Iran's President Mohammad Khatami answers journalists
after a meeting in the gardens of Villa Madama in Rome with Italian Prime
Minister Massimo D'Alema, on the second day of Khatami's official visit
in Italy, Wednesday March 10, 1999 Khatami will also meet Pope John Paul
II at the Vatican Thursday .. (AP Photo/Massimo Sambucetti)
Full text of President Khatami's speech at Florence
Rome, March 10, IRNA -- The following is the full text of the President's
speech at the European University of Florence where he addressed a group
of academics: In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful Ladies and
gentlemen, Distinguished audience,
Meeting a group of academics is always a pleasing experience for me.
For it is in their presence when matters revolve around "speaking",
"listening" and "understanding".
Understanding is the result of speaking and listening, and these two
-- speaking and listening -- in addition to seeing, constitute the most
important of all physical, mental and spiritual functions of man. What
arises from "seeing" is the expansion of the frontiers of wisdom
as well as the stability and firmness of the "self" while we
speak to "others" and listen to "others".
Seeing is done through the "I", and the "universe and
mankind" arise from seeing and the subject of seeing. However, "speaking"
and "listening" are a two-dimensional -- or multidimensional
-- effort aimed at coming closer to the truth and arriving at understanding.
It is for this reason that "dialogue" pertains neither to
skeptics, nor does it belong to those who believe the truth to lie solely
within their own claws and under their own domination. Rather, understanding
reveals its beautiful, albeit veiled countenance, only to the wayfarers
of the path whose followers travel hand in hand, and in step with each
The phrase "dialogue among civilizations and cultures", which
should in fact be interpreted as the process of "speaking and listening
among civilizations and cultures", is based upon such an account of
truth. This definition is not necessarily in contradiction with the well-known
explications of truth that have appeared in philosophical discourses.
"Dialogue among civilizations" necessitates "listening"
to other civilizations and cultures, and listening to others, if not more
important, is certainly not less important than speaking to others.
Talking and listening creates conversation, one side addresses the other
side, and speech is exchanged. Under what circumstances is man addressed?
In other words, in what kind of world is he or she addressed?
The world of science is not a world of speeches and addresses. Science
is a conscious effort to discover the relationship between objects, and
for this reason scientific discourse does not transcend the man's self-consciousness.
However, the world of art and the world of religion are worlds in which
the man is addressed. We are addressed by works of art, and in religion,
by words from the divinity. It is for this reason that gnostic and religious
languages share a genuine and deep bond, and it is for this reason that
the earliest works of human art are considered to be an example of "sacred
The phrase "O mankind" has been repeated many a time in the
holy Bible and the magnificent Quran. It is by being addressed as such
that "individual man" rises to the level of an exalted "person".
Although the etymology of the word "persona" shares the same
root as the word "mask", as worn by actors in a play, it is important
to note that in the theory of religious address -- when mankind is addressed
as a universal and all-encompassing divine word, and not when he is being
taught a religious precept or social law -- the "person" addressed
is not his psychological, social or historical persona. What is addressed
is the true, historical and unified essence of man. It is for this reason
that in their essence and substance, divine religions are not different
from each other. Their differences arise from religious edicts and laws
which pertain to man's social and legal life.
Here, one must ask, "who is this `person' who is being addressed?"
a great deal of efforts of the philosophers since time immemorial has been
devoted to finding an answer to this question. They have attempted to explain
how and in what manner can one comes to know the persona" of man --
an absolute understanding of the "self". The concepts of self-knowledge
and self-discovery constitute the two main parts of this philosophical
The interesting story of philosophical anthropology and the adventures
of self-knowledge require a few long nights in the "one thousand and
one nights of the history of philosophy". Some of these stories have
been posed in the east, and some in the west. The important point, however,
is that eastern stories explain the eastern aspect of man's existence and
essence, while western stories narrate man's western aspect. Man is the
fluence of the soul of the east and the reason of the west. The denial
of any aspect of man's existence renders our understanding of the meaning
of his existence flawed and inadequate.
In gaining an understanding of the meaning of the term "person",
we should not be ensnared by either the notion of individualism or the
notion of collectivism. Although the ground for the development of the
modern concept of the "individual" has been laid down by Christian
thinkers, this cannot be interpreted as a natural connection between these
In my opinion, deep attention paid to the meaning of "person",
as the essence of the sacred word, bears no relation to the notion of "egoism".
Of course, everyone has said that in modern society, it is the individual
who is the measure of all institutions, laws and social relations, and
that civil laws and human rights are in fact the rights of the same individual".
On the other hand, collectivism, as against individualism, in fact has
been the result of the development of this very concept of the individual.
