Interview with Ziauddin Sardar
Al-Farabi Journal No2 (58) March 2017
Ziauddin Sardar has often been described as a “critical
polymath.” He works across a number of
disciplines ranging from Islamic studies and
futures studies to science policy, literary
criticism, information science to cultural
relations, art criticism and critical theory. Being born in Pakistan, Sardar grew up
in East London and on the eve of the 21st century Prospect magazine named him among Britain's top 100 public intellectuals. Possessing outstanding intellectual capacities and very humble personality, Sardar is well-known around the world as a whiter, thinker, scholar, broadcaster, theorist, critic, journalist and futurist. We are sitting with him in his London house in Colindale. The upper room, full of books, journals, and different posters, has served as the “official office” for a number of years. Our discussion is focused on ethics, Islamic world, the lessons Muslims have to learn and the future perspectives.
Yelena Muzykina (YM). We are living in the age which most philosophes and researches define as the age of relativity. Everything is relevant. People have their own opinions on many things. In this age, what can service as a foundation for moral values?
Ziauddin Sardar (ZS). In my opinion, it is one of the major questions, because in this question we have to address postmodernism. The extreme form of relativism we have today owes a great deal to postmodernism. Everything is relative, it depends on the way you’re looking at it. There is no absolute, because all absolutes, what are called grand-narratives, became meaningless, they have collapsed. That’s what postmodernism preached. I’ve never believed that, as you know. I don’t think that a believing Muslim can actually accept that theory. There are features of postmodernism we can accept and run with. But the idea that all grand-narratives are meaningless is not one of them because Islam itself is a grand-narrative that provides meaning for many, for billions of Muslims. If you assume that Islam is meaningless, what then is the point of being Muslim?
So I think it is very difficult within a postmodern perspective to have a moral compass – unless your compass is secular liberalism. At the end of the day, what postmodernism is really saying, is that you make up your own morality as you go along, which is a pretty dangerous exercise. Indeed, the mass we are in, with President Trump, post-truth and alternative facts are logical conclusion of postmodernism. It’s all a product of the fact that for the last 30 years we’ve been saying “There is no truth! Everything is relative.”; and have been teaching this to a whole generation. So it is not surprising that we have ended up in the post-truth world.
The real answer to your question where we find a moral and ethical bearing is: we find them in what one can call “old-fashion virtues,” like forgiveness, patience, consideration, compassion. These virtues are found in all religions, and they are basically religious virtues. Of course, we can philosophies them but most of them have their origins in religious thought.
YM. So you think that religion and ethics are very close, they can’t live without each other.
ZS. I think that religion without ethics is nothing.
YM. What about ethics without religion?
ZS. You could have ethics without religion but you can’t have religion without ethics. The purpose of religion is to provide you with a moral guidance. I’ve somewhere written that Islam without justice is not worth anything. Even Ibn Taimiyya, who is not my favorite philosopher, said that he would prefer to live in a state that was non-Islamic and just than to live in a state that is unjust and Islamic. So justice, in all encompassing sense, I think is essential for religion. And justice to a very large extend depends on ethics. So religion and ethics go hand in hand. You could come up with a secular ethics as people do. But a religion deprived of ethics is in my opinion nothing but another form of totalitarianism.
YM. What makes Islamic ethics different from any other?
ZS. First of all, there is nothing special about Islamic ethics. And you have to appreciate that. There is no new deep moral principle that Muslims are going to come up with or Islam has come up with. Many Islamic values such as tolerance, unity (tawḥīd), vicegerency (khalīfah), trusteeship (amānah) or definition of what is insān (a human being), or ihsān (excellence, beauty) - these are universal values. It is not that Islam introduced them. They can also be found in Christianity, and in Judaism, and even in pre-Abrahamic religions.
