. (Shamsul): (1) Quality of life must first be addressed before talking about reaching the global audience through IT. Most people on earth are living in the 3rd world nations where basic necessities such as electricity & water are problems. (2) Yes, UN must be reformed, but the reality is it is very weak, and can’t do much to remove unilateralism. It is a problem in itself. However, the matter is more complicated than we know. Amidst all the criticisms, one must bear in mind UN is practically part of our lives and it has done well in many areas.
  6. (Participant): Democracy is the best system of all accompanied by justice
  7. (Baginda): Domestic factors. Admitting our weakness for we ourselves are to blamed for most problems.

Closing statements

(Shamsul): Continuation of humble spirit in intercultural dialogue.

(Mulack): Inter-religious dialogue in an academic way does not help, we must seek to understand other religions. Open interaction. Continue to spread and cultivate the idea of dialogue among the young generation.

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