Thursday, March 25, 2010

Iran's P2P Cultural Diplomacy?

While various PD initiatives around the world currently making the news focus mainly on information techniques, Iran is apparently trying to (also) adopt a more relational, engaging and 'understanding' approach, by providing a forum for discussion on the very pertinent topic of "Multiculturalism and Global Community." The conference, which will take place in July this year, will focus on three main themes: cultural diversity, Islam, and Iran.

Culture: Diversity or Integrity
  1. Multiculturalism and Global Peace
  2. Asia: Diversity or Unity in Cultures
  3. Intercultural Dialogue: Approaches and Outcomes
  4. Media, Communication and Common Good
  5. Globalization, Religion and Common Good
Islam: New Challenges, New Perspectives
  1. Islam and the Crisis of Modern Man
  2. Islam and Other Faiths: Truth or Salvation
  3. Islam and Woman: Rights and Commitments
  4. Islam: Traditionalism or Modernism
  5. Islam and Revivalism: Needs and Necessities
  6. Islam: Spirituality, Morality and Jurisprudence
Iran: Realities and Appearances
  1. Iran, Religious State and International Challenges
  2. Iran and the Middle East
  3. Iran and New Generation: Gap or Conflict
  4. Iran and International Society: Contraction or Expansion
  5. Cultures and Religions in Iran: Heterogeneous or Homogeneous Society

More interesting, however, are the members of the "Scientific Board," who come not only from Iran and Indonesia, but also from universities of Georgetown, Indiana, and Creighton. The conference has special discounts for students, and offers help with all the visa arrangements. So in case you're interested in paying a visit to the land of Cyrus the Great (or the Grand Ayatollah, depending on your "interests"), you should register and submit your paper abstract now.

People-to-people interactions and such international "scholarly meetings" are a major component of cultural diplomacy, especially when the subject matter itself focuses on culture. It's great to see that despite all the rhetoric from all (involved and irrelevant) sides, it seems that such lower-level interactions are still open to willing enthusiasts. And well, this demonstrates that Iran is not dormant and is actively trying to establish itself, stronger, as a leader in the Islamic world in matters of diversity and cultural dialogue (at least at an academic level): something that should not be ignored or readily dismissed by those concerned about the developments in the region, especially given the "credibility deficit" of the US and the Europeans there. Also, it is important to remember that it was Iran's reformist President Khatami who suggested and started the Dialogue Among Civilizations initiative in 2000.

Perhaps, after all, this is the right way to go about the problem Iran poses, instead of further sanctions that will only harm the people, strengthen the regime, force it to close in even further, and radicalize what (at least) used to be the most pro-American public in the Greater Middle East. But this requires long-term strategic thinking, does not yield readily available quantitative results, does not involve the military and thus, runs the risk of being neglected by those who demand measures, budgets, and quick, immediate outcomes.

(Image from the conference website)


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