GENERAL ASSEMBLY OPENS DEBATE ON ‘CIVILIZATIONS AND THE CHALLENGE FOR PEACE’; FIRST DAY PANELS FOCUS ON RESPECT FOR CULTURAL DIVERSITY, RELIGION
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-first General Assembly
Informal Thematic Debate
AM & PM Meetings
GENERAL ASSEMBLY OPENS DEBATE ON ‘CIVILIZATIONS AND THE CHALLENGE FOR PEACE’;
FIRST DAY PANELS FOCUS ON RESPECT FOR CULTURAL DIVERSITY, RELIGION
Secretary-General Tells Delegations Diversity a Virtue, Not a Threat;
Assembly President Hopes Two-Day Event Lays Foundation for Genuine Dialogue
Diversity was a virtue and not a threat, the very essence of the human condition, and a driver of human progress, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly today, as it opened its thematic debate on “Civilizations and the Challenge for Peace: Obstacles and Opportunities”.
Launching the two-day exchange, which brought together representatives of all countries, prominent thinkers and civil society representatives from around the world, the Secretary-General stressed the urgent need to rebuild bridges and enter a sustained and constructive intercultural dialogue.
Events of recent years -- from terrorism and the means used to fight it, to offending words or publications -- had exposed a widening gulf between communities and nations, he said. If unaddressed, that divide could undermine broader peace and stability in the world.
At a time of rising intolerance and growing cross-cultural tensions, he suggested that the media could promote the message that what united humanity was much stronger than what superficially separated peoples. Religion could have a tremendous positive influence as well, he said.
General Assembly President, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, explained that what had compelled the Assembly to hold the debate -– the third in a series of four thematic debates and panel discussions -- was the desire to understand the realities of the day and analyse more fully the reasons behind the increasing levels of conflict, alienation, extremism and fear in the world.
In doing so, she hoped it would be possible to lay a solid foundation for a genuine dialogue between cultures and religions, and “bridge the rift that is on the verge of deepening”. It was also essential to put a stop to the misuse of religion in contemporary society and reject extremist ideologies that severely threatened peace and understanding among nations and peoples.
The first of two panels today was entitled “Respect for cultural diversity is a prerequisite for dialogue”. The panellists were Ghassan Salame, Professor of International Relations, Sciences Po University and former Minister for Culture of Lebanon; Reverend Canon Dr. Trond Bakkevig, pastor of the Lutheran Church of Norway; and Fatemeh Keshavarz-Karamustafa, Professor of Persian and Comparative Literature and Chair of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at the University of Washington. It was moderated by Regine Boucard of the West African Museum Programme and former President of the World Bank Art Society.
Among the participants in the discussion was the Deputy Prime Minister of Bahrain, Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak al-Khalifa. Focusing on the responsibility of the media in promoting an accurate perception of reality, he said it was a “double-edged sword”. The media could both foster understanding among different cultures and exacerbate conflict. Public opinion played a more salient role in shaping foreign policy today than ever before, and it had a direct bearing on informal relations through selective reporting and ideological favouritism. The media could promote a fair and balanced understanding among cultures and present an accurate perception of “the other”, beyond stereotypes. It could also be a constructive force, rather than a tool to launch psychological attacks that undermined relations between peoples and harmed their collective interests.
The second panel, on “Religion in Contemporary Society”, held this afternoon, was moderated by Robert Thurman, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Columbia University. The panellists were Mohamed Arkoun, Emeritus Professor of the History of Islamic Thought at the Sorbonne; Manish Kasliwal, National Chairman, Young Jains of India; Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; and Hune Margulies, Director of the Martin Buber Institute for Dialogical Ecology.
Prompting the debate, Mr. Thurman said that the United Nations now had the possibility of becoming truly powerful and global, but the last frontier was religious identity -- that could trump racial, national, and linguistic identity. Religious identity was the closest thing to global identity. Many individuals had benefited over the centuries from religions, so there was a tendency to think everyone else should benefit from their religions. That led to the problematic side, or “religious triumphalism”. In attempting to convert others, in expressing one’s enthusiasm for their own faith in dialogue with others, however, a line might be crossed; there might be a condemnation of others’ faiths and practices. That would constitute a “mental violation” of the rights of others, he warned.
When the Assembly reconvenes at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 11 May, it will hold a panel discussion in the morning on “The responsibility of the media”, and in the afternoon on “Civilizations and the challenge for global peace and security”.
