PRESENTATION BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE AMMAN ROUNDATABLE, AMMAN, 23 FEBRUARY 2003-02-17
‘THE MIDDLE EAST: CULTURE, RELIGION AND COMMUNITY: LOOKING BEYOND THE CURRENT CRISIS’
“CULTURE AND RELIGION WITH THE CONTEXT OF:
CONSTRAINTS AND OPPORTUNITIES IN A GLOBALISAING WORLD;
RELATION TO MODERNITY AND TRADITION; STRAINS AND CONFLICTS’
Apart from its economic implications, globalisation will have a critical impact on :
- on our cultures and personal identities;
- on our religions and our search for personal meaning and spiritual fulfillment.
The rich cultural diversity of our planet is one of our greatest communal and personal heritages.
The culture into which we are born provides the framework within which we later develop our own personal identities. It provides us with the language through which we first communicate with our family and friends and the concepts by which we first begin to understand our universe.
However, as a result of globalisation a new international uniformity is developing in many areas which had previously been characterised by cultural diversity:
- New generations are growing up all around the world who watch the same TV shows.
- Their understanding of the world is increasingly influenced by the same global news networks and commentators.
- They follow the same fashions and buy the same globally marketed products.
The result is the development of a new generation of global citizens whose attitudes, tastes and aspirations are increasingly uniform. Everywhere regional and national cultures and identities are under pressure.
- Few cultures have the ability to compete against Hollywood or to withstand the impact of the kind of globalised pop culture communicated by MTV. Even in France far more people went to see ‘Titanic’ than even the most popular French movie.
- It has been estimated that half of the world’s 6 000 languages will disappear during the next century. Our cultural diversity is now under greater threat than the bio-diversity of our planet.
- Few regional languages have the ability to withstand English – In South Africa we have ten official indigenous languages that are all under threat from English, the eleventh official language – even though it is the home language of fewer than 10% of South Africans
Globalisation presents us with another great challenge: the challenge to preserve and enhance spiritual meaning in an increasingly materialistic and secular world. The driving forces behind globalisation are economic, rationalistic and materialistic – and these forces are often inimical to our search for spiritual meaning and ethical orientation.
Many of our traditional moral and religious values are under serious threat.
- Throughout much of the Western world, churches are empty and some people say that society has entered the ‘post Christian era’.
- In Europe, a large proportion of couples no longer get married. Everywhere the traditional concept of the nuclear family is under threat.
- The advent of the pill in the ‘sixties; the wide acceptance of sex outside of marriage and changing attitudes toward homosexuality have all contributed to a revolution in society’s attitudes to sexual morality.
- Our children are routinely exposed to a flood of obscenities and blasphemy on TV and in the movies that would have made earlier generations of sailors blush.
- Widespread acceptance of abortion and increasing demands for the legalisation of euthanasia are sweeping aside old attitudes regarding the sanctity of human life.
Traditional religion is being undermined by the following factors:
- The religious impulse of our ancestors often had its root in their awe of the unknown; in the mysteries of the changing seasons and the movements of the sun, moon and stars; and in the eternal riddle of the beginning and end of life. But increasingly, our rapidly expanding pool of scientific knowledge provides compelling and fascinating explanations for many of these ancient mysteries.
- Our cultural and religious identity was underpinned by ceremony and taboo. In our age, our sense of the divine has been seriously eroded by our appetite for rational analysis and the familiarity bred by Hollywood epics and the mass commercialisation of religion.
- Only a generation or two ago, our moral orientation was fixed by immutable commandments, of black and white notions of right and wrong. But relativistic values and situational morality have swept aside many of these commandments. The general approach today seems to be that we may do whatever we like, provided we do not harm anyone else.
- CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS CONFLICT
Globalisation is bringing diverse religious and cultural communities into closer contact with one another. This development bears the seeds of future problems. Already the main cause of conflict throughout the world is the inability of different ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious communities to coexist peacefully.
- 25 of the 27 conflicts that afflicted the world in the year 2000 were between religious, ethnic and cultural communities – and not between countries.
- Many of strains between Islam and the West have their roots in perceptions of the threat that globalisation poses to Islamic cultural and religious traditions. Pious fundamentalists are deeply offended by the flood of western materialistic culture, music, movies, values and the influence that these are having on Islamic values and morality. The dangerous extreme of this attitude is Osama bin Laden’s fanatical hatred of the West in general and the United States in particular.
- Cultural strains are also developing between the United States and Europe. The subtext to much of the growing alienation is European rejection of American cultural domination. One of the leaders of the anti-War in Iraq movement in Britain recently said that he would rather be eating cheese and reading Sartre beside the Seine with the French than eating popcorn with born-again Christians in Washington.
The greatest challenge that globalisation presents will be to ensure that there will still be a place for cultural diversity, individuality and faith in an increasingly uniform, materialistic and secular world. It will also be to promote peaceful and harmonious relations between all the diverse ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious communities that will be brought together in the new global village. We must ensure that our purpose in life will be more than the mere pursuit of comfort and pleasure and the accumulation of material possessions.
The best way of meeting this challenge will be to strengthen the position of cultural and religious communities in the globalised world by observing the following principles:
- We must break away from the notion that globalisation should be a vehicle only for Western materialistic culture. Globalisation, by definition, belongs to the whole world and should be used increasingly as a multi-directional highway for the communication and propagation of equally valid global cultures and values.
- We must dispense with the idea that Western secular and permissive values represent the only way in which men and women and their families should organise their lives. Social statistics in Europe and North America show that permissive societies certainly do not have the perfect formula.
- We must move away from the current perception that reason and science alone can provide us with the basic meaning that we seek in our lives. We must return to the reality that the deepest meaning can be found only in our myths, our traditions and above all, in our religious faith.
- We must reject the rationalistic notion that all values are relative and situational and return to the absolute values that are central to all the great religions.
- We must promote toleration and respect for the diversity of religions and cultures.
By adopting such principles I believe that we will be able to ensure peace between religious and cultural communities and preserve our rich cultural heritage from the onslaught of globalisation.