The Difficulties of Dialogue

Maria-Àngels Roque

Editor-in-Chief of Quaderns de la Mediterrània

Since we published the first issue of Quaderns de la Mediterrània, 10 years ago, we have been committed to participating in multicultural dialogue to build elements leading us to the recognition of interculturality, both through the hybrid cultures of the Mediterranean, the result of history, and those shared practices that prevail today but we do not recognise. This publication was born with the strategic objective of contributing to the mutual knowledge between Europe and the Mediterranean while providing complementary visions on diversity that could bring about greater understanding. The journal Quaderns de la Mediterrània has been based, since its beginning, on broader patterns rather than on specific events, therefore the texts have the analytical rigour of major specialists and the intrinsic freshness of creators.

The issues addressed throughout these years have been many, as we are dealing with a very extensive region but have always formed part of the main debates which have an effect on Euro-Mediterranean policies. Thus, our ideas have contributed to the plurality of these debates, as the Director General of the IEMed, Senén Florensa, explains in the presentation. We can affirm, in this respect, that we have been ahead of the debates arising from the ministerial conferences, putting forward new visions in our meetings, seminars and publications. The issues of Quaderns de la Mediterrània include dossiers on values, women, youth, media, diversity, spiritualities and representations, and cultural heritage, as well as other specific works focusing on the southern and eastern Mediterranean countries. 

We have divided this dossier, entitled “Ten Years of Mediterranean Dialogue”, into three representative sections of the most recurrent issues that have gradually emerged in this multicultural debate: 1) dialogue on interculturality and mutual awareness, 2) challenges and strategies to achieve this dialogue, and 3) representations and memory, the keys to reflect on interculturality.

Throughout this decade, Quaderns de la Mediterrània has offered elements of reflection and action, the result of the participation of intellectuals, artists, writers, members of associations, and so on, in order to give a voice to civil society. Our objective is to provide interdisciplinary knowledge from contrasted perspectives. It is very hard to appreciate what we do not know, so we all tend to have fixed images of societies. These, however, are constantly progressing, just like all living cultures. Thus, it is worth understanding the reasons why a determined situation takes place if we do not want to fall into the trap of cultural determinism. 

This issue includes some of the articles which have appeared during these 10 years; however, we could have selected many others, both for their quality and their outstanding authors. For reasons of space, we were tempted to offer fragments of all of them, but we believe it is more coherent, despite running the risk of reductionism, to offer some unabridged articles, as all the issues of Quaderns de la Mediterrània are available online. Moreover, in this decade we have lost some of our contributors such as Mohamed Chukri, Bronislaw Geremek, Baltasar Porcel, Raimon Panikkar and Mohamed Arkoun. The articles reproduced here are a tribute to such distinguished writers and intellectuals. 

We could argue that, over these 10 years, the challenges of intercultural dialogue have only increased, not only because of the armed conflicts but also, as Tahar Ben Jelloun observes, because of the profound misunderstandings between the East and the West, the ethnocentrisms and stereotypes and because of refusing to recognise the Other or ourselves. The interview with Juan Goytisolo, who has contributed to previous issues of Quaderns de la Mediterrània, provides some insight into the lack of communication which has characterised this decade. Thus, he argues that, as we do not admit the hybrid nature of our cultures and we do not learn to add the positive and artistic elements of each of them, as the great Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí pointed out, the horrors of war and extermination are endlessly repeated.

The first dossier of the journal appeared in late 2000 and was entitled “The Challenges of Interculturality in the Mediterranean”. In this commemorative publication we have selected the articles by Alain Touraine and Amin Maalouf included in that issue, which also opened and closed the eponymous international seminar. In his emblematic text, Maalouf states: “The identity of each one of us is formed by many affiliations but instead of coming to terms with all of them, we usually choose only one – religion, nation, ethnicity or others – as a supreme affiliation, which we confuse with total identity, which we proclaim in front of others and in whose name sometimes we become murderers.”

Some years later, in the dossier of issue 6 of Quaderns de la Mediterrània, “Frontiers and Dialogue in the Mediterranean”, we asked ourselves a series of questions, perplexed at the avalanche of unsolved conflicts in the Mediterranean region: are conflicts mainly cultural and religious, or must we consider that eventually we are faced with a vocabulary of identity and resentment that explains tensions and aspirations of a social, economic and political nature? What is the effect of these factors in the most significant conflicts that have occurred in the Mediterranean space? If a space is defined by the intensity of its internal exchanges, what is the scope and nature of these exchanges? What transformations have been introduced on the northern, southern, eastern and western shores? Are these transformations threatening the demographic balances established or can they be integrated into the future perspective of a Mediterranean civilisation? Which values and which identity are today calling for a Europe that is at the centre of an increasingly globalised world? These questions were posed and debated by the diverse contributors of that issue.

