Q: What is your definition of bioethics? What does it actually pursue?
Alizadeh: When it comes to bioethics, there are three domains close to each other in it; one is environmental ethics, second is biomedicine with emphasis on medical bioethics and the third is bioethics.
Environmental ethics is a branch of applied ethics which deals with values governing over the relationships between man and environmental elements. The moral concerns about man's relationship with ecology, the surrounding environment and other ecological elements such as the river, mountains, lakes and living organisms like botanic tissues, animals and their rights.
Today, there are groups in some countries of the world named the Green or the Greens that claim to be a global movement trying to safeguard the environment.
They vigorously oppose any huge industrial programs or actions that may lead to destruction of the environment.
If we want to separate medical bioethics from environmental ethics, we will end up analyzing the relationship between a medical team and a patient that involves a wide array of discussions like medical ethics, nursing ethics, ethical hospital, ethical or non-ethical treatment and pharmacy.
Bioethics in its specific meaning no longer refers to medical ethics; rather, it is a domain of new studies on applied ethics relating, more or less, to man's life and death values and to phenomena that have something to do with man's life and death. Topics such as "easy death", abortion or human cloning which involves the birth or creation of a new human being and also discussions which involve moral concerns, values and challenges existing in this regard are examined in this domain.
According to major approaches or schools existing in philosophy of ethics, endeavors are made sometimes to solve problems and deal with the challenges through religious perspectives like Christian ethics, Islamic ethics, Buddhist ethics or secular ethics like duty ethics or consequentialist ethics.
Q: How is it possible to have a global bioethics?
Alizadeh: The smaller the world and the closer men's fates become to each other, the more serious becomes the discussion (concerning global ethics). Men can have a peaceful co-existence and can attain their common objectives on the bases of moral values, essential dignity of man and lofty spiritual values.
There was a great distance between the Shiites of Iran and Muslims of other countries of the world and even between a Sunni individual in North Africa and a Muslim or a Christian or a Buddhist thousands of kilometers away. Therefore, there was very little concern about the values or criteria on whose basis the people of the world had interaction with each other.
Owing to the proliferation of advanced technology in different areas of communications, inventions, transportations etc. the temporal and spatial aspects of our lives have grown smaller as compared to the time in which our forefathers lived. The level of our communication and interaction with those who do not share with us the same beliefs has increased.
Therefore, the more communications and information increase, the deeper becomes our concern about having a lofty human relationship with our human fellows from other creeds. On this basis, the global ethics project in the last few decades has turned into an ambition for the intellectuals and scholars.
In the Congress of the Religions held in 1993 in Chicago, the global ethics declaration was prepared and published for the first time. Efforts were made in the process of the preparation of this declaration to bring together the representatives of all the religions and to reflect the views of all the religions. At present, the discussion revolves around how to reach a common global ethics so that in the process of the globalization of ethics, the creeds and religions may be preserved and their distinctions maintained.
As for globalization of bioethics, a lot of efforts are still going on to reach common values and develop a particular system of beliefs in which the ethical identity of every religion (Islamic ethics, Christian ethics or Buddhist ethics etc.) is maintained and preserved.
It seems as though Islam as compared to every other religion has a greater capacity in this regard. That is to say, Islam can bring human beings together in a peaceful, just, spiritual and healthy atmosphere of co-existence and it can prevent threats and dangers that arise from the multiplicity of beliefs, races and nations.
Q: What factors do you think threaten the global ethics?
Alizadeh: There are certain things that threaten the global ethics. These include racism, nationalism, arrogance and a lot of things that come along with political imperialism. The dominant power is trying to equalize the global values in order to link the industrial and capital interests to its own interest.
When in practice you do not respect the followers of other religions, then there arises intolerance. Unlike all other religions, Islam has a proud history of peaceful co-existence. Wherever it has come across religious minorities over the history before the crusades, it has treated them humanely and with love. The Christians named their religion as the religion of love but in practice they have demonstrated intolerance and have committed more crimes against Muslims. Even at present, unfortunately, some of their religious authorities are defending the global Zionism which is against the global ethics.
We are faced with a lot of threats within the borders of the Islamic world. The real danger that threatens peace and coexistence is amongst the Muslims themselves.
Extremism exists everywhere but extremism of Takfiri movement which is politically and religiously motivated and which originate in Salafi and Wahhabi thinking has inflicted the greatest harm upon the Islamic world.
In regards to human dignity, Muslims should seriously turn to the original Islamic sources. They should reread all Islamic sources and concepts on the basis of real and concrete discussions. We must attach importance to all the strategies which the Holy Quran and the prophetic tradition lay out and which call upon Muslims to unite. We must consolidate the bases the culture of unity and if it is consolidated and strengthened, we shall witness the culture of violence and intolerance diminishing in the Muslim communities.
Q: Is the need for morals relative or absolute?
Alizadeh: The need for morals never ceases to exist in the society. We need moral training and morality. Although sometimes these needs intensify or decrease, in reality there exists an absolute need for it. The need level differs from time to time but the need itself never diminishes.