What Islam has done is to emphasize them, focusing on them. I don’t know if you’ve seen my book, “Reading the Qur’an”, where I examine a number of Islamic concepts. In the Qur’an values often come wrapped in concepts; they tend to be one and the same thing. So the idea of tawḥīd is what you believe in but it is also a value, a virtue, what you strive for. So all these things are rolled into one: tawhid expresses not just the the unity of God but an all-encompassing unity - unity of humanity, unity of man and nature, environment and people. So all the Qur’an concepts and values are interconnected in a very holistic way.
The tragedy for Muslims is not just that we have lost the holistic connection, but actually we’ve forgotten the values component of Qur’anic concepts. We have turned them in dogma, which in my opinion is not particularly important by itself. What we believe may be important in the ultimate sense, in the sense of āhira (hereafter), the metaphysical realm. What reveals the true essence of our beliefs is how we shape society, how we promote equity and justice, and how we bring humanity together.
YM. Catching up with what you’ve mentioned about values, if you were to define three most important values in Islamic ethics, what would you choose? And why?
ZS. Islam itself defines them. The most important value in Islam is tawḥīd and you have to start with it. But again, you have to see tawḥīd in all-encompassing way, not as a reductive notion that there is only one God.
YM. Like a doctrine.
ZS. Yes! Not like a doctrine, see the whole idea of unity: unity of man and nature, unity of humanity, unity of different variety of people, etc.
And I would say that the second most important value after that is the fact that humanity is trustees of God.
YM. Human vicegerency.
ZS. Or khalīfah which is the second value in Islam. And I would say that the third are basically two values together, because there is a great deal of emphasis on ‘ibadah [worship] in Islam as well as ‘ilm [knowledge]. The two, ‘ibadah and ‘ilm, go hand in hand. So the pursuit of knowledge in itself is a form of worship. And it is the pursuit of knowledge in all-encompassing way, not just one or the other kind of knowledge, e.g. not just religious knowledge but all kinds of knowledge that benefits humanity in one way or another. Thus worship is not limited to rituals. It also consists of research and inquiry, the study of the order of things.
YM. Thank you! Following that, some people, even philosophers define our age as the age of information. But form your perspective, do we live in the ‘age of knowledge’ or in the ‘age of information’?
ZS. Actually, I describe it in a totally different way as a ‘post-normal age.’ I don’t know if you read some of my stuff on post-normal times.
YM. I love your article on that!
ZS. I think, we are in the age of uncertainty, and turbulence, and chaos, and complexity, and contradictions – all together I describe as the ‘post-normal age,’ which is both slightly concerning but with lots of challenges. It’s slightly concerning because it means a lot of turbulence, things are falling apart, we do not know which way to go. But at the same time, there are challenges - we need to create new paradigms because the old paradigms are not more functioning, decaying, dying.
And when I say ‘old paradigms,’ I mean all paradigms, including the old paradigms of Islam. Conventionally what we understood as Islam is not relevant to the 21st century. The kind of fossilized, legalistic view, fiqhy view of Islam that has become the orthodoxy has no place in the 21st century, clearly. We have to rethink what Islam is from the first principles. We have to re-imagine how we can actualize the values we are talking about, what exactly they mean: what exactly is the meaning of tawḥīd in the 21st century, what it means to be khalifa (trustee), of God, what constitutes jihad in our times? All the basic concepts and values of Islam have to be re-thought in the contemporary sense.
Take the example of a lake, fresh water lake. It’s a very life-enhancing thing: people can get water out of it, animals and birds can come and drink from it. But if the lake is left for a very long period it becomes polluted and eventually poisonous. Now if you drink from it, you’re going to die. The lake is not a life enhancing entity any more. To make it into a fresh water lake, you have to get rid of the pollution, oxidize it, reconnect it to a fresh water source, and thus bring it back to life.
