Speech in India
Topic: Caricatures Row
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the German Bundestag last week we had an in-depth debate on the caricatures row and the current situation in the countries shaped by Islam. The large number of violent demonstrations and the anger and indignation of Muslim believers, along with the threats against Western newspapers and caricaturists, are shocking.
This topical example demonstrates how much we must still do in order to achieve understanding and acceptance amongst different cultures. Some pessimists are already saying that there is now no way of achieving peaceful co-existence. But I do believe that there is a way!
The dividing line is not between Europe and the Muslim States. It cannot be drawn on a map. The dividing line is between those people open to dialogue and those who would like to see the situation escalate.
We must do everything possible to stop the fanatics and must be actively committed to cultural dialogue. Since September 2001 we have been running a programme entitled “European-Islamic Cultural Dialogue” in the framework of cultural and educational policy abroad, which involves many different projects in the countries shaped by Islam.
As well as having re-opened the Goethe Institute in Kabul, we are, for example, running radio projects for young people, scholarship programmes for Iraqi students, projects to promote equality for women, the “10,000 books for Iraq” campaign and the “German language education for Turkish Imams” programme.
We are pleased with the positive results which we have achieved so far. Yet, as shown once again by the caricature row, this is not enough!
We will only be able to achieve understanding by getting to know each other’s cultures, norms and values. This means that we must all sit down together at one table, and give the different cultures and religions the opportunity to explain the things which are important to them.
The basic framework has to be clear, though. Human rights apply to everybody. Freedom of religion, free speech and press freedom are amongst the rights enshrined as human rights. Although these rights have their limits, they are, nevertheless, part of the basic rights which apply to the whole world.
This is something we must make clear, just as we must make clear that violence must not be resorted to.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Here in your country I can see that the dialogue of cultures and religions is largely working. I think it is wonderful that you are generally successful in achieving co-existence in your country, with its 150 million Muslims. This has been demonstrated once again by the criticism made by Muslims in your country in the context of the caricatures row. Some Muslims in India did express criticism, but they did so in a constructive and peaceful manner!
I myself am a member of the jury for the alternative Nobel Prize, the Right Livelihood Award, in the context of which we last year honoured two Indians who had played a particular role in promoting this dialogue.
Swami Agnivesh and Asghar Ali Engineer were presented with an Honorary Award for their “strong commitment and cooperation over many years to promote the values of co-existence, tolerance and understanding in India and between the countries of South Asia”.
They and other prize-winners from previous years demonstrate how commitment to dialogue between cultures can look. And the Indians are showing others how harmonious co-existence between people in a country full of vastly different cultures and religions can look.
It is important for our society that we are clear ourselves about what our common cultural values are. Only when we know this ourselves can we effectively communicate these values to others. A process of this kind took place in Germany following the time of inhumanity and darkness of the Second World War. The discussion which took place was probably so intense because of the difficult circumstances in which it arose.
The fathers and mothers of our constitution were aware of this historical legacy and they founded our new state on the basis of this insight. This constitution was to be the foundation for peaceful, respectful and open co-existence in post-war Germany. The sentence “Human dignity shall be inviolable” is at the beginning of a series of articles laying down the so-called basic rights, which set out a basic structure of our identity. They shape the way in which we perceive our own culture.
Not every state or nation needs to write itself such a complex and in parts overly precise constitution as the German one - that’s just the way we Germans are. The current discussion in Germany about reforming one part of this constitution - the element governing relations between the federal level and the individual states (federalism reform), i.e. a similar structure to the one which exists in India – shows the difficulties associated with this.
But I believe that the values enshrined in our constitution ensure that intercultural dialogue and understanding are possible.
At the moment I am personally campaigning for culture to be anchored in the Basic Law as a constitutional goal. Although it is mostly the individual federal states that are responsible for culture in Germany, its promotion is nonetheless a central issue to which every German citizen should be committed.
The second step, after discussing our own values, is to talk about shared European values. Europe has a very strong community foundation, based on the Elysée Treaty, whose 40-year existence we celebrated in 2003. This treaty made Germany and France important partners and thus also important initiators of the European Union.
The process of exchange between Europe’s various cultures on their values and views has therefore been taking place for a long time. A common constitution offers a means of enshrining shared values and thus strengthening Europe’s foundations.
As I am sure you know, the European constitutional process collapsed last year. But I would like to emphasise that the reason the process broke down was not because people rejected the idea of a common European constitution.
Opponents of the constitution painted an exaggerated – but probably not completely inaccurate – picture of a problematic social and economic situation. In other words, it was instead fear of a misunderstood Europe that led to the constitution’s rejection.
In my opinion, a European constitution would make the opposite possible. A constitution offers precisely the foundations and proposals which could enable Europe to grow together.
In this context, it is important to also consider the process within which the constitution came about, which was a very long one. Although it could be argued that European integration began more than 2000 years ago (the Christian West, and later the Peace of Westphalia), the institutional integration process that has been taking place for more than 50 years is unique in history, particularly because of shared ideals and culture.
Like Germany, Europe faced a new beginning in 1945; its moral system was in ruins. Joint European thinking was intended to offer an alternative to the nationalism that had failed so devastatingly. Constructive cooperation was initially forged within the framework of an economic community, which aimed, among other things, to promote economic interdependence as an effective means of preventing war.
Yet even at this stage it was clear to Europe’s spiritual fathers that Europe would need to share common values in the long run in order to be able to develop and grow closer together. This spill-over effect, from a community formed for a common purpose to a community of shared values, was intended from the very beginning. In the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, the Member States expressed their determination to “mark a new stage in the process of European integration” and to create “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” (preamble). Increasingly, the European Union’s existence was justified less on functional grounds and more by its distinct values.
The EU constitution would be the culmination of this process. It represents Europe’s process of introspection about the values and origins that bind it together. The EU constitution also contains a charter of fundamental rights which enables a basis understanding of all the diverse European cultures. For that is what binds Europe together: “united in diversity” is the motto of the European Union, enshrined in the constitution.
Within the European integration process, we therefore need to improve dialogue, debate and understanding among the citizens of Europe about what they have in common.
This is a prerequisite if we are to be able to clearly communicate our own values in dialogues with less familiar cultures like Islam.
Having touched in this speech on a number of points where there is still a great deal to be done, I would like to conclude by recounting a wonderful personal experience.
Two and a half years ago, I had the privilege of attending the reopening of the Goethe Institute in Kabul. Although the devastation in Afghanistan was the determining factor in people’s lives, there was immense interest. I was particularly moved when a Bavarian zither player and Afghan musicians with traditional instruments began to play music together. And that after six years of Taliban rule, when no music was permitted!
Even if the path to intercultural understanding is sometimes difficult, experiences such as this show me again and again that it is far from hopeless. If we join with those who want dialogue, we cannot be stopped by any fanatics or rulers who fear a loss of power.