On May 4, 1493, pope Alexander VI issued the infamous ‘Doctrine of Discovery’, decreeing that “any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be discovered, claimed and exploited by Christian rulers”. This was the time that the Europeans were discovering the so-called New World, or the Americas.

Pope Alexander VI declared that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted, be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous (sic) nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.”

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had been asked to rescind and revoke the colonialist decree to no avail until Pope Francis finally obliged the Vatican do so in March 2023.

The Papal Bull of 1493 has provided the spiritual, political and legal justification for colonisation and the seizure of land not inhabited by Christians in Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. It fuelled white supremacy and gave European settlers the sense that they were instruments of divine design and possessed cultural superiority over the rest of the world.

It created the ideology that supported the dehumanisation of those living in the newly discovered lands and made acceptable the dispossession, murder and forced assimilation of the indigenous people.

Today’s western wish to prolong its global hegemony is a modern-day version of this 500-year-old Doctrine of Discovery. The West continues to carry out a self-righteous crusade to evangelise the rest of the world, casting itself as a choir of democratic angels among hordes of autocratic devils.

The West is doing all it can to abort, even violently, the birth of a new multipolar world which rejects a unipolar world dominated by the US. The Wolfowitz Doctrine developed by the Pentagon after the collapse of the Soviet Union is a strategy plan to ensure that no power emerges to rival that of the US. It is called ‘unipolarism on steroids’.

In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis denounces contemporary cultural colonisation and proposes that the best way for civilisations to relate to each other is through the polyhedron mode, a solid figure with different flat sides like a cube or prism, all equal in importance.

In January 2015, he had explained: “When conditions are imposed by colonising empires, they seek to make these peoples lose their own identity and create uniformity. This is spherical globalisation – all points are equidistant from the centre. And true globalisation – I like to say this – is not a sphere. It is important to globalise but not like the sphere but, rather, like the polyhedron. Namely that each people, every part, preserves its identity without being ideologically colonised.”

Peace, not annihilation

Five hundred years ago, the West set out to colonise the rest of the world to “civilise” it. Fifty years ago, the poet and public intellectual Aimé Césaire from Martinique, in his ‘Discourse on Colonialism’, asked the question: “Has colonisation really placed civilisations in contact? Or if you prefer, of all the ways of establishing contact, was it the best? I answer no.”

The domination of the West is being challenged seriously. The process of de-colonisation is continuing and ‘global’ institutions, mostly set up by the western (mostly US and UK) elites to serve their interests, are being called into question and alternative trade and financial institutions are being set up by the global majority.

The domination of the West is being challenged seriously- Evarist Bartolo

“The world is thus witnessing a wave of change from a vertical world order, in which the West is above the rest in both wealth and ideas, to a more horizontal order, in which the rest, notably China, will be on a par with the West in both wealth and ideas. This is an unprecedented shift of economic and political gravity in human history, which will change the world forever” (Zhang Weiwei, ‘The China Wave’, 2011).

If we are to learn to live together as equals, we must be inclusive and expansive to be able to embrace the cultural diversity of the whole world and respect all civilisations.

Bringing together different civilisations to live together is not easy at all. A one-size-fits-all narrative conceals the dominant perspective of the power who creates it and relegates to the periphery individuals, communities and geographical areas considered marginal to a hegemon wanting to rule and dominate the world.

On June 10, 1963, US President John F. Kennedy, addressing the students of the American University in Washington, had shown what the US needed to do to learn to live with – not dominate – the rest of the world: “So, let us not be blind to our differences – but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal...”

In how to deal with the other major power at the time, the Soviet Union, he said: “... we are not engaged in a debate, seeking to pile up debating points. We are not here distributing blame or pointing the finger of judgement…while defending our own vital interests. Nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy – or of a collective death-wish for the world.”

Tragically, for the US and the whole world, president Kennedy was unable to put into practice his strategy of peace instead of annihilation. Six months after this speech, he was assassinated.

Evarist Bartolo is a former Labour foreign and education minister.

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