This is the position of Islam now. Our thought has been dormant for so long that it has become very poisonous. It is embedded in dim and distance history, and ideas and notions and have no relevance to contemporary times. Sharia provides us with a good example. The very word Sharia’ means a way to a waterhole: but the water that Sharia leads us to is polluted and poisonous, the way to the watering hole is itself blocked with all kinds of debris that has accumulated over centuries. So we need to re-think what Sharia’ is, we need to go back to the original principles of Sharia’, the maqāsid, and recreate a Sharia that is relevant and meaningful for our times. We have to rethink what the Sharia’ could be in the contemporary world. Clearly, as it exists today, it is not just irrelevant to the modern world, it is in fact a very unjust institution.
YM. Is it an unjust institution in the interpretation of human beings, or it was an unjust institution initially?
ZS. When it [the Sharia’] was first conceived, it was suitable for that world. It reflected the norms and mores of that society and period. The world has changed! And the Sharia is not suitable for this world.
YM. Then it assumes some changes and, let’s say, some contextualization through time.
YM. I like your parable of the lake. And it is true that when a pool of water is left without some fresh streams, it’s getting rotten. Thinking in terms of this allegory, a river never gets polluted naturally – except for human intervention – because it has flowing water. If that lake is Islam, maybe it needs to be connected with something else?
ZS. This lake needs to be connected with something else…
YM. …the source, which will take and give some water…
ZS. .. and which will bring fresh water.
ZS. The lake has to be connected with fresh ideas which bring the lake back to life. In this sense we have to rethink what it means to be a Muslim the 21st century. The real source of the lake, the source where water comes from, is the Qur’an, where all values and concepts are to be found But these values and concepts of the Qur’an have to be constantly re-interpreted. They cannot be interpreted once and for all. By its very definition, if you think that the divine Text is eternal, then it can’t be interpreted in only one way, because the world changes, everything changes. It means that it needs to be re-interpreted for every epoch.
What I think has happened, the reason why the lake has become polluted, is that it hasn’t been really re-interpreted for several centuries.
YM. So the water was not really been taken.
ZS. Yes! The water has become stagnant.
YM. Then who is entitled for the re-interpretation? What is the role of intellectuals?
ZS. The responsibility is on all our shoulders. I don’t think it is a responsibility for only one group. Why? Because at the end of the day, we are accountable for our own behavior in the eyes of God. On the Day of Judgment, we can’t say, “The mullah told me to do that.” We will be judged by our actions. So I would say, these are responsibilities all of us, and if we think that we are not qualified to do that, we should find and get that qualification, whatever these qualifications may be – such the ability to read the Text, wrestle with its words, think through it, struggle with the concepts. I think that the role of intellectuals is essentially to encourage re-interpretation in a way that people find relevant to their own lives, that they can see the significance themselves. It is not something that should be left with a select group of people. This is what happened in history: we had a select group of people who said, “We are the only people who are qualified to do that.” And of course, they put themselves in the position of power, and a series of consequences have emerged from that: a theocratic state like Iran, or a nasty ulama dominated state like Saudi Arabia are the logical end point of delagting all interpretative power to a group of religious scholars.
I would concede that some Muslims, probably, have more responsibility than others, those who have time and ability to think and re-interpret. If you want to describe them as ‘intellectuals’ that’s fine!
YM. Meanwhile, in Islam there is no such an institution like Church in Christianity, which kind of consolidates different opinions and makes a decision that we would stick to this way. So you’re talking now about ijtihād, personal efforts to understand the Sacred Text and extract principles for my personal life. But if every Muslim does this work, being a faithful Muslims, we will end up in the Muslim postmodernity – multiple opinions!
ZS. If you undertake ijtihād and get it wrong – well, there is nothing wrong with that. I mean, God judges you according to your own abilities. One of our greatest fear is that we will get things wrong, misinterpret the Qur’an, or make some other serious mistake. ‘What if I look at this and that and misinterpret it?’ But to make mistakes is very human! There is nothing wrong with that! We learn through making mistakes. Only through misinterpretation will you get to the right interpretation - whatever it might be. And even right interpretation may change in time, any way! Only angels can get things absolutely right.
