Interfaith Dialogue and the Emerging Global Legal System I


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Copyright© Keyvan Tabari 2004. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari. _____________________________________________________________________________________

abstract:         The purpose of this presentation is to call for a rigorous interfaith dialogue in critiquing the emerging new world legal system. The objective would be to help ameliorate the fate we face today, by discerning and employing humanity’s shared values emanating from universal beliefs. Acknowledging those values is imperative now that globalization and uni-polarity have come to undermine the foundations of traditional international law. As the principle of the sovereignty of nation-states erodes, substitutes should be sought in such rules of conduct as the protocol of civility, standards of morality, and commands of faith. “Self evident” absolutes such as the sanctity of all individuals, once only hoped for, may now be founded on experienced faith. Thereupon should be based the laws governing the globe. Only thus could a global empire -desired or viewed as inevitable by some, and feared by others- be held accountable for the common good of all peoples. 

            keywords: interfaith dialogue + international law + emerging

            global legal system + globalization + common good


            What I think the conferees at Dubai [“An Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good; The 3rd Annual Conference: The Middle East and Globalisation for the Common Good, Dubai, 26-31 March, 2004″] might want to consider is the future of the fast evolving international law and how interfaith dialogue could influence it for the better. The framework for such consideration need not be elaborated here. I will presently allude to its contours briefly. I would, instead, focus in this space on the legal landscape.                                   

            The foundations of private international law have been radically shaken by the all encompassing globalization of economics –  capital, market, and labor- while the implosion of the Soviet Union has allowed an assertive United States to challenge the whole notion of nation- state which has been the pillar of public international law since the Treaty of Westphalia. It is facile to consider the events of September 11, 2001 as the fortuitous cause. Even before that date, there were clear signs that the United States wished the world to be managed by what may be called the Global Rule of Law.

            Many from other countries have disagreed with that desire. The areas of contention have been widespread: environmental law (e.g., balancing consumer’s rights and the protection of the common heritage), economic regulations (e.g., conditions of assistance from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, regimes of sanctions, and prerequisites to participation in the World Trade Organization), definition of international crimes (e.g., terrorism), modality of dispute resolution and global courts (e.g., asymmetrical jurisdiction and burden of proof), the rules of warfare (e.g., the definitions of self-defense and just war, application of the Geneva Convention, and proliferation/right to weapons of mass destruction), reforming existing domestic legal systems ( e.g., compatible legislation, independent judiciary, and the principle of judicial review), human rights (e.g., extent and scope of “inalienable/natural,” political, civil, economic/social, and displaced persons’ rights), just to name the major ones.  At the core of the disagreement, the issue is joined on the changing nature of sovereignty and its implications for both international/global relations and the rule of law.

            The novelty of the Global Rule of Law is in the fact that unlike international law it denies equality among nation-states, and unlike a modern (consensual) domestic legal system it rejects subjection of the ruler to the law ordained by the ruled. It might be argued that, especially under President George W. Bush’s administration, the U.S. perceives its ideology of free market and democracy as unchallenged in a world that has become increasingly dependent on its economy as a result of globalization, while “smart” weapons have made the Administration virtually immune to even its domestic critics of foreign policies, as American casualties are kept negligible. The tempting prescriptions that have been intoned provoke the metaphor of a global empire, “democratic” only in being accountable to the American electorate, and ruling with the help of anointed “satraps” in other lands. 

            How could this new Rome be made globally accountable? The task should begin by enumerating the “elements” of the Global Rule of Law. In recognition of the organic basis for any legal system, the salient characteristics of the global relations that provide the context for the viability of these new laws must be reviewed. Fundamental for the work of the Dubai conference, however, is testing the assumptions of the new jurisprudence against other than legal rules of conduct: protocols of civility, standards of morality, and above all, commands of faith.

            This normative consideration for the articulation of the alternatives would not be easy.  In that exercise, to be productive, those concerned should aim their dialogue toward a desired consensus that would hold the promise of persuading a wide and empowered enough constituency, including disparate segments of the global civil society. It might also be noted that inasmuch as American jurisprudence dominates, the naked truth of its adversarial system is that the meek or the weak will not shape the law. Politics of self-abnegation, victimhood, or reckless defiance will none be consequential; and compassion will have an impact only as a means of soothing the inequality in order to ensure stability.

            I believe that a robust interfaith dialogue can be of enormous help both in critiquing the official version of the new world legal order and in ameliorating the fate we face today. Such a dialogue will do so by revealing our shared common values, which emanate from universal beliefs that could no longer be disputed. There are, indeed, absolutes founded on experienced faith! Who could today question the essential sanctity of all individuals, or the dictum that one should treat others as one expects to be treated? From these now “self-evident” principles, as the Thomas Jeffersons could only have envisaged, the interfaith engagement must derive rules applicable to the contemporary human condition. Thereupon should be based the laws governing the globe. The Dubai conference could open a vista of immense intellectual promise to be fulfilled by its progenies.


The article is a paper given in March 2004 in Dubai at the  “Inter-faith Perspective on Globalisation for the Common Good; The 3rd Annual Conference: The Middle East and Globalisation for the Common Good .

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