Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We meet today almost two months after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. The horror of this attack, the thousands dead: so many terrible images have been seared into our collective memory. And we remember also the remarkable acts of courage and determination that followed in the wake of this shameful crime.
That the attack took place here, in New York, seat of the United Nations, is both painful and sad. For New York is an immigrant's city that welcomes with open arms all races and all creeds from our world. The list of the victims of the attack, from so many different countries, attests to the remarkable and joyous diversity that makes New York. She is truly the Capital of the World, and the right place, the only place, for its United Nations.
We know that this very building might have been an objective for the
terrorists, and that in an earlier terrorist attack of 1993 the United
Nations was on the list.
This seems to me proof, if any is needed, that the United States of America is not the only object of terrorism. No, rather it is the idea of tolerance, of religious and cultural diversity, emblematized both by New York City as well as the United Nations, that is the object of the rage of a small group of men. Men who live and die by terror. Men who have turned away from political debate to violence and death.
And so we must all, here, play our part in the battle against mindless death, and debate both the reasons for and the responses to terrorism. If there are disagreements, if there are disputes, we should never forget that the very act of debate, the very idea of this forum, is an anathema to those whose modus operandi is silence. For a telling fact in my opinion is not the nature of the perpetrator - we are quite certain who is responsible, although we have only begun to consider why - but that the perpetrators (dead and alive) never admitted responsibility for their actions.
Let me then raise my country's voice - the Principality of Andorra -
in this debate.Andorra, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a small country created
in 1278 by a pact of peace blessed with seven centuries of peace and with
a parliamentary system that started in 1419. We Andorrans like to think
of our country as an example of tolerance and coexistence of different
creeds and nationalities. Through the centuries, we have welcomed scores
of refugees from European wars persecuted in their homelands for their
ideas. Our Constitution, which enshrines the secularity of the State, includes
a far-reaching bill of rights that highlights democracy and the rule of
law. Let me therefore reaffirm, as our President, Marc Forne stated immediately
after the attacks, Andorra's condemnation of these crimes. To inform you
that my country has taken appropriate measures to combat terrorism in all
its forms, and sign the UN conventions against financing of terrorism and
transnational crime, as well as the conventions of the Council of Europe
against terrorism and corruption. And to assert Andorra's belief in the
role of debate, rather than violence, as a necessary response to violence.
Its belief that the United Nations is a vital forum for world conversation,
a forum whose principles, and indeed whose buildings, need to be celebrated
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let us therefore ask ourselves what it is these terrorists want. In the videotape he released the day the American bombing began, their leader announced the following goals. First, the removal of American troops from Saudi Arabia, second, an end to the bombing of Iraq, and finally a resolution of the Palestinian problem.
It is worthwhile to note that both the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, and the bombing of Iraq, are the direct result of prior aggression. The international community has for decades sought a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, but a solution, if one is to be found, must come first and foremost from within Israel and Palestine. Their peace, if it is to be reached, cannot be imposed from without.
While these are the proclaimed reasons for the hostility of the terrorist networks to the United States, one might come to the conclusion that these stated objectives are a screen, and that the attacks were made in order to bring about religious wars into the XXlst century.
For the United States and its allies, it is a war against terrorism. But the terrorist networks pretend it is a religious war, pitting Christianity against Islam. The old rhetoric of the Crusades, the loss of Al Andalus-Andalusia-in 1492: these battles from history are being invoked by the terrorists to inflame the feelings of Moslems throughout the world, and to bring about a fundamentalist pan-Islamic entity.
This is a delicate issue but we must not beat around it. Only if we
speak bluntly and rationally can this crisis be contained.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The terrorist networks invoke history, a violent history of religious war, to inflame sentiment. Their invocation of history however may be a tactical error. For history can be our ally in the battle against terrorism and violence.
Pardon me, then, if I return in history to an earlier and bloody moment of religious crisis in Europe, the Wars of Religion that decimated sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe.
Because out of these wars of religion, out of the bloody struggles of Reformation, came a powerful antidote to religious violence we call humanism.
The great French humanist Michel de Montaigne was a skeptic, that is, he wrote about the limits to human knowledge in his remarkable Essais. In one of them, entitled "Of Practice," he observed that although we can practice for many things in life, there is one thing for which we cannot practice, one thing we cannot know: our death. He went on to describe the closest he came to a knowledge of death, an accident in which he fell from his horse (when he was out riding in a militia) and was nearly crushed to death. He had the brief sensation of his soul hovering over his body, and, later, after being taken home, terrible bodily pain that continued to plague him.
At a time of religious extremism, when Catholics and Protestants were fighting over the keys to heaven just as the 11th September terrorists died believing they would enter Paradise-Montaigne wrote about the limits of knowledge. And he wrote about a personal experience, an accident, with which everybody, even now, can empathize: this is why he is called a humanist, because of his sympathetic interest in human experience.