So the fact that you do not have the right qualification – you have not studied tafsir, that you haven’t memorized 2000 hadith, you’ve not read the books of fiqh - doesn’t really mean that you are not qualified to give your own opinion to the best of your ability. And I think that sincerity is more important than anything else. That’s why in Islam niyyah [intention] is very important. When you do something, you have a niyyah. When you go to hajj, you make a niyyah: it is my sincere intention to perform the hajj. Sincerity si a
Islamic value. And if you are sincerely seeking to understand the text, it does not matter if you make a mistake. But if you’re not sincere, then, of course, you are on the wrong track anyway.
YM. You’re well known as a critical thinker, a ‘critical Muslim’ who is a chief editor of a journal under the same name. What are the limits or borders, may be moral borders, you put for yourself in critique?
ZS. I think the structures of the values should serve as the borders. I am very critical of things, but I’m not unjustly critical of things. At least I like to think that my criticism is based on justice. And the function of my criticism is to enhance the object of my criticism, actually take it from one place and put it into a higher place. This is the objective of criticism. It’s not to massage my own ego, or to rubbish somebody’s ideas and thoughts.
And beyond that, I think, the example of the Mutazilas is a good one. They criticized everything. Basically, you start with an assumption that you’re a believing Muslim, and then you criticize. You look at things in a very critical, rational way, you analyze and say whether it makes sense or not.
A major problem of Muslim societies is that we tend to accept things dogmatically. Dogma, I think, is the enemy of Muslims or should be the enemy of Muslims. Belief should be interrogated. Of course, you have to start with something: as Muslims we begin with the Qur’an and accept it as a Word of God. That is our leap of faith, if you like. But from here on, we look critically at everything, everywhere, including the life of the Prophet, including aḥādīth, including what the Companions said and did, including our own history and society. So we don’t accept automatically what, for example, classical commentators say about the Qur’an, or al-Tabari says about Islamic history, or al-Ghazālī says is the truth. We examine it, look at it and see if it is based on solid evidence, and has any validity for contemporary time. Islam insists that belief should not be irrational; it has to be grounded in reason, argument, evidence. Once the leap of faith has been taken, then you cannot be in irrational arena. Otherwise, you’re in quicksand. Anyone can come and justify things in dogmatic terms.
And that is exactly what is happening! ISIS, for example, paddles obscurantist dogmas: a dogma to have a caliphate, a caliph, etc. And it can present the most horrendous, the evillest things, in dogmatic terms and expect their followers to accept it without questions. Which they do!
YM. But on the other hand, ISIS can be seen as making their attempt to interpret the Qur’an and present their understanding of the Sharia. That was the way how far they were able to come.
ZS. Actually, they didn’t come far! They went backward!
YM. But that is their understanding!
ZS. Interpretation cannot be without some critical thought. It cannot be free floating, literalist; it has to be based on some evidence, some thought. It requires engagement with the text critically taking various context into full consideration. For example, ISIS promotes slavery. The Qur’an says, “Free the slave”. Reflect on the words: what it means to ‘free the slave.’ If you free all the slaves, you have no slavery, and this is a very sophisticated way of saying: change yourself, abolish slavery and develop an economic
system that is not based on exploitation of other human beings. This is an example of critical engagement with a little verse. But if you just look at it blindly – the verse says ‘free the slave’ – it means that you must have slaves so you can free them. Therefore, slavery is justified. This is a dogmatic way of looking at the verse, it’s a blind, literal ist interpretation that violates the spirit of the Qur’an. It’s not engaging with the text at all.
Interpretation by definition has to be critical, otherwise, it has no meaning. And the critical aspect has to reflect on what is going on in the environment of the Prophet and in the context you’re in. You can’t have an interpretation which is based on the 9-10th century and try to impose it on the 21st century, because eleven hundred years in between have transformed the world.
YM. About this critical interpretation and consideration of the environment and the context. We are constantly reminded that we live in the age of globalization. How did this process of globalization influence Islamic values? Some people even are brave to say that ISIS is a respond to globalization; it is their way to react.