The General Assembly met today to convene its third informal thematic debate entitled “Civilizations and the challenge for peace: Obstacles and opportunities”. The first was a thematic debate on development and the second was on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Today’s discussion has been organized around two panels, the first on “Respect for cultural diversity is a prerequisite for dialogue” and the second on “Religion in contemporary society”.
SHEIKHA HAYA RASHED AL KHALIFA ( Bahrain), General Assembly President, said that the Assembly had been compelled to hold the debate because it wanted to analyse more fully the reasons behind the increasing levels of conflict, alienation, extremism and fear in the world. In doing so, it hoped to lay a solid foundation for a genuine dialogue between cultures and religions, and “bridge the rift that is on the verge of deepening”.
She said it was imperative to ask how to face and overcome the misunderstandings that characterized today’s world and protect its peoples’ rich heritage. It was an obligation to act quickly to put an end to preconceived ideas and to mutual fears. Only then would it be possible to rise above the differences and together build a better future for all.
She said a main reason behind the state of insecurity and instability in the world was a perceived lack of justice: the feeling that one’s dignity had been violated; the feeling that the principles and values that had been agreed upon internationally were not applicable to all. The only means to address that was through more intensive dialogue on two levels in tandem: at the political and diplomatic level, and at the cultural and social. It was important to recognize that culture was not merely a means of coexistence and reconciliation, but also an instrument for development, progress and prosperity.
She said that, fortunately, dialogue among cultures had taken precedence on many foreign policy agendas and had been at the forefront of the United Nations agenda since its inception. In fact, 2001 had been devoted to that topic and had been named “the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations”. The meeting today was an extension of that effort and went hand in hand with the Charter, which called for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.
It was essential to put a stop to the misuse of religion in contemporary society and reject extremist ideologies that severely threatened peace and understanding among nations and peoples, she said. It must be asked: How was it that wars were waged, injustice was justified and “the other” was outcast, all in the name of religion? It was absurd and regretful that religion was being abused. That situation must be changed, because all religions shared the message of love and brotherhood. Those human and spiritual elements remained the essence of all religions.
“We must stand together, now more than ever before, and ascribe common meaning to our existence,” she stressed. That was the prerequisite for peace. That was the responsibility of each and every nation, and each and every citizen. In the midst of an information revolution, the educational curricula must encourage critical and creative thinking that could be applied to the self, before engaging with the other. That methodology of reflection and self-criticism was the basis for real dialogue.
She said that the leading causes of instability in the world were poverty, disease, armed conflict -- both within and among States -- intolerance and clashes among civilizations, cultures and religions. Addressing those challenges required, first, acknowledgement of their existence. Then, there could be agreement on the most effective ways to tackle them, in order to achieve global peace and security.
BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General, said that today’s meeting came at a time of rising intolerance and growing cross-cultural tensions. Events of recent years –- from terrorism and the means used to fight it, to offending words or publications -– had only accelerated those trends. They had exposed a widening gulf between communities and nations. If unaddressed, that divide had the potential to undermine broader peace and stability in the world.
Today, he said, there was an urgent need to rebuild bridges and enter a sustained and constructive intercultural dialogue, one that stressed common values and shared aspirations. As a start, everyone needed to better understand the issues affecting intercultural relations.
The General Assembly provided a unique platform to do so, he said. By bringing together representatives of all countries in one chamber, it was perhaps the highest possible forum for a dialogue among nations and civilizations. The discussions, which also involved prominent thinkers and civil society representatives from the world over, could not only clarify a way forward, they could also serve as an example of what could be achieved through constructive debate.
Over the two days, he said he hoped participants would explore ways in which Governments, international bodies, foundations, civil society and religious groups could come together on the issue. He was already encouraged by the specific subjects that had been identified. The panels on respect for cultural diversity, the role of religion in contemporary society and the responsibilities of the media each highlighted some of the most pressing challenges confronting societies.
Unfortunately, in the age of satellite television and jet travel, distances had collapsed, but divisions had not, he said. Instead, the proximity had heightened longstanding suspicions of “the other” -- the other religion, the other ethnicity, the other nationality. It had led increasing numbers of people to reject diversity in favour of the familiar.
In response, he said, the world’s peoples needed to reassert the truth that diversity was a virtue and not a threat. Indeed, it was the very essence of the human condition and a driver of human progress.
He said that the media could play a crucial role in promoting that perspective. It could shape people’s views and influence their actions. It could educate, inform and demystify, even while it entertained. It could promote the message that what united humanity was much stronger than what superficially separated peoples.
