At present there is a great deal of apprehension about the future of local and national cultures in most countries in the developing world. What can the cultural diplomacy of the United States do to address these anxieties and replace them with a sense of confidence through new and shared initiatives? …

Cultures that do not or cannot communicate become increasingly isolated, inward-looking, and, in due course, marginalised. Some would argue the United States’ dominance of global communications systems is, because of what has been called the digital divide, a contributor to this problem. I would offer a different perspective. It seems to me that by a purposeful effort, the United States could play a significant role not only in making the cultures of Asia and Africa available globally. Doing so would also make a massive contribution to the full acceptance to the legitimacy and value of social and cultural pluralism, something that is urgently needed in most parts of the developing world.

Thank you Mr. President.

It is an honour to be associated with this distinguished panel in a discussion of a topic which I have long felt has received too little attention, particularly at the policy level. Thank you for the invitation.

I offer my comments this morning from the perspective of someone who has been a long-standing observer of cultural evolution in the developing world of Africa and Asia, and from more than twenty-years of experience with activities such as the Aga Khan Award for Architecture that have attempted to make a positive contribution to that process.

At present there is a great deal of apprehension about the future of local and national cultures in most countries in the developing world. What can the cultural diplomacy of the United States do to address these anxieties and replace them with a sense of confidence through new and shared initiatives?

If the cultures and value systems of the developing world are being challenged — or are believed to be under threat — I think it valuable to try to identify the nature of the challenges. For the sake of discussion, I would put the major issues under the headings of language, institutions, people, communications, and funding.

If the cultures and value systems of the developing world are being challenged — or are believed to be under threat — I think it valuable to try to identify the nature of the challenges. For the sake of discussion, I would put the major issues under the headings of language, institutions, people, communications, and funding.

First, there is the issue of language. During the process of de-colonisation in Asia and Africa, the driving objective of the governments of the newly independent countries was to create nation states. A national language was seen as an important part of this process. Forty years later, the world’s dominant foreign language, English, is viewed as a necessity in most areas — but not yet as an opportunity. For cultures in the developing world to be globally accessible, understood, respected and admired, and to be represented in electronic communications, they must ensure that their cultures find expression not only in the national language, but also in English.

The second issue is institutions. In most parts of the developing world institutions and places of particular importance to cultural inspiration and expression are all too often abandoned or neglected by both governments and civil society. Museums, conservatories, and buildings and public spaces in historic cities are generally in a precarious state. This is also true of higher education, particularly in the arts and the humanities. In their present state these institutions cannot contribute to the survival and reinvigoration of inherited value systems, and may actually contribute to their further degradation.

The third issue is people. Culture is by its nature rooted in people. Unfortunately, in the countries of Asia and Africa which I know, cultural expression as a life-long vocation nearly always leads to a dead-end. Artists in the industrialised world at least have the possibility of mobilising the resources necessary to live with dignity. The economic environment for cultural professionals in the industrialised world does not exist in the developing world. Indeed it is being weakened further by the collapse of traditional value systems and the cultural production they supported.

The fourth issue is communications. Cultures that do not or cannot communicate become increasingly isolated, inward-looking, and, in due course, marginalised. Some would argue the United States’ dominance of global communications systems is, because of what has been called the digital divide, a contributor to this problem. I would offer a different perspective. It seems to me that by a purposeful effort, the United States could play a significant role not only in making the cultures of Asia and Africa available globally. Doing so would also make a massive contribution to the full acceptance to the legitimacy and value of social and cultural pluralism, something that is urgently needed in most parts of the developing world.

It is my dream that private individuals and organisations will come to the support of culture, as has been the case for centuries in the industrialised world. For this to happen, many new methods of giving will need to be stimulated and developed through appropriate public policies.

The last issue is funding. The reality in the countries of Asia and Africa is that the material resources required to sustain cultural activities are either not available because of higher priorities, or because there are no incentives to support culture. But with their economies becoming increasingly liberalised, an increasing percentage of national wealth being will be created by private initiative. It is my dream that private individuals and organisations will come to the support of culture, as has been the case for centuries in the industrialised world. For this to happen, many new methods of giving will need to be stimulated and developed through appropriate public policies.

In response to the challenges facing countries in Africa and Asia that I have outlined, the United States, with a wealth of educational, private philanthropic institutions and global corporations that is unparallelled in human history, can play a leadership role. Specifics can be discussed later this morning or in this afternoon’s sessions. Much very important work devoted to the issues of language, institutions, people, communications and funding is already underway, but there is scope, and I would say a need, for a massive expansion.

It is my hope that this meeting will lead to a re-conceptualisation of the role in culture in public life and international policy and move more public and private institutions to initiate or expand their activities devoted to the support of culture. I can assure you that you will find interested and reliable partners in the parts of the world with which I am familiar to join you in this process.

His Highness the Aga Khan IV

Postscript: Transcript of Remarks at White House Conference on Culture and Diplomacy, Office of the Press Secretary

Mrs. Clinton: [W]elcome to the East Room of the White House for this important conference, and I am delighted to welcome all of you here and particularly Secretary Albright and Secretary Riley, Senator Leahy and Congressman Leach, members of the Diplomatic Corps, the NEA Chairman Bill Ivey and the NEH Chairman Bill Ferris. Librarian of Congress James Billington and all of the other distinguished guests who are here.

The President and I welcome you to the first-ever White House Conference on Culture and Diplomacy. You know, it has been said that culture may be described simply as that which makes life worth living. It is the arts and humanities that give us roots, that foster our civil society and democracy, and that create a universal language so that we can understand each other better as nations and human beings, even when the dialogue of diplomacy is strained or doesn’t exist at all.

