20 February 2006 Deeply concerned over the continuing violence over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will go to Qatar this weekend for a meeting on mutual respect between cultures, his spokesman said today.
“He hopes on that occasion to meet a number of leaders from Europe and from the Islamic world, and to discuss with them ways of calming the situation,” the spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said of the meeting of the High-Level Group for the Alliance of Civilizations.
The panel would also discuss ways of “allowing a constructive dialogue between people of different faiths and traditions based on mutual understanding and respect,” he added.
The high-level panel was established last July by Mr. Annan last year as part of an effort to bridge gaps between cultures, particularly Islam and the West, that threaten peace in the world.
At this weekend’s meeting, the panellists will discuss ways to engage youth and immigrant populations to help bridge differences and combat extremism, Mr. Dujarric said.
Jointly led by Federico Mayor, the former head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and, a minister and professor of theology from Turkey, the High-Level Group held its first meeting in Majorca, Spain last year.
Members of the panel range from such renowned theologians as Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Karen Armstrong of the United Kingdom, Arthur Schneir of the United States and Mehmet Aydin of Turkey to administrators of cultural institutions, such as Ismali Serageldin of Egypt’s Biblioteca Alexandria.
The call for the alliance was initiated by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and co-sponsored by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Since the cartoon controversy began, Secretary-General Annan has repeatedly condemned the ensuing violence while urging a responsible use of the right of free speech.
“I share the distress of the Muslim friends who feel that the cartoon offends their religion. I also respect the right of freedom of speech. But of course freedom of speech is never absolute. It entails responsibility and judgment,” he said on 3 February.