Similarly, religion could have a tremendous positive influence as well, he said. For instance, people of faith could stress the core beliefs and ideals found in all the great religious traditions: compassion; solidarity; respect for life; and kindness towards others. They could urge their fellow believers to treat others as they themselves wished to be treated. He was confident that the outcome of the meetings would inform his own thinking and help guide the work of the United Nations.
Summary of Panel I
Moderating the panel on “Respect for cultural diversity is a prerequisite for dialogue” was REGINE BOUCARD of the West African Museum Programme and former President of the World Bank Art Society. Opening the discussion, she said that people were closer today than ever before -- “too close for comfort, perhaps”. While the causes for that closeness pointed to political and economic turbulence, they were also the consequence of modern technologies in the form of remote, electronic and visual communications, as well as swift and affordable modes of travel. In addition to finding refuge in other countries, people also vacationed in foreign lands, invested abroad and studied and worked across borders. Those close encounters had afforded people an uncanny ability to identify each other at a glance by dress code, language or accent, cuisine, music, dance, art or religion. Yet, while some appreciated that diversity, others did not and, in far too many cases, felt threatened by it and reacted fiercely.
She said that those reactions had manifested into phenomenal distortions with accelerated impacts across the globe. Sociocultural confrontations were creating incredible consequences and growing rifts, spreading devastating instability and unbearable insecurity. The tolerance level was alarmingly low. Social misperceptions, cultural assumptions, ill will and manipulative agendas were predators on the vulnerable and disenfranchised. It was practically impossible, nowadays, to find anyone who had not faced or witnessed uncomfortable sociocultural situations at home or abroad, to find anyone not affected by the news. Unfortunately, the predominant message was negative, sending a ripple effect that resonated from the international standpoint to the family nucleus. The concept of diversity, cultural preservation and social unity was a fragile global commodity, which came at a very high price in today’s tumultuous world. The new global order was not all gloom and doom; there were success stories out there and they were “closer than we think”.
GHASSAN SALAME, Professor of International Relations at Sciences Po University and former Minister for Culture of Lebanon, said that the “other” was everywhere, and avoiding him was less of an option than before. Hence, the level of mistrust between people of different religions and cultures was not necessarily higher today; it only had many more opportunities to express itself in today’s time of “multiform” interaction. The “other” had become ubiquitous; he was too close not to pass a value judgment on him. Globalization paradoxically triggered cultural and social disintegration, while pushing for deeper financial and economic integration. People invented new borders in order to insulate themselves from those who had become too close for comfort. “Identity politics” was a reaction, an attempt to rebuild a cultural fortress, to reinvent a familiar environment. Globalization caused closeness, closeness led to alienation, alienation bred mistrust and mistrust nourished hostility.
He said that respect was the first step to break that circle. Professing respect meant accepting the reality of diversity and the principle of non-interference in each other’s cultural identify. Respect meant not trespassing. A fruitful dialogue with the other, however, required much more. Tolerance was another prerequisite. If respect was a form of “cultural cold war”, then tolerance was a form of “balance of power” among unequal parties. Tolerance might be a moral attitude, but successful dialogue meant recognizing the legitimacy of every group to remain attached to its belief system, values, language or religion. Also essential was a psychological predisposition not to see dialogue as an opportunity to alter the other’s views and values, but possibly to see yours altered as well. A dialogue was a transformative process in which all parties involved took the risk of becoming different, of holding different views or beliefs at the end, of having their very identity altered by the dialogue process.
TROND BAKKEVIG, pastor of the Lutheran Church of Norway, said that the fundamental prerequisite for dialogue was recognition of the human dignity of the other. Without that, there could be no dialogue, which meant acknowledging that the other had valuable insights, convictions and abilities. No one lived outside a cultural context, and respect for the dignity of the other meant respect for the culture of which he or she was a part. Dialogue meant both facing and being faced by another person, nation, culture or civilization. Dialogue was also the opposite of the use of force. Force or violence might lead people or nations to act the way the stronger party wanted, but it would not lead to a change in attitudes or mentalities. Mostly, it led to more violence.
He said that religion was a fundamental element of each culture, and most were transcultural. However, dialogue between cultures or dialogue between civilizations were never the same as dialogue between religions. On the other hand, religious identities, throughout history, had been used to represent different sides in conflict situations. Religions were used as banners under which combating parties gathered. Religion had been used to justify numbers of wars, some of them even called “holy wars”. Those people had interpreted religion in such a way that it justified violence and terror.