We believe ethics is responsible for explaining the peaks and courses of human destination. Moral evils are like quagmires and cliffs from which human values fall down and perish whereas moral virtues and moral good are like peaks which explain the purpose of man's life towards which man should move.
Once the ups and downs of the path towards the purpose of man's life have been known, then he needs a formula for moving and attaining the purpose. Moral education teaches man how to avoid falling off the dangerous cliffs and how to ascend the height towards the peak of virtue. Moral education involves guiding man towards moral values and moral virtues.
According to psychology, values are real and objective with which man should have profound existential relation. Whenever they are imbedded in man's personality, then one can say that he has been educated. Hence, we consider a sustainable process of imbedding moral values as a form of moral education, and the blossoming of capabilities and spiritual and human capacities is linked with the process of educational planning.
Q: How do you evaluate the process of morals in our society?
Alizadeh: If we are to give marks to our moral and practical report card, I should say that in Iran we will get high marks for some moral values and our country (Iran) is one of the most proud nations of the world. Unfortunately, as for some other moral virtues and values are concerned, we are faced with some drawbacks and we need to move forward more strongly and work out coherent plans for progress in this regard.
Although we cannot tell an average mark for moral values in the country, I can say we are on the path of progress. There is a long way to go. Therefore, we must make our best attempts and endeavors on the basis of our cultural capacities to tread the paths which we have not yet treaded and to work out plans towards our objectives.
Q: What are the problems the modern age is faced with? What multiple problems has the modern life created in terms of moral and religious education of the youths?
Alizadeh: One of our problems is the generation gap which is a global phenomenon. The generation gap is not particular to the developed or underdeveloped countries.
The gap has made wearisome the process of sociability and transference of values from the former generations to the latter ones. The present generation gap is because of the lack of parents' and teachers' intellectual and evaluating authority in families and at schools. Due to the emergence of modern communication technology and the great media industry, the evaluating authority has been given, as a role-playing model, to media and the modern communicational atmospheres, and the youths are unconsciously receiving the most impacts from these atmospheres.
Due to modern industrial lifestyle, the parents are having increasingly less contact with their children and it is for the same reason that the parents, teachers and instructors in practice allocate for themselves a lesser part of the time of the mental archive of the children and their role is increasingly becoming weaker. Therefore their intellectual authority decreases and they as the main role-models relegate their roles to others. Therefore, the gap has already taken place in this direction and our youths are not following the older generation in a close and conscious way which, according to me, is a fundamental problem.
We are living in the post-modern age in which, due to the West's cultural atmosphere, the ideologies have lost their legitimacy and that the strong system of intellectual and cultural authorities have been replaced by a mixture of varied, contradictory and personal values.
In an atmosphere in which a person becomes the evaluating authority for himself, ethics, religion and all the value-based systems encounter different, contradictory and multiple readings which lead to the confusion of the young generation. In this case, the process of moral training of the contemporary youth becomes much more difficult than the time in which we do not have a pluralistic cognitive world or a pluralistic source of value.
The media which are transferring information to the youth with a very high speed are making the youth confront every day a new reading and a new specious argument versus the solid pillars of national and religious values.
Q: How have the Islamic sources dealt with issues relating to biotechnology and cloning?
Alizadeh: We can extract teachings from our religious sources and classify them in two levels. In the root level, the foundations of value cognition, anthropology, biology and knowledge of the religion are in focus and in the other realm the doctrines which can supervise the consequences of this phenomenon can be named.
In the Arabic and Islamic countries, many works have been written about cloning.
In Persian language also, in addition to the religious queries that are directed to the offices of the grand jurists, quiet recently many have started to study about cloning and write their theses on this subject.
I am not going to pass judgment about cloning or evaluate Islam's viewpoint in this connection but Muslim scholars have expressed theological, philosophical and social concerns with an Islamic approach and on the basis of Islamic foundations.
However, it is not so easy to present a positive response about the cloning project on the basis of those concerns. I believe, insofar as we do not respond to these concerns in a transparent and clear manner, we cannot expect to attain a positive view on the part of the Islamic scholars in this regard.
The jurists and religious authorities have expressed their views very much on the basis of suppositions and presumptions. Most of our grand jurists hold negative views concerning cloning and some of them considered cloning as a permissible act on the condition that it should not entail negative or illegal consequences. Indeed, most Shia and Sunni jurists are of the view that cloning entails negative consequences.
In a letter we wrote ICESCO, we expressed our readiness to hold an international forum in the Islamic Sciences and Culture Academy to prepare an Islamic declaration of global ethics.
We appealed all the scholars in and out of Iran to attach importance to global ethics in the same way as they declared the Cairo statement as the Islamic human rights declaration. We also therefore wrote a letter to ICESCO expressing our readiness to host a forum in the Islamic Sciences and Culture Academy to prepare an Islamic declaration of global ethics.
When human beings do not attain mutual understanding and when the groundwork of mutual rights is not prepared, we will not succeed in having global ethics.
We can lay specific emphasis on these levels and elaborate Islam's capacities about the pillars of global ethics for the followers of the religions and for nations. We can make this great capacity known to mankind and make best use of it for preparing the global ethics.
