Senior UN official highlights role of dialogue to combat intolerance, extremism

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

17 July 2013 – A senior United Nations official today stressed the importance of dialogue and mutual understanding to address intolerance and extremism worldwide, and praised the Alliance of Civilizations for its work towards this end.

“The Alliance of Civilizations was created to answer division and hatred with dialogue and reconciliation. It aims to embrace diversity, empower youth and energize a global movement for mutual understanding,” said the Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at the meeting in New York of the Group of Friends of the Alliance.

“The Alliance has demonstrated its potential to mobilize a range of partners. Young and old; grassroots groups and global corporations; leaders who represent different faiths but share the conviction that all religions should accept and strengthen our common humanity.”

Launched in 2005 through the initiative of Spain and Turkey, and under the auspices of the UN, the Alliance seeks to promote better cross-cultural relations worldwide.

Mr. Eliasson praised the Alliance for not shying away from discussing complex issues such as the conditions that lure young people into radicalization and extremism. He also commended the different approaches it has taken to defuse tensions and conflicts based on identity.

In his address to the meeting, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser noted the escalating challenges the world is facing. The UN's role to help the international community is being tested to the extreme. “I do not need to remind you of the many multifaceted crises facing all of us regardless of our colour, culture or ethnicity,” he said.

Everyone, he continued was concerned about the persistence of extremism and the destructive impact of radicalization, hate and xenophobia. “I also know you share my feeling that [Alliance of Civilizations] should, indeed must, play a more active role in combating those scourges.”

“Religions must be protected from hijackers. Regardless of whichever faith we follow, we share many human values,” Mr. al-Nasser said, adding that while Members States have embraced the values of the UN Charter, regrettably, these values are under threat and extremists continue to hijack the peaceful messages of Islam and other faiths.

He recalled that last week, the issue was described with courage, elegance and eloquence by Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan. She expressed, “better than I ever could, the importance of resisting the efforts of those who would abuse religion for their own narrow aims.”

He said that her speech to the Youth Assembly reminded all that the efforts of Alliance of Civilizations must provide a direct response to the messages of hatred and intolerance. It also reminded all that they must not shy away from activities that are, as impactful as possible, in confronting this evil.

Under his leadership, the Alliance will orient its efforts addressing youth and education to ensure that messages of peace and tolerance are stressed. “We will orient our activities towards the media at ensuring that the forces of extremism do not dominate the narratives that describe our world,” he declared, adding that it will also continue to work on issues of migration as far too often those who must leave their homes are still not welcomed adequately into the countries where they now live.

In a recent interview with UN Radio, Mr. al-Nasser, said the Alliance has been working on restructuring its work and building on its priorities which consist of: building on previous achievements, establishing partnerships and cooperation among countries, initiating concepts that can be employed as mediation tools, strengthening the Alliance's financing structure and increasing interaction with civil society, the private sector and the media.

“The role of the Alliance is engaging with different cultures and approaching religious leaders to play a positive role, especially when there is religious tension and xenophobia and to also encourage societies to focus on tolerance,” he said.

Mr. al-Nasser pointed out that tolerance and dialogue are of particular urgency in Syria, where sectarian violence has increased inside the country and raised tensions in the region. Religious leaders have also resorted to use rhetoric that portrays the Syrian conflict as a religious one.

“You see what is happening in Syria today. It's worrying us because at the beginning it was a call for democracy. We see today it is becoming an ethnic conflict and it's very complicated and we really hope for a political solution in Syria to stop what's going on and then our role will be to deal with civil society, religious leaders, and bring society together.”


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