ZS. Globalization, in many respects, has been quite devastating for Muslim societies. First of all, we have to acknowledge that the kind of globalization we have nowadays is quite different. Globalization has existed in the past, even among Muslims. For example, the Ottoman Empire was a global empire, or Abbasid Empire was the same.
But certain things have changed rapidly. One is that globalization is happening in the context of accelerating change. And it’s very difficult for people to adjust to such a rapid pace of change. And reach, both in terms of scope and scale, is very big. You can have some unintended consequences. For example, things that we see ISIS is engaged with, would not have been possible without the social media. The social media has enable ISIS to tremendously increase the scope and scale of its impact. ISIS can reach almost all Muslims all over the world through the social media. And in terms of scope, it could also influence them right down to the community and individual level. From this perspective, it is possibly true to say that ISIS is a product of globalization.
It is also true to say that a great deal of uncertainty that we find in the Muslim world is a product of globalization. Politics of identity, all the battles about nationalism, they have to do with uncertainty that eventually ends up as uncertainty about oneself. Who am I? This becomes the most fundamental question, and there is no fixed answer for this question in globalization.
But globalization has affected everybody, not just Muslims. That is why not only Muslims produce extremists. Hindus produced it in India, the fascists in Europe are on the rise, in America we have a president who was elected with the help of the far right. I think these all are the product of globalization. So Muslims are just a part of this process.
What we do see is that at this moment extremism coming from Muslim societies gets a great deal of global attention because it is overtly and brutally violent. It has become the prominent type of extremism that gets most of the media attention.
YM. Or this violent component is promoted by the mass media?
ZS. No! ISIS is intrinsically a very violent institution and I don’t think there is any promotion of mass media there. It provides the spectacle that mass media needs.
YM. But before that. It just came as …
ZS. … a phenomena. That’s right! It has to do with globalization and the post-normal component I was talking about. Things happen very-very quickly and they appear from almost nowhere, because of the way networks and connections work. The communication is almost instant, the feedback is immediate, etc.
YM. I don’t think that we should equate globalization only with negative trends…
ZS. No! There are some positive trends as well.
YM. …because it also pushes people to re-think of their own values, to search for their identity. Globalization also makes them go back to their original values: the Qur’an, the Sunnah, the khalīfah idea, etc.
ZS. Agree with you!
YM. Someone said that Muslims have developed a very strong sense of justice, while Christians have developed a strong sense of forgiveness. But what is the proper way of dealing with rage/anger nowadays, from moral perspective?
ZS. I think anger is important but it has to be constrained and confined. Rage in itself can be as destructive to the person who is enraged as to anybody else. I think you need to be angry because it motivates you to do things. For example, I am very angry for the injustices I see in the world, the social injustices that we need to overcome. And I think that this anger is good.
YM. Righteous anger.
ZS. Yes! A kind of righteous anger, if you like. I would say that the real function of anger is to motivate people to do good, to stand up against injustice, and to speak truth to power. That is the function of anger. But not to engage in violence. Once you’re engaged in violence, you have defeated your purpose.
YM. One sensitive question. What can be considered ethical regarding treatment of money and power (political one), which usually go hand in hand?
ZS. In Britain we have a group of people who are called “Champagne Socialists.” They are very rich but they want to foster equity and justice in the rest of society. I’m not against wealth if it is a legitimate wealth; I am not against the wealthy if they foster equality and human rights. What makes me angry is illegitimate wealth. For example, I’m very angry at all these oligarchs who just looted the Russian state. How can you become a billionaires overnight in a society where everybody was a Communist? handful of people became billionaires by manipulating the system to their advantage. You do that in a very illegitimate and a very corrupt way. So I think, corruption is a very big problem in the contemporary world; most of the wealth we see in the world is corrupt wealth.
