PRESS CONFERENCE ON ALLIANCE OF CIVILIZATIONS FORUM

8 January 2008

PRESS CONFERENCE ON ALLIANCE OF CIVILIZATIONS FORUM

8 January 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON ALLIANCE OF CIVILIZATIONS FORUM

The upcoming Alliance of Civilizations Forum promised to be a “major global platform” for politicians, media heads, industry executives, religious figures and grass-roots leaders to talk frankly about cross-cultural concerns and advance new partnership initiatives to bridge divides and promote global understanding, a senior official from the United Nations-led initiative told reporters today.

In a Headquarters press conference, Shamil Idriss, Acting Director of the Alliance of Civilizations said the Forum, to be held in Madrid on 15-16 January, was also set to host writers, academics and representatives of the major international financial institutions and United Nations agencies.  The first ever Forum would promote the overall aims of a two-year-old initiative spearheaded by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to help overcome prejudices and polarization between nations and cultures and to promote interfaith dialogue.

The Forum will be opened by the Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the High Representative for the Alliance, Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal.  Featured participants in the Forum’s two plenary sessions will include author Paulo Coelho, Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, Queen Noor of Jordan, Al Jazeera anchor Riz Khan, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson.

Mr. Idriss said the Forum’s centrepiece would be announcements of high-profile initiatives, including major projects aimed at promoting understanding among cultures in the areas of media and youth.  Other commitments and partnerships involving Governments and multilateral organizations would also be announced.  In addition to high-level debates about emerging trends in relations between cultures and religions, the Forum will feature project-specific working sessions on such topics as “the role of religious leaders and communities in promoting shared security” and “youth approaches to intercultural and interreligious dialogue”.

Although, he said, many of the participants wanted to save the announcement of details of some of the expected partnership projects for the Forum, Mr. Idriss confirmed a “major investment” by Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned of Qatar in the Alliance’s planned youth employment initiative, which would bring together major multinational corporations and cooperating Governments.

Another major announcement would be the launch of a multi-million dollar Alliance of Civilizations Media Fund.  He stressed that the initiative would be run independently of the United Nations and be set up by private philanthropists and media agencies.  Its major function would be supporting major film productions that helped promote cross-cultural understanding and combat stereotypes.

Thus far, investors had committed $10 million towards what would ultimately be a $100 million campaign for the Fund.  He added that, in Madrid, the Alliance would announce the names of the participants in the Fund, including new media companies that were “household names” and “three of the biggest names in Hollywood” in film production, distribution and talent representation.

He went on to say that the Forum would also provide a platform for launching several initiatives that would be managed by the Alliance in cooperation with partners.  The first, an Alliance of Civilizations Clearinghouse, was an online educational tool for Governments and civic actors to “see who was doing what” on issues aimed at improving cross-cultural understanding.  After its introduction in Madrid, the first theme for the Clearinghouse, “media literacy education”, would be launched on the Clearinghouse website.

The second Alliance-driven project announced would be a Rapid Response Media Mechanism, which would aim to provide a platform for voices that could help reduce tensions in times of cross-cultural crises.  This would also be an online resource and would feature a directory, as well as bios and photos of media experts in intercultural relations.

During times of cross-cultural tension, such as the Danish cartoon crisis, the Holocaust conference that was held in Iran last year or the remarks by the Pope and the reaction to them -- “these events that seem to happen every few months and are not purely political but get quite politicized -- this Rapid Response Mechanism would be a tool that we would hope media agencies would be able to use should they want to invite commentary from diverse global experts who could speak about the issues […] in a less polarizing manner than is often the case,” he said.

The final initiative within the Alliance’s auspices to be launched will be a Youth Solidarity Fund, which will disperse small grants for cross-cultural cooperation between youth organizations, specifically those engaged in youth leadership projects and youth cross-cultural exchanges.  He said that each of those projects would be managed in partnership with agencies that would be announced in Madrid.  “The Alliance is not interested in duplicating work that is already happening, but at the same time, the Alliance has set itself up to serve […] a catalytic role in helping launch initiatives and efforts that promote cooperation between some of these agencies or add value to the field.”

He also announced that the Group of Friends of the Alliance would hold a high-level political dialogue in Madrid, and added that the partnership agreements between the Alliance and multilateral agencies to be announced during the Forum would be concrete -- either in development or signed in Madrid -- and would detail practical initiatives, not merely general memorandums of understanding.

Among other outcomes, he said the expected presence of the heads of a number of major philanthropic organizations provided the opportunity for establishing a North-South affinity group of such organizations, with the hope of sparking dialogue and discussions towards collaborative funding ventures or other initiatives.

Responding to questions about the role of education in averting the much discussed “clash” between the West and the Muslim world, as well as what one journalist called a rise of “Islamic fascism”, Mr. Idriss said the partners that had been drawn to the Alliance had sought to avoid polarizing language and had searched for “ways to advance initiatives to put forward together, or work across cultures”.  He added that there would be a host of academics attending the Forum, and the Alliance hoped to get some advice from them on what the academic sector could contribute.

To another correspondent’s assertion that the war on terrorism seemed to be fuelling cultural polarization and confrontation, he said the Alliance had always stressed that cross-cultural understanding -- including discussions about the differences between cultures -- and very real political obstacles needed to be addressed simultaneously.  The Alliance did not have an “over-inflated view of itself or its ability to solve the world’s problems”, but it believed that partnerships, active involvement and action could address misperceptions and lead to a broader understanding between cultures.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.