A powerful message from Professor John Chrysoulakis
The Secretary General of Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy, Professor John Chrysoulakis, sent a strong message on dialogue, peaceful coexistence and respect for cultural diversity in the framework of the International Conference on ‘The’ Islam and Human Rights in the European Union ”which was recently held in Thessaloniki, Greece (23-25 September 2021). The conference was co-organized by the European Consortium for Research on Church and State, the School of Law, the Jean Monnet Center of Excellence “European Constitutionalism and Religion (s)” and the School of Theology from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Jean Chrysoulakis began his opening remarks by noting that the topics chosen for this year’s conference could not be more relevant to what is happening in our region today. More specifically, Mr. Chrysoulakis noted:
“This side of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa has had a common history with Greece for thousands of years. The cultures, religious and philosophical systems that were born and flourished in this region influenced each other, but they were also the basis for the further development of the countries of the wider geographic area. Even the most diverse cultures and religions coexisted and found fertile ground for further development. Muslims, Christians, and people of older religions have formed multicultural and multireligious societies in some areas. Today, they are threatened by extremist ideas that invoke extreme religious projects and attempt to go back in time to history by rekindling forgotten animosities and rivalries.
As happened in the case of Turkey’s decision to convert to a mosque, two shining examples that are timeless symbols of the coexistence of peoples, cultures and religions, the Hagia Sophia and the Church of Chora. Monuments which have received, in particular for their symbolism, the designation of World Heritage sites. In fact, Turkey itself, by its own actions, characterized these two monuments as museums, for almost 80 years, recognizing their interreligious and intercultural character. However, today unfortunately, they are cutting themselves off from this role and using it for political exploitation, causing hostilities and rivalries that had subsided many years ago.
Indeed, the Greek and Islamic cultures are two elements clearly recognized in the history of the Mediterranean basin. Their contacts and interactions have created historical and cultural links between the two cultures to such an extent that it is difficult to study the historical course of one from the 8th century on, without direct or indirect reference to the other.
In the early days of Islamic civilization, most of the literary achievements of the Hellenistic world were translated into Arabic, thus expanding the vocabulary and idioms of the Arabic language. Through this meeting of cultures and the assimilation of the achievements of Greek culture, the spiritual curiosity and enthusiasm of intellectuals of Islam develop and give new impetus to fields such as medicine, mathematics, philosophy. , astronomy, architecture and alchemy. A typical example of this interaction is the exact translation of the Hippocratic Oath into Arabic in the 9th century, as long as the core of Arab medicine stems from Greek medicine and physiology. Following this traditional path, Arab medicine developed and evolved, promoting science and then dominating thanks to Latin translations in European medicine until the 16th century.
Basic elements of Greek philosophy, found enthusiastic supporters and translators among intellectuals and philosophers of Islam, who attempted, in the 9th and 10th centuries, to find a balance between the truth of religious faith and the truth based on the study of human reasoning.
This is reflected exactly in the love for the accumulated knowledge that Greek culture bequeathed to the Arabs. The first organized libraries in the Arab world in the 9th and 10th centuries were centers for the study and promotion of the sciences, according to the standards of the libraries of the Hellenistic period (Alexandria, Pergamum, Caesarea, Palestine, etc.), thus contributing to the development of a kind of Arab-Islamic cultural consciousness. At the same time, this contact made it possible to save extracts from the ancient Greek tradition, the originals of which have been lost, due to their translation into Arabic.
It is interesting to recall that at the time of the great Arab philosophers, Al-Farabi, Al-Ghazali, Avicenna or Averroes, it was not easy to find suitable philosophers of this caliber in the West. As a result, they began to turn to great personalities from antiquity, who had started to become accessible thanks to the considerable translation work of Syrian and Arabic translators. Islam can therefore be considered, in many respects, as an interlocutor of ancient Greece and Byzantium playing a particular role in the preservation and enhancement of Greek cultural heritage for the rest of the world.
The belief in the capacities of human reasoning which has the potential to use its knowledge to organize human life, on the basis of rights and obligations, which constitute the heart of the works of Aristotle and Plato, created the core of the formation of the human rights concept in the Islamic world too.
Islam recognized basic human rights and nearly 14 centuries ago it put in place safeguards and safeguards. Unfortunately, for socio-historical reasons (such as the descent of the Mongols and the destruction of Baghdad and the House of Wisdom in the mid-thirteenth century), cultural expansion came to a halt against Islam after the thirteenth century, religious structures hardened and philosophy gradually subordinated itself to theology and formalist jurisprudence, giving the dimension of the attribution of all rights to God.
Thus, the latter tends to become the center of attention even nowadays. However, Muslim states aim to promote critical scientific thought, human rights, peaceful coexistence, freedom of religion within the limits set by the principles of this religion. They are in fact slipping into acts which have led to the shrinking and introversion of Islam, depriving their countries of any possibility of scientific, political, social and economic development. Contemporary Islamic practice, in many ways, does not conform to the true principles of Islam. The implementation of international human rights standards in any society requires a thoughtful and knowledgeable engagement with religion (at large) because of its strong influence on human belief systems and behavior. Hopefully the public debate on the issue will bear fruit in the near future.
Contemporary Islamic practice in many ways does not conform to the true principles of Islam. The implementation of international human rights standards in any society requires a thoughtful and knowledgeable engagement with religion (at large) because of its strong influence on human belief systems and behavior. Hopefully the public debate on the issue will bear fruit in the near future.
At this point, Mr. Chrysoulakis invited the conference participants to recall the legacy and practical advice of a powerful figure, whose contribution was a turning point in the history of the protection of human rights. that constitutes the fundamental principle of democracy: the first president of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt, who, in 1958, declared:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual: the neighborhood he [or she] Lives in; the school or college where he [or she] assist; the factory, farm or office where he [or she] works. These are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunities, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless those rights make sense out there, they hardly make sense anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to support them close to home, we will seek in vain for progress in the larger world. Thus, we believe that the fate of human rights is in the hands of all of our citizens in all of our communities ”.
In conclusion, after wishing every success to the work of the Conference, Mr. Chrysoulakis said he was confident that it will give rise to many fruitful discussions in the future. It should, without a doubt, be a common and peaceful future for all the peoples of the region. As Greeks, he added, we fully understand this way of thinking because the interplay of our culture allows us to communicate with our neighbor and leads us to a constructive dialogue among ourselves. A fact which reminds us without difficulty of a basic condition which is none other than respect for cultural diversity ”.