It’s not a clash of cultures but a lack of dialogue and discourse at the United Nations

For the last few days, the world’s attention is on the United Nations where the world leaders are on their annual pilgrimage, making fancy speeches about the future or making blatant criticisms of adversaries who do not think like them. I am not a great fan of the United Nations (UN), especially in its present structure. It has great potential but unless there are some major reforms within the organisation, it will remain a huge bureaucracy. However, this is another debate for another time.
I followed some of the speeches and I was intrigued with what was being said. Two presentations attracted my attention. The first, by the current American President, Mr. Donald Trump, and the second one, by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mr. Hassan Rouhani. These speeches could be described as “speeches of insults”. President Trump started by including Iran in a “small group of rogue regimes”, which also includes North Korea. President Rouhani described the American president as a “rogue newcomer to international politics”. Both made it loud and clear that they would not tolerate any intimidation from anyone and would respond decisively if needed.
The USA/Iran cat and mouse game is not new. It has a long history and both countries have reacted strongly in the past, leading to military escalation in the volatile Gulf region. For a minute I felt reassured when Mr. Rouhani made a comment that Iran’s ambassadors are philosophers and poets, and then he went into history and brought to the world’s attention how Iran has always accommodated minorities, different religious beliefs and cultures. He referred to the great civilisation. This is my point.
Every year we hear the tough statements made by leaders at the UN General Assembly and how the “superior” nations want to change the world and dominate the “inferior” nations. Some want to impose a system of government or an ideology that does no work elsewhere, but these are packaged in forms of aid and development policies and exported. It is not surprising that many of these models have not had the desired results. Almost every leader at the UN talks about peace and how the UN should become an institution that safeguards our values and promote peaceful co-existence.
The missing link is dialogue and discourse. Instead of threatening each other with words and potential military intervention, there is little on cultural exchanges and that our differences are more political and ideological, and culturally we share common values. I do not agree that there is a clash of cultures. I do agree on one point made by the Iranian President that his ambassadors are philosophers and poets. Indeed, the diplomats at the UN should be philosophers, poets, writers, artists, and engaged in exchange of ideas and thoughts and explore how to build a common identity. Instead of discussing war and military intervention and bragging about one’s nuclear arsenal, we should be engaged in formulating a common foreign policy aimed at peace and social justice for all. The UN has seen ethnic cleansing, racism, genocide, xenophobia, gender discrimination, and drawn resolutions condemning them all. Alas! It is like a round-table every year. This time it is the turn of the Rohingya people. The world looks on, the fancy speeches followed by lavish dinner parties continue and the refugees lament. The war on words is heard again. Next the year, the speeches will be heard again and the UN will adopt new resolutions condemning conflicts and wars. Donald Trump is right when he says the UN should reform itself and become more relevant. Perhaps he will then tone down his speech.
Culture cannot be seen in small parts or units. Cultures are powerful tools that bring people together. When one’s culture is questioned or is being destroyed, people will rise to preserve it. There is no such thing as an inferior or a superior culture. When one thinks in these terms, it gives rise to all the evils we hear about. Are we teaching students the right history? The ambassadors should be literary critics and artists, so that they could bring a new perspective to world diplomacy and see foreign policy from a different set of lenses.