Moreover, power normally corrupts, and as a saying goes “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I’m not in favor of top-down social changes, I’d rather social changes emerge from the grass-root level, because then they are going to be permanent, they have roots in the society, they are not imposed on it. But at the same time, money is also energy, and you do need a certain amount of energy to do certain things. If you, for example, plant a tree, you know that it needs lots of sun, water and nutrients as a small sapling;
It needs lots of energy energy to grow initially. But when a seed becomes a tree, then it doesn’t need so much energy; it has become self-sustaining. It has reached a state where it is happy with itself and doesn’t grow anymore, because it can destroy itself and the environment. This kind of wealth I’m happy with.
So when something – say a business enterprise, a community organization - is in its very early stages it does need lots of energy, it does need money and financial support to grow. Once it reaches maturity then it should stop consuming wealth because then it is depriving others of their legitimate needs. I think that many Muslims are ‘naked capitalists’ who justify exploitative capitalism in Islamic terms. For me, ostentatious wealth does not sit comfortably with some Islamic values. For us, the value of equality is very-very important. So if you have a gross inequity of wealth, it means that your society also has gross inequality – a recipe for strife and fragmentation.
YM. So equality is a primary value in such things.
ZS. Absolutely! I think in Islamic framework equality and justice are very important. As you said early, Christianity is concentrated on forgiveness and Islam is focused on justice. And justice has two components: one is equality, and the other one is forgiveness. We do forgive but we don’t forget! Right? Because if you forget, you cannot correct. We don’t want the same mistakes to be repeated again and again. We are happy to forgive, but we don’t forget because we want to correct. And that element is very-very strong.
The whole idea of accountability is very strong in Islam. People often think about accountability only for the moment you die, for ākhirah. No! There is accountability in this world. You have to be able to account where you get your wealth. If we look at early history of Islam, we noted that people were always asking Uthman where he got his wealth. He had to account for his earnings, his business, his trade. It is not that that your wealth should be legitimate but also it should be seen to be legitimate. It’s not that Islam is against wealth; it’s just to be legitimate it cannot deprive others of their needs and requirements. There are certain checks and balances, and I think they are very important.
YM. If you were to name three ethical issues for Muslims living as a minority and a majority, what would you name?
ZS. I think that ethical issues for Muslims should be exactly the same as for the main society, because Muslims in Europe should not see themselves from outside the society. There is nothing special about being a Muslim; just there is nothing special about being a Christian, or a Jew, or a secular, or an atheist, or an environmentalist. Just because you believe in something, doesn’t make you special.
What makes you special is what you do.
YM. And how you do it.
ZS. Yes! How you do it! Because at the end you have to justify the means. Both ends and means should be ethical. You should have just ends and just means to reach your goals. I think that in Europe the distribution of wealth is very-very important. It’s quite a big issue, the ethical issue of wealth.
But there are also other ethical issues, equally deep. For example, we are at a stage when we are re-defining what it means to be human, especially in the Western societies, in Europe and the North America. Soon artificial intelligence (AI) will come into its own; robots will be doing most things, leading to mass unemployment. No doubt, there will be demands for robot rights! All this raises a very deep ethical question: what is human and what does it mean to be human. So Muslims in the West have to pay really close attention to the essential ethical aspects of humanity. And I’m talking about all humanity, in a collective sense, not something specific to Muslims or to the society in the West.
Equally important is climate change which is a very major issue that affects everybody. And there is more concern about it here in the West, than in the Muslim majority countries. But climate change will affect every country on the planet; and it raises a host of ethical and moral issues – not least, how are we going to ensure the survival of future generations.
In most Muslim societies the sense of concern is created by the absence of civic society. There is hardly a Muslim country with a thriving civic society. What are the values of a civic society? That needs to be explored and worked out.
What are the relationships between the state and the citizens? This should also be a major concern in most Muslim countries. It seems that the state is there only to exploit the people. Those in power seem to have no sense of accountability – you can’t remove them without violence.