I recall so many occasions in talking with people who fought for democracy in their own societies, often against great odds, who told me how art and music kept their spirit going and kept them persevering in the face of often intolerable burdens and seemingly insurmountable odds.

At a time when resources are scarce and fears of a global consumer culture that threatens to homogenise us all are on the rise, we are searching for new ways to share and preserve our unique cultures around the world. And I cannot think of a more distinguished gathering to do that than our first panel whom we will hear from in a few moments.

We’ll hear from one of the world’s great musicians, Yo-Yo Ma, who has often entertained us here at the White House with his performances and who just stood in with the Marine Band strings, much to their great delight. And I think Senator Leahy, because at the moment there was no White House photographer around, but the Senator, who is quite an accomplished photographer, memorialised this occasion for the White House archives.

I want to thank Poet Laureate Rita Dove, who was also once a Fulbright Scholar in Germany, and whose German-born husband accompanies us here on this conference today.

We’re honoured to have a Nobel Laureate among us. You know, Wole Soyinka is someone who means so much not only to his own culture, but to the universal culture that respects not only great writing and thinking, but a great human spirit.

I want to thank Her Excellency, the imaginative Minister of Culture from Italy. I first met Giovanna Melandri in Florence when the Italian government sponsored a wonderful millennial conference on culture and the arts, and Giovanna played the leading role in pulling that together.

I want to thank His Highness The Aga Khan for joining us today. He is a powerful voice for culture and development around the world, and for respecting the unique culture and history of different societies.

And Joan Spero, the President of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, a former State Department official serving in this administration, who is a great champion of the arts.

The President: Well, I think we should basically talk about the first issue that I mentioned, which is preserving diverse cultures in a global economy. I don’t buy the argument that we’re all going to become homogenised. But I do believe that nations and groups within nations have to work hard to protect their cultures. So I would like to ask you, Highness, to make a few remarks on this subject, and thank you for your work.

I would like to be brief and to the point and try to illustrate some areas where I think American foreign policy could have a significant impact on the pluralism of culture around the world. I think the first issue … is the question of language…. The second issue that I would raise, as you asked about how to protect cultures in the developing world, is the issue of institutions…. And the last point I would make is with regard to communications where, President, you mentioned the issue.

His Highness The Aga Khan: Mr. President, thank you very much. I would like to be brief and to the point and try to illustrate some areas where I think American foreign policy could have a significant impact on the pluralism of culture around the world.

I think the first issue that arises is one, President, which you raised, which is the question of language. And many of the world’s most important cultures cannot communicate in the English language. They are not able to communicate, their resources are constrained in their language; and, in fact, that has become worse due to the policies that were in place at the time of decolonisation, to treat language as a building block for nationhood. Some countries opted for an African language or an Asian language and in that way, in a sense, worsened the issue.

So the first point I would make is that I think there are significant cultures around the world that would need to be assisted to convey to the world their cultures in English. That doesn’t mean giving up the national language. It means exposing to global understanding their own culture. It will improve the global understanding, it will enhance their own respect for their own culture.

The second issue that I would raise, as you asked about how to protect cultures in the developing world, is the issue of institutions. Institutions in the developing world in the cultural field are extremely weak, and this is particularly severe in higher education, where the humanities are not really taught to a significant level in the universities of Africa and Asia.

The third issue I would raise is the people. People in the Western world who live from culture are able to live from their activities in an honourable manner, in a dignified manner. The carriers of culture in much of Asia and Africa, which is the part of the world I know, simply do not have the economic context in which they can survive from their commitments to culture.

And the last point I would make is with regard to communications where, President, you mentioned the issue. The United States has communications capacity, global communications capacity, which is unique in human history. It seems to me very important that these communications capabilities should be used to enhance understanding of the pluralism of human culture. And that message, carried across the world, in the developing world in particular, it seems to me a really essential issue.

So these are the points that I would want to make very briefly as to perhaps areas which the panels may want to discuss where United States policy could come in support with your institutions, with your academia, with your capacity to organise and plan, so that culture isn’t the last item on the development list in most or many of the countries of Asia and Africa.

The President: Thank you.

Secretary Albright: Thank you very much. And I think that we’re very glad to have you here, Your Highness. We had a dinner about two months ago, I think, in the State Department where we first started thinking about these ideas. And His Highness was there, and I think presented a very useful set of points for us to discuss, which I think are coming out here. And so the impetus for a lot of what we’re doing has a lot to do with the role that you have played internationally on this.

The issue of language is obviously extremely important. And I have had the feeling, as Secretary, when I sit across the table from somebody whose language I do not understand at all about the importance that interpreters play in our daily life, and that they are the cement or the glue that allows us to have discussions. And I was recently in North Korea, and having Kim Jong-il ask about how — whether I thought his interpreters were any good and could we really help more, I think made very clear your point about language.

I think it’s very important also that we engage as many organisations, both public and private, in our whole effort, and try to do what the President was saying in terms of not seeing globalisation as something that is good or bad.

I think also what is so important is to describe what you said, Your Highness, about the fact that people should be allowed to be involved in cultural activities in a way that is dignified and allows them to play an important role.

The President: … I thank His Highness The Aga Khan for starting out, because he said, look, here are three things you need to really work at, and I think we need to be thinking about this. And I will do my best to put it in the position to be acted upon in the weeks and months ahead. And again, I want to thank Senator Leahy and Representative Leach for being here because they’re, along with Senator Hillary, are our sort of lines of continuity to the future — (laughter) — again I want to thank Senator Leahy and Representative Leach for being here, because they’re — along with Senator Hillary are our sort of lines of continuity to the future — American government.

This was very interesting to me and quite moving. I think we ought to close by giving our panelists another hand. Thank you very much.

SOURCES

POSSIBLY RELATED READINGS (GENERATED AUTOMATICALLY)