Religion had also been used to stand up against war, he said. Religious pacifists had been known from the dawn of time. Churches worldwide, for example, had united to reject the war on Iraq, especially because of the religious connotations that could be detected in its justification. Those people had interpreted religion differently from those who used it to divide humanity into those who sided with good and those who sided with evil. Religion, and indeed, cultural values, could be used for good or for bad.
FATEMEH KESHAVAREZ-KARAMUSTAFA, Professor of Persian and Comparative Literature and Chair of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at the University of Washington, said that how people actualized ideas became very important in achieving their goals. It was impossible to separate knowing from respecting. In other words, it was not possible to know about another culture without respecting it. It was also not possible to respect a culture without coming close enough to know it. That was what made the situation so tricky –- knowing how to navigate it. Respecting someone in interaction meant allowing that person to speak for him or herself. Coming from an Iranian-American culture and a Muslim background, she understood the need to make her own voice a vehicle to carry the indigenous voice of a people and a culture and bring that to others in teaching and writing. That could not be done, however, without the support of institutions, cultures, Governments and societies.
She also emphasized the significance of travel and the particular importance of having students travel before reaching college age, before their attitudes were shaped. The United Nations, for its part, should keep cultural interaction on its agenda and ensure that it remained part of educational curricula in the classroom.
In the ensuing discussion, SHAIKH MOHAMMED BIN MUBARAK AL-KHALIFA, Deputy Prime Minister of Bahrain, focused on the responsibility of the media in promoting an accurate perception of reality, and thereby laying the foundation for successful dialogue. The media was a “double-edged sword”. It could both foster understanding among different cultures and exacerbate conflict. Today, public opinion played a more salient role in shaping foreign policy than ever before, and had a direct bearing on informal relations through selective reporting and ideological favouritism. That could be a source for misguiding the masses.
He said that the media could promote a fair and balanced understanding among cultures and present an accurate perception of the other, beyond stereotypes. Unfortunately, in its myriad forms, it continued to reinforce stereotypes. It could be a constructive force, rather than a tool to launch psychological attacks that undermined relations between peoples and harmed their collective interests.
To overcome the current conflict between ideological beliefs, he offered the following ideas: create an overall umbrella structure within the framework of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in accordance with the Alliance of Civilizations initiative to conduct regular workshops; uphold the rule of law; encourage a more progressive interpretation of religion; unite against those who choose violence and fanaticism as their means to engage with “the other”; refrain from forgiving the unforgivable, be it terrorism, occupation or the imposition of certain ideologies by force; and build a world order with greater justice and peace.
The representative of Ukraine said that the growing disparity in wealth and access to resources coincided with an alarming increase in violence, terrorism, poverty and unemployment, homelessness, erosion of environmental stability and mistrust among civilizations. At the same time, the peoples of the world were coming together through the increasing integration of markets, the emergence of new regional political alliances and remarkable technological advances.
He said he believed wholeheartedly in the importance of upholding and promoting cultural, ethical and religious diversity as a vital prerequisite for productive dialogue. The protection of individual rights was an important factor for preserving peace and stability, both in individual nations and internationally. Diversity was a source of Ukraine’s cultural richness, and the country had actively transformed itself into a State where pluralism and harmonious coexistence were widely celebrated. For more than a decade, a new Constitution guaranteed respect for diversity and non-discrimination, and an open discourse was encouraged. The protection of the rights of national minorities also played an important role in bilateral treaties concluded with other States.
The representative of Yemen said it was not possible to separate a civilization from those who created it. Thus, it was not possible to speak of western civilization without speaking also of Arab-Islamic civilization, or about the latter civilization without the glorious heritage of the Greeks. Nor could one speak about the European renaissance without speaking about the Arab-Islamic civilization. There was no clash of civilizations, but rather tension in the relations between civilizations, and that tension was not about dogma or theology. In the three scholarly presentations, what had been absent was the political aspect. That was what exacerbated conflict. His question was how far a just resolution of conflict would go in bringing about harmony among civilizations.
Replying to that question, Mr. SALAME said that, very often, conflicts that were not cultural were only couched that way, but basically they were ideological or national or otherwise based. One thing that could help was to stop making the process of dialoguing with “the other” a taboo. It had been an international practice for the past 25 years that, when one country was not happy with the results of an election or the policies of another, it ostracized or excluded it, or stopped dialogue with that country. That kind of diplomacy should never be practiced at the United Nations. A country could tell the other whatever it wished, but to not make contact with the other because it deemed that taboo, as had been the case with the Palestine Liberation Organization, was unhelpful to say the least.
