|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||15. Nr.||Jänner 2004|
1.4. The image of the "Other"
in the contacts of Europe, Asia, Africa and America
Agata S. Nalborczyk (Warsaw)
The section gathered representatives of different fields of research: philology, cultural sciences, philosophy, study of religions, ethnology, and linguistics. It dealt with a very important problem, i.e. with the role of images of the 'other' in the contacts of different cultures in the modern, and not only modern, world. Our own cultural baggage plays a very important role in the contacts between members of different civilizations, cultures and religions. It exerts a significant influence on the image of representatives of another culture or civilization. It may be helpful in such contacts, but more frequently it forms a hindrance.
The particular attention of the audience was drawn to the power of mythical images of the 'other' that are sometimes created almost without any resort to reality. These images of other cultures and its representatives may be created and used for different purposes.
First, Michal C. Jankowski (Warsaw, Poland) presented a theoretical approach to the image of the 'other' in his paper "Dealing with the other. A question of political consensus". He argued that dealing with the 'other' in political context does not necessarily lead to a 'clash'. The need for consensus may force us rather to (1) escape from "the false opposition between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft" as Habermas put it; (2) redefine liberal concepts of civil society (open society?) (3) de-emphasize communitarians' concerns over the plight of 'asocial individuals'.
The image of the 'other' can serve as means of strengthening an a priori formed opinion, e.g. disappointment with one's own culture and fascination with another one, as in Goethe's image of America presented to us by Michael Niedermeier (Berlin, Germany) in his presentation: "America, you've got it better! «Old» Europe and «New» America. Cultural imaginations between stereotypes and utopian hopes". Goethe's image of the "new" continent was strongly influenced by his critique of contemporary Europe, but also by the image of the youthful US itself that was promoted by authors like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
Creation of a particular image of the 'other' can fulfil a desire for fleeing from the reality into an exotic world, as it was presented by Emilia Sulek (Warsaw, Poland) in her paper: "The collective portrait of Tibetan people. The Polish example of «modern mythology»". Although popularity of Tibet and the number of Polish followers of Tibetan Buddhism still grow, the common knowledge of this country in Poland remains relatively poor. The statements cited in the paper as examples of that mythical image were much in line with Edward W. Said's Orientalism theory as a system built of ideas freed from any references to the "real" East.
Although the images of the 'other' prove to be false in contacts with the reality, they do retain their power. For example, the journalists should be aware that they create and use images that are projected to the wider public. These images, e.g. the negative image of Islam and Muslims, the equation of Islam with terrorism in order to create the atmosphere for a global war, play a role in the struggle between different groups of interests, as it was shown by Shanga Norris (Oakland, USA) in her contribution "Anthropological study of Islam in the media in the USA".
Apart from fulfilling a desire for fleeing from the reality into an exotic world the image of the 'other' can also be moulded and used as a well selling sensation in the media as it was presented by Agata S. Nalborczyk (Warsaw, Poland) in her paper "The image of Islam and Muslims in the Polish mass-media before and after the 11th September, 2001". However, the media are able to correct their existing views, for example after the September 11th, 2001 Polish journalists paradoxically seem to know more about Muslims and their religion, because they write about Muslims with more respect.
We also discovered in our section that examples of peaceful coexistence and cooperation between people of different faiths existed not only in theory but also in practice. In his paper "1453 als «clash of civilizations» und alternatives Friedensdenken bei Nikolaus Cusanus" Markus Riedenauer (Wien, Austria) presented the thought of Nicolaus Cusanus about Islam and the possibility of peaceful contacts with this religion in the time after the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century. Not only Cusanus' contemporaries disregarded his arguments. There have been people who maintain a false perception that religious faith can only be understood in exclusivist terms, which by definition are hostile towards the others. Formation of a peaceful attitude needs a firm grounding in one's own cultural tradition and a spirit of openness that is free form desire to dominate and control the others. This is the lesson drawn from the friendship between a Christian (Théodore Monod) and a Muslim (Amadou Hampâté Bâ ) presented by Stanislaw Grodz (Lublin, Poland) in his contribution "The Ascending Converges. The unifying aspect of religious faith in the encounter between a French Protestant scientist and a Fulbe Muslim researcher". These two people, though well established in their respective religious traditions, were centred more on God than on religion. Prejudice-free religious faith, can be perceived as a unifying element. Only exclusive adherence to narrowly perceived religious orthodoxy (beliefs and creeds) causes problems and is divisive.
Yet, if we are to develop the culture of peace and maintain intercultural dialogue all the prejudices should be avoided. We should teach the proper image of another culture as it was shown by Neriman Eratalay (Ankara, Turkey) in her paper "Quelle culture enseigner?".
We also should be wary of taking concepts out of their historical contexts and transposing them to our times as ready-made solutions. Quite often these concepts were not clearly defined by those who used them originally and had an aura of ambivalence. Applying these concepts to our times should be done with the full awareness of that ambivalence and variety of possible meanings and interpretations.
We come into contact with representatives of other cultures and civilizations with an increasing frequency as a result of globalization, migration and the accessibility of contemporary mass media. Becoming aware of these images of the "other", their content and potentially distorting message they convey, forms the first step towards initiating and deepening of intercultural dialogue. This dialogue plays an important role in the perspective of challenges that confront our world, including the threat of the "clash of civilizations".
The efforts to understand the "other" and create his/her proper and true image are necessary for creating the atmosphere and conditions for peace.
© Agata S. Nalborczyk (Warsaw)
1.4. The image of the "Other" in the contacts of Europe, Asia, Africa and America
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For quotation purposes:
Agata S. Nalborczyk (Warsaw): Bericht: Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW: http://www.inst.at/trans/15Nr/01_4/nalborczyk_report15.htm