Consequently, both concepts are derived from an identical philosophical
source. For this reason, from the standpoint of our spiritual wisdom, we
consider the conflict between individualistic liberalism and collective
socialism to be merely superficial and accidental.
The theory of the "person" is readily elucidated and explained
by gnosticism. Muslim gnostics view man as a universe. His originality
is neither due to his individuality nor to his plurality. Man's originality
rises from the fact that it is he, and only he, who is addressed by the
sacred voice. By thus being addressed, man's soul gains ascent, and with
the ascent of his soul, his world becomes a just and humane world.
Whoever reflects, even briefly, upon the history of philosophy, will
clearly witness the constant movement from one extreme to another. The
most recent link in this chain is the concept of "modernity".
The word "modernity', which is apparently the most modern derivative
of the group of words is derived from the Latin "modernus", which
apparently came into fashion for the first time during the 19th century.
But the root of this word has fifteen centuries of usage behind it.
It is only in the 19th and 20th centuries that this word was applied
to a wide range of concepts in various philosophical, artistic, scientific,
historical and ethics. The common denominator of all these terms consists
of a tremor that rocked the foundations of human existence and thought
toward the end of the middle ages, a tremor that altered the axis round
which humanity and the world rotated. To the extent that man's world is
influenced by his thought, contemporary man and his world are the result
of this "modern" axis which appeared after the middle ages. This
new axis, which was termed "modern" in those days, is now known
to us as the renaissance. Despite numerous books and articles published
to explain the advent of the renaissance, this momentous event is still
in need of greater deliberation by philosophers, historians and men of
knowledge. As pointed out by many thinkers, the renaissance did not only
seek a renewal of Greek culture; rather, its main objective was to discuss
religion in a fresh language and from a fresh mental perspective. The renaissance
described religious man in such a manner that, instead of seclusion from
the world, in order to belittle and suppress it, he would come to face
As seen by the renaissance, the religious man's being is open to the
world, and the world receives him with open arms. The reciprocal opening
of the world and man to each other is the most fundamental characteristic
of the renaissance -- an essentially religious event, aimed at the preservation,
reformation and propagation of religion, rather than its contravention
Yet, this momentous event met with a fate quite at variance with what
the renaissance had originally intended. The concept of opening the world
to man turned into oppression, domination and subjugation of the world,
a process not only confined to nature, but one whose flame engulfed human
community as well. What later came to be known as "colonialism"
in social and political history of Europe was the result of the extension
man's domination of nature and the use of the natural sciences to man and
human sciences. It is here that one cannot reflect and study the story
of "modernity" without first adopting a humanistic and moral
The critique of modernity which I am presenting arises from an angle
and stance that are radically different from what its famous critics, especially
in the realm of philosophy, have adopted. One who wishes to saw off a branch
of a tree must not saw off the branch on which he stands. The manner in
which some contemporary philosophers have criticized modernity is very
much like this proverb.
By stripping modernity of all rationality or its source of origin, they
either turn it into a weapon capable of destroying everything, including
itself, or they portray it as a dull, rusty, old, worn-out weapon, which
can be valued as a museum piece. Without the force of reason and, of course,
without recognizing its limits, it is impossible to use reason as a tool
The critique of pure reason -- which opened a new chapter in western
philosophy and can be interpreted as a critique of objects and concepts,
including pure reason itself -- can be realized only when intellect is
based on reason. Without reason, it would be impossible to arrive at a
correct conception and a true picture of some of the most vital issues,
such as human rights, peace, justice and freedom, and attempt to establish
This should not be taken to mean a call for reversion to European rationalism
and logocentrism as they existed before the advent of post-modernism. As
the origin and fountainhead of modern rationality, Europe bears a greater
responsibility in offering a critique of that kind of rationality and finding
a way to avoid its destructive implications. Europe which has been the
prime victim of unbounded reliance on rationality, is now in the process
of depriving its own rationality of all credibility and authority in the
hands of its thinkers and philosophers.
The Orient, which even in an etymological sense signifies the process
of imparting direction and order to things, can beckon Europe and America
to equilibrium, serenity and reflection in the context of an historical
dialogue and understanding, and thus contribute to the establishment of
peace, security and justice. If deeply understood in their Eastern connotations,
equilibrium and serenity lie beyond both the Dionysian and Apollonian extremes
of western culture. The age of reason is an Apollonian age while romanticism
is the opposite pull on the swing of this pendulum.
The coming century ought to be a century of turning to a kind of spirituality,
searching for which Eastern man is endowed with thousands of years of experience.
European culture owes its vitality and vigor to its critical view of everything,
including the European culture itself.