The representative of Colombia said that intolerance had been used artificially to explain conflict and foment confrontation. Her country respected cultural diversity and considered it an asset. Cultural diversity assisted in the search for ever more effective solutions to national, regional and world problems; it did not have to be a factor in disagreements or conflicts. When it came to cultural diversity, cooperation and understanding between nations should be promoted, based on respect for sovereignty, diversity and cultural identity of human beings. Cooperation and dialogue should be imposed in the face of confrontation, politicization and irrational arguments.
In order to promote that understanding, she highlighted the existence of certain international commitments that should be further urged by the international community, States and international organizations. The United Nations should more deeply analyse, formulate and implement actions that could counter present trends and promote real and effective respect for the cultures of the world. States should build national capacity to promote their own culture and strengthen respect for cultural diversity.
Mr. BAKKEVIG stressed that there was a clear need to develop national instruments to deal with cultural diversity, so that it could be handled as part and parcel of politics and part of the relationships between countries.
The Observer for the African Union said that dialogue and respect was the cement of the African Union, which was an organization of 53 States. It was multinational, multicultural and multilingual, housing various currents of thinking, religions and cultures. Parity reigned, and that was what gave the Union its strength and driving force. Acting with a view to maintaining peace and promoting development in Africa, the Union had always been conscious of the importance of the subject under discussion.
In Africa, she said, respect for historical and cultural values was a “living principle” and cultural diversity was a reality. Africa was shaken by conflict, internal strife and the struggle for power. It searched for ways to proceed in a manner that institutionalized dialogue as a chosen instrument for the maintenance of peace and the prevention of conflicts.
Summary of Panel 2
Moderating the afternoon panel on “Religion in Contemporary Society” was Robert Thurman, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Columbia University. He said that never before had the world’s peoples been so challenged to form a “global humanity”. Such an institution could only come into its own when the people of the world developed a sense of global citizenship and a global identity. The worst enemy of a global identity was a regressive effort to re-establish some of the “long lost empires” in the present era of “not quite post-colonial”. The United Nations now had the possibility of becoming truly powerful and global, but the last frontier was religious identity -- that could trump racial, national and linguistic identity. Religious identity was the closest thing to global identity.
He said that all lasting religions had assisted individuals in controlling their egotism at the deepest level. Those traditions had lasted because they had helped human beings by making communities possible. Many individuals had benefited over the centuries from religions, so there was a tendency to think everyone else should benefit from their religions. That led to the problematic side, or “religious triumphalism”. There could be a review of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In attempting to convert others, in expressing one’s enthusiasm for their own faith in dialogue with others, a line might be crossed; there might be a condemnation of others’ faiths and practices. That would constitute a “mental violation” of the rights of others, he warned.
MARY ANNE GLENDON, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, said that, in theory, today’s accelerated movement of people and ideas might be expected to foster cooperation rather than conflict, mutual understanding rather than mutual suspicion. To some extent it had, especially as people got to know each other on a personal level. The problem was how to seize the available opportunities and reduce the incidence of misunderstandings, tension and violence.
She said one need not look far to find an encouraging example of a cross-cultural dialogue that had overcome enormous obstacles to yield one of the most enduring United Nations contributions to peace -- the 1947-1948 debates leading up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many had forgotten that the historic document was the product of an impressive multicultural collaboration. Nor did many remember how deep had been the divisions overcome by a drafting group that had included a Confucian scholar from China, Muslims from Egypt and Iran, a French Zionist, an Indian woman of Hindu origin, members of various Christian denominations and four devout Marxists.
She said religion had often been exploited for political purposes. However, there were also misunderstandings about the faiths of others and poor grounding in one’s own faith. Local communities had great potential to heal wounds, build bridges and band together with those of other faiths against extremists who would manipulate religion to promote hatred and violence. Increasingly, religious and cultural pluralism was a fact of life and young people were now building lasting friendship in schools, neighbourhoods and workplaces. They were learning from and listening to one another and having their horizons broadened. The path to tolerance would be strewn with many obstacles, but to give up on meaningful dialogue would be to give up on the dreams of the men and women who had founded the United Nations.
HUNE MARGULIES, Director of the Martin Buber Institute for Dialogical Ecology, said institutions, including religious ones, had not arrived at a true dialogue. Institutionalized religions were frozen in time and were an obstacle to understanding between the self and the spiritual path that a person may wish to follow.