Intellectual Vacuums due to Lack of Morals
Alizadeh: Religious and moral identities are a chain full of rings that are complementary to each other, and the formation of a sustainable moral personality is the effect of multiple and intricate causes. We cannot consider one factor as responsible for the whole of this chain nor do we can expect it to play all the roles. We take into consideration the part and quantity of all the groups, major and minor, social and economic systems, the role of parents in the family, the role of teachers at schools and in classes. We must see them together and work out plans for them. Meanwhile, we should admit that the Shiite scholars can play a highly crucial role in the Islamic society of Iran. Insofar as we are equipped with the two wings of knowledge and practice, we can fill up the vacuums that have been created as a result of the lack of morals in the world.
Late Imam Khomeini (r.a) considered acquisition of knowledge, piety and simplicity as the key to the success of the clerics. If the clerics can invite and attract people to moral values through their simple way of living and by demonstrating piety, and if they meet the intellectual needs of people by responding to the contemporary questions, they will be able to play this role easily.
Q: What role is the Islamic Sciences and Culture Academy playing towards the moral development of the country?
The Islamic Sciences and Culture Academy can play three special roles; one is about moral and spiritual education. In this regard, an effective cultural observation is necessary and in regards to morals and education also, we must conduct a thorough pathological study.
Also, we can serve in the Islamic Sciences and Culture Academy as cultural observers of the country, and warn about the dangers threatening the revolution and our young generation. Also, we as a warning factor can identify and discern the threats. The Islamic Sciences and Culture Academy can in the first stage play a role in generating basic knowledge as a theoretical support of the Islamic Republic. In other words, the Academy, as stated in the documents of the Islamic Propagation Office, can serve as a theoretic support and can explain the Islamic education system and prepare the Islamic ethical system. After generating the basic knowledge, we can work out appropriate plans in the area of applied studies and applied researches that are aimed in ironing out the society's problems and dilemmas.
The activities of Moral Training and Education Center in line with the roles of the Islamic Sciences and Culture Academy towards moral development of the society:
This center deals with the contemporary issues of the country. One of the contentious moral issues is the biotechnology ethics in which it is discussed whether or not it is ethical to change the genome of living beings or plants to achieve modified products and increase farm productivity. In this regard, we held a joint seminar in Islamic Sciences and Culture Academy with the cooperation of Iran's Biotechnology Association, Baqiyatullah University and a few other scientific centers. Efforts were made to focus on the moral foundations and jurisprudential principles of this issue so as to reach a conclusion in this regard.
In the area of political ethics also, there is another important issue which is the subject of elections and which has always been fraught with some difficulties.
Following a request by the Ministry of Interior in the previous year, the preparation and composition of a moral manifest of elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran was relegated to this Academy particularly the Moral Training and Education Center.
Within a time period of eight months, this center, having set up four workgroups, prepared the manifest and handed it over to the Ministry of Interior. Also, the Moral Training and Education Center has been repeatedly invited as a member to the Council of Public Culture of Ministry of Guidance. This center is an active member of the workgroup of newly surfaced mysticisms. In this workgroup, the researches cooperating with the Moral Training and Education Center identify pseudo mysticism and study the ways through which those mysticisms could be encountered. Meanwhile, they also discuss about Islamic morality and the strategies through which it may be spread in the Islamic Republic.
To comply with the order of the Supreme Leader about Software Movement and production of science, the Moral Training and Education Center prepared a draft of the manifest of ethics production document in the Academy and also an edition of Islamic Moral Development document, a task accomplished with a view towards the philosophy of the structure of science.
"Applied Ethics" written by this Center was selected in the current year as the yearbook of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In this book, not only have we demonstrated an extensive atlas of the branches of applied ethics but we have also studied the nature of this scientific domain and its method. In regards to modern spiritualities and pseudo mysticisms, the book "A Critical Study of New Mysticisms" has been welcomed and published for a second time.
In the educational area, our book titled "Tarbiat-e Tawhidi" (Monotheistic Education) achieved the season-book award of the Islamic Republic. In the area of moral education and psychology of ethics, we have two serious projects underway which, unfortunately, had long remained unattended. For example, we are working on the jurisprudence of ethics, the groundwork of ethical deduction, tolerance and the rule of tolerance (tasamoh) within the traditions which deals about reconstructing the constituents of moral science. God willing, the Moral Training and Education Center having serious scientific interaction with Educational Association of the Islamic Seminary of Qom, the Research and Planning Institute of Ministry of Education and the Cooperation Committee of the Islamic Seminary, the Educational Department and Technical and Vocational Organization will play a more effective role.
The International Activities of Moral Training and Education Center
The Bibliography of Islamic Ethics which is taught at the doctorate level of Islamic ethics has been translated into Arabic. Scholars like Edris Hani who is the leader of the Shiites of Tunisia and a famous writer have said that this book should be published in the Arab world so that it may demonstrate new achievements in the area of moral thought. Cooperation with ICESCO and appealing them to write an international ethics declaration are an indication of our global and Islamic attitude.