Centre for Dialogue, La Trobe University
On 26 March 2009 the Centre for Dialogue, in cooperation with the Australian National University’s Centre for Arab & Islamic Studies (Middle East & Central Asia), hosted H. E. Seyed Mohammad Khatami, the former President of Iran (1997-2005) and pioneer of the “Dialogue of Civilizations.” His address “Dialogue Among Civilizations: The Do’s and Don’ts of Theory and Practice” held at La Trobe University was the only public address given by Khatami in Melbourne. Over 1,800 people attended, with another 1,200 people turned away after the venue was filled. Joseph Camilleri chaired the meeting.
Drawing on his experience as a leader of the reform movement in Iran and as a leading religious scholar, Khatami discussed the role of dialogue among cultures and civilizations in international relations. He emphasised the importance of digital media and the way it might facilitate dialogue between different elements of society around the world, thereby circumventing governments as an intermediary.
During question time Khatami expressed his disapproval of all forms of extremism and terrorism, arguing that they are based on a “fundamentally warped logic which refuses to acknowledge the basic rights of the pluralism of world cultures.” He also spoke in depth about Iran’s nuclear programme arguing that Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle was established in order to improve energy security in the face of sanctions by the West. While conceding that nuclear proliferation had destabilised the Middle East, he reiterated the view that Iran did not have any desire to acquire nuclear weapons. Khatami was critical of the US Administration, arguing that like terrorism, the War on Terror was based on the logic of extremism, a logic that leads to the killing of innocent people and the abuse of religious based values.
During his Australia visit, Khatami met with prominent personalities and organisations. His itinerary included: the Board of Imams, the Australian Institute for International Affairs, the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies Australia, The Hon Steven Bracks, The Most Reverend Dr Philip Freer, Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, The Hon Harry Jenkins, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms Maria Vamvakinou, MP, and The Hon Malcolm Fraser, Former Prime Minister of Australia.