But now it is time for Europe to move one more step ahead and take a
look at itself through the eyes of another. This does not imply turning
a blind eye to the remarkable heritage of the European culture and civilization,
nor does it signify a call for some kind of obscurantism. Rather, it is
meant to encourage this culture to acquire new experiences and gain a more
precise knowledge of the cultural topography of the world. In Orientalism,
it is the Orient which is the subject of study, not a party to dialogue.
In order to attain a real dialogue among civilizations, the east should
be transformed from an object of understanding to a genuine party to dialogue.
This, however, is not a one-sided invitation. As Iranians, Muslims, and
Asians, we, too, are obliged to take long strides in the direction of understanding
the realities of the West.
Such an understanding will help us improve and bring order to our economic
and social way of life. Taking such strides, whether on our part on the
part of Europe, requires certain moral and mental traits, which were first
recognized and promoted in Europe by Italians.
Historians of the renaissance have been explicit in the continuous contact
between Italians and Byzantium. The Muslim world was the driving force
behind the emergence of tolerance among Italians. Since the time of the
crusades, Italians came to know and admire Islamic culture and civilization.
This knowledge of and admiration for an unfamiliar culture and civilization
became the driving force behind the spread of the spirit of tolerance among
One of the ironies of history is that this concept of tolerance, which
was adopted by Europeans from Muslims, a consequence of their acquaintance
with Muslims, has in our time come to be a moral and political value recommended
by Europeans to Muslims. Traces of Islamic "civility" in producing
the spirit of tolerance among Europeans are clearly discernible in European
literature. "Nathan the sage", a well-known play by the German
playwright, Lessing, itself an adaptation of the ancient Italian Cento
Novelle Anticho, clearly states this.
The impression which Islamic thinking and culture left on the Italian
and European cultures is not limited to the concept of tolerance. No civilization
has the right to expropriate the share of other civilizations in its own
favor, nor should it deny the part played by others in advancement of human
civilization. Apart from the impression which Islamic philosophy, theology
and art have left on Europe, what brought about spiritual refinement and
moral edification of Europeans has been the rich and vast Islamic culture.
Perhaps one example worth mentioning here is the influence which works
of the great Muslim gnostic, Ibn Arabi, left on Dante, a point which has
been deliberated at length by great European researchers.
However, to delve into past history without looking at the future can
only be an academic diversion. To help human societies and improve the
condition of the world, it is necessary to consider the present state of
relations between Asian, in particular Muslim, countries and Europe.
Why do we say, in particular, Muslim? Because Islam is Europe's next-door
neighbor; unlike individuals, nations are not free to choose or change
neighbors. Therefore, apart from moral, cultural and human reasons, out
of historical and geographical necessity, Islam and Europe have no choice
but to gain a better and more accurate understanding of each other, and
thus proceed to improve their political, economic and cultural relations.
Our future cannot be separated from each other, because it is impossible
to separate our past.
Today, the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus... and among modern
philosophers, Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Wittgenstein are taught at our
schools of philosophy alongside Kandi, Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Sohrevardi
and Molla Sadra. If today, great Asian civilizations see themselves the
mirror of the West, and are acquainted with each other through the west,
in a not-too-distant past, Islam held a mirror to the West -- a mirror
in which the West could see a clear image of its own past history and cultural
and intellectual heritage.
If dialogue is not a choice but a necessity for our culture and the
culture of the West, then the West should attempt to enter a dialogue with
representatives of original Islamic thinking and culture. Otherwise, a
dialogue between the West and Westernized individuals, who represent only
a flawed and sterile image of the West, is not only not a dialogue, but
cannot even be considered a monologue. A deep, precise and thoughtful dialogue
between the West and Islamic civilizations can result in just, humane and
practical solutions to some of the most pressing problems of the present-day
world: crisis within the family, crisis in the relationship between man
and nature, the moral crisis in certain scientific research projects, and
numerous problems of this kind can and must be among issues to be addressed
in any dialogue between Islam and Europe.
A dialogue is desirable only if it is based on freedom and choice. In
a true dialogue, one party cannot impose his ideas on the other. In a true
dialogue, one must respect the independent existence, the ideological,
intellectual and cultural attributes of the other party. Only under such
stances can dialogue become a prologue to peace, security and justice.
In the midst of this, a dialogue with Iran is particularly propitious.
Iran is a neighbor to Europe on one side, and to Asia on the other. For
this reason, Iran is the confluence of the cultures of the East and of
the West, just as man is the confluence of the reason of the West and the
soul of the East. Hearts and minds of Iranians epitomize harmony, love
and tolerance. It is because of this that Iranians are proponents of dialogue