Dialogue is, in effect, a thorny affair, and the approach to intercultural dialogue is always slippery, as pointed out in issue 10 by the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai. It is difficult to address this issue straightforwardly, as we come across a number of real or mythical stories, preponderances and resentments. Stereotypes are the basis of many misunderstandings and prejudices, even among those who belong to the same culture or area of civilisation. It is likely that today, on the Mediterranean shores, beyond the lyricism of the charm of the olive and orange trees in an intoxicating landscape, we are witnessing not only the rupture of the harmonious vision depicted by romantic travellers, but also the verification, especially since 11th September 2001, of a desolate reality: Euro-Mediterranean cultural dialogue and dialogue with the Islamic world has been torn apart. As several authors have observed in different issues of the journal, we are witness to a systematic determination to fabricate the figure of the enemy. Foolish rhetoric on good and evil is multiplying, leaving little political room for negotiation.   

Nevertheless, if on our pages we have been critical, we have also sought to be lucid and search for those paths of rapprochement necessary for all. Jean Daniel asks if it is this possible in his article, the result of the reflection from the High Level Advisory Group on the Dialogue between the Peoples and Cultures in the Euro-Mediterranean Space, created by Romano Prodi. He himself responds that a shared civilisation establishes its horizon in what is universal, i.e., in equality, while dialogue is fed by diversity and, in general, the love of difference. Moreover, he adds that the only way that we can all construct a common creative future lies in trying to jointly lead the planetary evolution, beyond the rhetoric of civilisations. For her part, Fatema Mernissi, with an insightful humour, asks in her beautiful and symbolic article on the adab or the alliance with the stranger as a strategy to win on a globalised planet: “To kill or to dialogue? The Sword or the Pen? This is the eternal question the rulers of empires have asked their strategy experts to answer.” 

Quaderns de la Mediterrània has always encouraged contributions by female intellectuals, creators and representatives of the association movement; in short, all those brave women who do not consider themselves as victims but rather fight to stand up for their rights and their dignity. This is the case of the articles by Nawal El Saadawi, Rosa Martínez, Sirin Tekeli, Nozha Sekik or Jasmina Musabegović, among many other women whose social and artistic capital nourishes the new Mediterranean scenario. 

Moreover, on 23rd May 2008, Barcelona held the Meeting of Writers and Intellectuals for Europe-Mediterranean Intercultural Dialogue, with the aim of providing strategies that contribute to overcoming the challenges and creating prior conditions to establish dialogue. Participants were aware of the need to make an effect on the groups or social structures that could emerge as privileged agents for a new cultural policy in favour of dialogue. In this respect, youth, women, communities of immigrants, local authorities, operators and cultural industries or the media are key elements to influence this dialogue. Among the specific actions recommended by the writers to influence the cultural policies linked to imaginaries are the revision of history books, the promotion of mobility and free circulation of people and ideas, interuniversity cooperation and education and coexistence, along with the promotion of artistic creativity and its visibility on both shores of the Mediterranean.

Where are the frontiers, where are the real and mental veils, where are the rejections? In issue 10 of Quaderns de la Mediterrània, Claudio Magris suggested in his article “Frontier Writings” a search for intangible references which can unite us in the imaginary: “Literature, among many things, is also a journey in the attempt to free oneself from this ‘myth of the other side’, to understand that we are all sometimes here and sometimes there, that we are all the ‘Other’.” This ability to place oneself on the other side of the frontier is highly present in the writers and artists, who provide us with highly valuable references from diversity and through aesthetics. 

Furthermore, memory forms part of representations, but it has an important element of subjectivity, of tradition, that we must admit and understand. The community link is the result of a long accumulation of experiences and knowledge, a whole mythological and historical construct which gives memory an organic character. This is explained by the late European historian and politician Bronislaw Geremek, while he warns us that “Europe, in the course of its history, has paid a high and painful price for its religious disagreements and conflicts.” 

Is it possible to find shared representations such as those of the mystics, who show in the three monotheist religions a vision of the cosmological god deeply rooted in metaphysics, nature and therefore ourselves? In issue 12, under the title “Spiritualities and Representations in Intercultural Dialogue”, the authors bring us visions of this spiritual interculturality (Julia Kristeva based on the figure of Saint Teresa of Avila, Luce López-Baralt based on Saint John of the Cross, or the Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis focusing on the Sufi aesthetics of Ibn Arabi). In issue 13, Federico Mayor Zaragoza rightly insists on the importance of the intangible legacies, characteristic traces of several civilisations, often mixed, that represent with even more strength than tangible heritage the origins and power of the human species.