There is no revealed truth in Montaigne, no dogmatism, only a human skepticism that appears as an antidote:, the only antidote, to the certainty of madmen who would kill for belief. This evolution in human thought was accomplished without sacrificing the liberty to believe, to have faith in God and practice a religion. To think and write as Montaigne did, that is, to insist on the limits of knowledge, and to speak not in a universal but a personal voice, was a great step forward for mankind.
A great step forward, because in turning knowledge away from religious
certainty, the humanists allowed for a new field of understanding, that
we now call the sciences. While there would still be inquisitions for a
century (Galileo was a boy when Montaigne was writing) the skepticism that
Montaigne advances against religious violence in 1580 is the same skepticism
that Boyle, or Newton, or Lavoisier would apply to the universal truths
of natural theology, to create a way of understanding we now recognize
as scientific. Modem scientific understanding ushered in the Industrial
Revolutions, the astonishing explosion of the middle class, of print culture,
the establishment of modem democracies, all of those world-historical events
(to use Hegel's term) that we denominate, and rather sloppily, by the word
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I end with modernity because many commentators on the current war in Afghanistan see the war framed as a war between the Taliban, as Islamic extremists, and modernity. They cite the way in which the Taliban has banned all forms of mass media culture, and have insisted on a literal application of the Shar'ia for their laws.
They argue that the Taliban is anti-modem; it is a regime that is trying to return its people to an earlier, premodern way of life.
And yet when we examine the terrorists of September 11, we realize first, that they were not Afghanis, and second, that they were not the wretched of the earth.
They were middle class. Most were students, some with advanced degrees. They never even had to work hard for a living, like most members of the middle class.
These men were privileged murderers.
Or let me put it another way: they were fully modem.
This struggle is not anachronistic, the struggle between modernity and the anti-modem. To be a terrorist demands that you enter, systematically and rationally, into the modern world, to turn its apparatus--transportation, communication-against it.
The struggle against modernity is one of the most romantic myths generated by modernity. So too the mystification of the poor by certain writers and intellectuals-I need not name names-who seek to speak for them. The suffering sown in Afghanistan by decades of invasion and civil war, they argue, has brought terrorism as its terrible harvest.
In fact, these poor want most of all to live, and live well. They embrace modernity and its comforts. But violence, the ability to treat other people as objects, as things to be crushed and destroyed: this is a gift bestowed by education.
The struggle is therefore ideological, and this is why education, the
greatest gift, was for these men a passport to terrorism. The risk of education
is that the pressure of knowledge, or more exactly a recognition of uncertainties,
of the limits of knowledge, will tempt the student into dogmatic belief.
Education is always in danger of hardening from a humanistic skepticism
into the rock of dogma.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What is to be done?
Today I propose an urgent return to a new humanism on two fronts:
First, within Islam, a humanism among Moslems - politicians, writers, readers-that can dampen sectarian violence, that can reach out to religious extremism, to find a common ground. This can only take place from within the Islamic world. It does not have to be secular in nature (although secularism has an important yet increasingly threatened status within certain nations).
Correspondingly, there must be recognition within political regimes in the Islamic World that an antipathy 1.o political dissent politicizes Islam, and creates, for these regimes, more problems than it solves. Modernity's belief in democracy as a means to popular expression has never proved more vital.
Second, outside of Islam, a return to the humanism that lies at the heart of our modernity, the modernity in which we still are living. To recognize modernity, and its great contribution of a secular and universal culture-a mass culture is something that needs to be protected, fought for. A modernity that insists on the rights of men, women and children.
We all know that often words do not lead to action. But we forget that words, that the expression of ideas, of criticism-are a vital form of action. We cannot be simplistic in our desire for a direct relation between debate and resolution.
What I am proposing is very much not propaganda, but a worldwide debate
on the importance of debate, in which a human skepticism, a recognition
of the limits of belief, is very much at stake. Whether this argument can
be made in an urgent and anti-elitist way is very much the point. But unless
we are able to recognize modernity as a liberating experience, independent
of its accumulation of goods and services, creature comforts, and the like,
1 have little hope for a positive resolution to the crisis we now face.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Modernity is a work in process. One name for modernity, as it exists for us today, is globalization. The creation of a "world culture", the entry of technology into every aspect of our lives, the omnipresence of the media, the increasing speed by which culture and information are communicated.
There seems to me that there is a tragic confusion between globalization and abstract and oppressive: technology. It is this notion of modernity that seems to be at the heart of the recent protests against globalization (protests which would have centered our debates before September 11th). While the protesters have many valid points to make, and need to be listened to, globalization and modernity are not the problem. Cooperation between nations, whether economic, political, or cultural is not a threat.
Leaders and intellectuals need to reach out and embrace the limits of
knowledge. To speak out against dogmatism. To unravel facile notions of
monolithic governments or global compacts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
An eye for an eye, that harsh principle from the Old Testament, will leave us soon blind. And blindness, rather than insight, is the curse of the ideologue, of people who do not want to see outside of their own skins, their ideas, their place. People who do not want to see the world. The world in its marvelous diversity. In its uncertainty. In its possibilities.
To see this world we have only to look around us here, now. We have
only to wander through the streets of this miraculous city of New York.