He said Martin Buber had been known for presenting radical solutions and had been one of the first to propose the creation of a Jewish commonwealth, rather than a Jewish State. He had later proposed a binational State to encompass the Jews on the one hand and the Muslims, Christians and others on the other. That was a very specific idea about how to bring about peace between institutions.
MANISH KASLIWAL, National Chairman, Young Jains of India, said that, in a fast-changing and globalizing world, different people had varying perspectives of religion, whether it was an Indian girl at a call centre on the outskirts of Bangalore, a hungry African boy or an old man on his deathbed. In modern times, online religion had replaced attendance at places of worship, but many achievements could be traced back to the tremendous achievements of religion.
Religion had always been a major factor in the growth of human civilization, he said. Many achievements in art, music, literature, philosophy, law, moral codes and spiritual texts could be traced back to the tremendous influence of religion; though, admittedly, there had been negative impacts too, including mass killings, pogroms and terrorism, all in the name of a divinity believed to be merciful and compassionate.
He said the most divisive breeding ground for those problems was fundamentalism, which meant many things to many people. It was strict and literal adherence to a set of beliefs and principles, it was tunnel vision, it was an absolutist view. Fundamentalism could be religious, political or personal. Though not all fundamentalists were violent, many people used it to justify violence. Fundamentalists proclaimed their faith as infallible and that only they had the truth. To achieve their objectives they superseded the wishes of the majority, trampled the views of the minority and hijacked the political process to serve their aims. Any means justified their ends.
MOHAMED ARKOUN, Emeritus Professor of the History of Islamic Thought at the Sorbonne, said absolute forms of ignorance still existed and people knew nothing about what they called “religion”. They were still seeking a way to enable themselves on how to study religion. A historian was needed to find out why people knew so little about their religions. The question of religion had been monopolized by the managers of the sacred places.
It was impossible to get the ear of any State or influential figure, especially in the Middle East, he said. The actions of the West were accompanied by armies and professors who wrote about Muslim thought. There was a linguistic tragedy whereby religiosity, such as that practiced in the United States, was sociologically dominant. People should be aware of such religiosity, as it had been imitated by Muslims in Islamic societies. Debates in the United Nations that led to political decisions should be preceded by the “bearers of critical science”, who would cast a critical eye on what was said.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Guatemala said that ignorance of “the other” was the worst form of intolerance. However, dialogue was a process rather than a panacea.
He underscored that the United Nations was evolving within two contradictory parameters, one ethical and moral, the other relating to “realpolitik”.
The representative of Germany, observing that globalization questioned the identity of groups to a certain extent, said the task of Member States was to preserve cultural diversity, a task made possible by interaction and dialogue. Mutual understanding and respect must begin at the local level.
The representative of Lebanon asked how to ensure that political interests were not disguised as clashes between civilizations, or between good and evil.
The representative of Syria stressed that there was only one human civilization and not many. Dialogue must not be established between religions, but between human beings.
The representative of Kazakhstan, noting that there were no religious or ethnic conflicts in his country, said that the maintenance of interreligious harmony, the creation of a climate of dialogue and mutual understanding was an important element of civic peace and political stability.
The representative of Albania, also citing his own country, noted that the peaceful coexistence of three different religions -– Islam, Catholic and Orthodox –- was unusual in a region where religion was often linked to wars. Yet, it was a reality in every village and family. The political will exercised by the State was an important factor in that regard, as was the personal will of each citizen.
The representative of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta said true coexistence between social groups was only possible if everybody recognized some fundamental ethical values. Today, amid unprecedented levels of interdependence among civilizations, it was imperative and urgent to arrive at a universally shared recognition of some basic ethical criteria. A significant cause of religious problems was the social polarity between the rich and poor. Governments and religious groups must recognize that development, peace and security, and human rights were interlinked.
Far from being the opiate of the people, authentic religion placed human objectives in their true proportion and stimulated respect for ethical values that were indispensable to coexistence among peoples, he said. Learning respect for others and for dialogue was essential to human education. Cultural and religious interactions would not survive unless more attention was paid to the intrinsic value and destiny of the human person.
The representative of Tunisia said that people were called upon every day to live with difference, to encounter cultures and religions that were previously unknown. What chance did dialogue and tolerance have of finding their place in a world where problems like poverty and pandemics were so numerous, and which then became the fiefdom of terrorism and extremism?
The representative of Morocco pointed out that never had the perception of “the other” been such a cause of misunderstanding and violence. It was important to rehabilitate all aspects of multilateralism.
* *** *For information media • not an official record