And the rampant nature of corruption we’ve mentioned already. It’s not like everybody is corrupt, but corruption is the system. So that becomes a very major issue: how can you create a new system that is not corrupt? Because the system itself is corrupt, and everybody participates in this system.
So there are numerous issues of values to talk about and explore as far as Muslims are concerned. The essentials being: how we create a civic society, how we introduce accountability in the society so those in power are accountable to people they are governing. And those who are governed hold to account those who govern them. I think it has to be in both ways. The point is how we can create a system that is essentially based on values of integrity, honesty, and truthfulness, because Muslim societies seem to lack these values totally.
YM. You’ve been living long enough to see some crucial changes in the world and in people. In your opinion, what are the major changes that happened in people through these years?
ZS. Society has become more and more complex, and more and more interconnected. We are now reaching the state when we cannot solve any of our problems because the normal way of solving a problem is to isolate it, study it, find a solution, and then apply it. But now you can’t isolate a problem, there is no a problem; all problems are interconnected. We have a web of problems, and it is very difficult to solve a single problem without tackling at the same time other problems. And we haven’t developed a way of thinking how we can attack a number of problems simultaneously. That is the major change I’ve seen in society – it has gone postnormal!
YM. From this perspective, do you think that moral values in general, and Islamic in particular, should be persevered like an unchangeable monolith, or they should be a subject of re-interpretation, enhancing?
ZS. You see, the example I was giving about the lake is important. There are some fundamental Islamic values. But they have to be seen in contextual terms as well. For example, those things that are forbidden in Islam, can be allowed and even become obligatory under certain conditions. If you are starving, for example, you can eat things that you will not eat under normal circumstances. The context is very important. And I think, the whole discussion of value, what is good, cannot have one answer, because the answer to what is good depends on the context. And if the context changes, then what is good may also change. That’s why you have to have a very strong ethical and moral bearings to have the ability to understand that good itself has changed because of the circumstances and the context.
YM. And if you don’t pay attention to the context and blindly make statements, you become dogmatic.
ZS. Yeah! And good actually becomes evil!
YM. And the last question. If you were writing you autobiography now, what chapters would you add to the book?
ZS. I would add chapters on what we were talking about: on post-normal time, complexity, how things are becoming even more difficult to solve, and how our old way of thinking – what we at paradigms, economic, scientific, intellect paradigms, social and political – how they become irrelevant. And we have to re-think ourselves. In terms of humanity, we are at the edge of chaos. We have two options: things can go worse or we have to re-imagine ourselves and create a new system, a new way of looking at the world: a new way of being, doing economics, a new way of thinking, a new way of relating to each other, and a new way of understanding what diversity is all about.
Part of the problem we were talking earlier, of uncertainty and identity crises, is to do with diversity. People are just not used to the level of diversity we now have in societies.
YM. Even though we are constantly told that we live in the multicultural world.
ZS. Exactly! There is so much diversity around, that people cannot just cope with it, because they do not have a mechanism of coping with that level of pluralism. So we have to develop those mechanisms.
YM. But this post-normal time you characterize with very quick changes, and what you suggest that need to be done might take a very long time. Won’t we be just chasing after the wind?
ZS. Precisely! It will take a long time! And the only guidance we have is what we were talking about earlier on. These are old-fashion virtues: the virtue of compassion, forgiveness, perseverance – what we can call religious virtues.
YM. So these religious virtues and moral values should re-immerge again and be promoted again. Right?
ZS. Absolutely! They’ve never gone away, but we forgot them, because we thought that these things were old and irrelevant. But now these so-called ‘old and irrelevant things’ are very relevant in contemporary times! You see, we cannot manage or control postnormal times. All what we can do is to navigate them; and to do that, we need new ways of doing and thinking, new paradigms. And the best tools we have for navigation are tried and trusted values.
YM. Thank you very much for your answers and new, thought provoking ideas!
Interviewer: Yelena V. Muzykina
Al-Farabi Kazakh National University
Department of Cultural and Religious Studies
Faculty of Philosophy and Political Science