Philosophy is part of UNESCO’s mission because it allows “developing the intellectual tools to analyze and understand the key concepts such as justice, dignity and freedom, building capacities for independent thought and judgement, enhancing critical skills.” (UNESCO’s Strategy on Philosophy, November/December 2004)
With these words, an official document published in 2004 by Paris-based UNESCO’s Section of Philosophy and Human Sciences introduced “UNESCO’s Strategy on Philosophy.” And yet, at least on this occasion, this “strategy” really does not seem to have managed to be implemented in practice. In fact, choosing Tehran to host this edition of World Philosophy Day (November 21st –November 23rd 2010) seems contradictory, in view of the manner in which the Iranian government in recent year has treated the more important members of philosophy’s intelligentsia, obliging many of them to emigrate after being threatened, humiliated and after their ideas had been delegitimized. A inexorably authoritarian process, especially since the June 2009 presidential elections, is effectively brutally destroying a very important part of the humanist wealth that bravely survives the theocratic regime of the ayatollahs. Thinkers such as the “heretic” Mohsen Kadivar, now resident in the United States, Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohammad Shabestari, an expert on Gadamer and Wittgenstein obliged to retire, Ramin Jahanbegloo, a first class political philosopher and intellectual and many others, all sons and teachers of that “school of freedom” the defence of which is so important to UNESCO, have been obliged to experience external or internal exile that is depressing.
ResetDoc’s protest, which has resulted in the creation of www.philosophy4freedom.org arises from these simple considerations, and is based on the persuasion that the fact that the simple duty of showing solidarity to those in Iran who have been silenced is irreconcilable with choosing Tehran as philosophy’s capital for 2010. On January 15th this year, a letter from ResetDoc (signed by Giuliano Amato, Giancarlo Bosetti and Jahanbegloo) addressed to the Director General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, invited the organisation to reconsider the appropriateness of its decision, also so as to safeguard the importance and beauty of an event the previous editions of which were happy occasions for free dialogue. The extremely embellished and very weak reasons presented in the official answer (March 9th signed by Pierre Sané, Deputy Director General), concerning a “chronological order” to be respected when choosing the host state, was at the centre of UNESCO’s further hesitations that lasted at least until the end of September.
In fact, after the 27th, the day on which ResetDoc sponsored a public meeting at the New School of Social Research in New York and the arrival of important supporters such as Jürgen Habermas, Nadia Urbinati, Michael Walzer, Seyla Benhabib, Andrew Arato, Jean Cohen and, among many others, the famous Kantian philosopher Ottfried Höffe (with an article in the daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine) the idea of an Alternative World Philosophy Day to be held online began to take shape. UNESCO’s decision started to falter on that day and, according to unofficial sources, its leaders are thinking of moving the World Philosophy Day to the French capital.
In the meantime, however, time is running out, and while the idea of an “alternative” day dedicated to philosophy is taking shape on www.philosophy4freedom.org, ResetDoc has addressed an invitation to all philosophers to participate by sending their written contributions before the 18th of November (see the last one by Ramin Jahanbegloo). Many newspapers (La Repubblica, Il Corriere della Sera, The Wall Street Journal, Guardian and others) have already published articles about ResetDoc’s campaign. Nevertheless, in Iran nothing appears to be changing and the official Iranian website, with UNESCO’s insignia, dedicated to World Philosophy Day (www.philosophyday.ir) continues to gloriously announce this solemn event in Tehran.
One must hope that UNESCO will soon find the courage to resolve the issue with the Iranian government. A World Philosophy Day in Paris would not be totally persuasive if, in a not after all so far away Persia, another World Day were held amidst replacement philosophers and bogeymen.