Ziauddin Sardar: Western civilisation can learn from other traditions

From a British Council lecture by the visiting professor in post-colonial studies at City University, London
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The Independent Online

The cultural relations of the 21st century is as much about building the future on a specific set of core values as it is about understanding the past and present of people other than ourselves. However, in the UK, something from the past of cultural relations is clouding our vision of the future: this is the twin influence of "modernity" and "multiculturalism".

The cultural relations of the 21st century is as much about building the future on a specific set of core values as it is about understanding the past and present of people other than ourselves. However, in the UK, something from the past of cultural relations is clouding our vision of the future: this is the twin influence of "modernity" and "multiculturalism".

One of the central obstacles to the communication of cultures on their own terms is a one-sided notion of progress. Even the élites of non-Western nations, influenced by the arguments of Western civilisation, have themselves come to believe in the marginal backwardness of their own traditions. However, tradition itself can properly be seen as something which will take their societies forward, with their identity and core values intact, to a future beyond modernity.

From this vantage-point, the East can modernise the West. To a secularised society such as the UK, with its disintegration of family structures, a phenomenon such as the arranged marriage, which has been transplanted to a new environment, can be seen to provide many social solutions.

If we want to see the application of a new paradigm, we need look no further than Canada. Canada, with its Arbitration Act of 1991, allowing religious groups to resolve civil family disputes, has had since 2003 an Islamic Institute for Civil Justice. The members of the IICJ Council will manage the application of Sharia law to consenting members of Canada's one million-strong Muslim community.

Cultural relations based on a genuine recognition of difference means grasping that the future is not the realm of a single civilisation or worldview but a domain of multiple potentials. There is more than one way of being human.

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