Fifty-sixth General Assembly
42nd Meeting (AM)
DIALOGUE AMONG CIVILIZATIONS ‘HUMANITY’S BEST ANSWER TO HUMANITY’S WORST ENEMIES’,
SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS ASSEMBLY
Cultures, Civilizations Faiths Bound by
‘Inviolable Verdict of Technology’ Says President of Iran
The terrorist attacks of 11 September were perpetrated by a “cult of fanatics who had self-mutilated their ears and tongues,” the President of Iran, Seyed Mohammad Khatami, told the General Assembly this morning as it continued its two-day debate on a Dialogue among Civilizations. The item had been suggested for the Assembly’s agenda on the initiative of Iran.
They could only communicate with perceived opponents through violence and devastation, he continued. The perception of a need for revenge, coupled with a misplaced sense of might, could lead to failure to hear the calls of people of good will or the cries of children, women and the elderly in Afghanistan.
Today, all cultures, civilizations and faiths were now bound to cohabit the same world by the inviolable verdict of technology. It was therefore the best of times to cultivate harmony and foster empathy. Terrorism was begotten through the ominous combination of blind fanaticism with brute force. “Whoever chooses to reduce religion, art or science to destructive weapons bears no other than an inimical relationship to them,” he said.
Injustice was neither unprecedented nor confined to particular communities, he said. However, when an accumulation of injustices engendered despair and frustration, it turned into an explosive brew. A frustrated person might choose death as the only remedy for his predicament: death for himself and death for others. “Let us have compassion not only for ourselves but also for others. Let us have compassion for the others within their own idiosyncratic realms. Compassion should come unconditionally. The only condition is a mutual agreement to refrain from atrocity and violence,” he said.
Calling dialogue among civilizations humanity’s best answer to humanity’s worst enemies, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said that dialogue was a central pillar of the global response to conflict and violence, particularly when they were based on bigotry and intolerance. With the dialogue taking place in every part of the world, appeals to war would be met with appeals to compromise. Hatred would be met with tolerance. Violence would be met with resolve.
Diversity was the basis for the dialogue among civilizations, and the reality that made dialogue necessary, he said. The Dialogue among Civilizations had a purpose and promise beyond the challenges faced today. Throughout history that dialogue had fostered understanding and compromise, and could do so even more in a world that was ever smaller and more closely linked. It could support and sustain every effort at peace, and every attempt to resolve conflicts between and within nations. He hoped all nations would join the dialogue and make it genuinely valuable by placing it at the service of the weakest and most vulnerable of our world -– the victims of intolerance, bigotry and hatred.
The President of the General Assembly, Han Seung-soo (Republic of Korea), said over the millennia, humankind had developed a wealth of civilizations that had interacted with each other. As globalization accelerated through advanced technologies, that interaction had also accelerated. 1995 had been the Year of Tolerance, and 2001 the Year for Dialogue among Civilizations. Without dialogue and tolerance, peace and security could not be achieved.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium, Louis Michel, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that underlying a true dialogue of cultures should be recognition of the equal dignity of all cultures and their ability to interpenetrate and enrich each other. There was also a need for cultural diversity. That principle was inseparable from the principle that all cultures possessed equal dignity. The dialogue of peoples and cultures presumed both respect for others and self-respect. Respecting others meant first of all wanting to know them, so that they were not seen as radically different.
The Federal Chancellor of Austria, Wolfgang Schüssel, and the Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Zlatko Lagumdzija, also addressed the Assembly.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Madagascar, Lila Ratsifandriamanana, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sudan, Mustafa Osman Ismail, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica, Roberto Rojas Lopez, spoke as well.
After adjournment of the meeting, and informal segment followed during which delegates could hear from the Eminent Persons appointed by the Secretary-General on the occasion of the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations.
Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), author and Nobel laureate for Literature, said there was no doubt that as the Assembly met within a few blocks of a great abyss in a great city, it did so in the ultimate realization of our vulnerability. And also not far from where delegates gathered was something new -– the final evidence that there was no such thing as superiority of weaponry as a life-policy to make a city, a country, a nation invulnerable.
All shared the responsibility for the sanctity of human life, she said. The book, co-authored by the Group of Eminent Persons, Crossing the Divide: Dialogue among Civilizations, set out firmly the concept of the “human face of globalization.” Branded on the human face of globalization was a number:
1.3 billion -- the count of the world’s population who lived in poverty. The ethos and structure of world finance had to be rethought and remade for the
(page 1b follows)
dialogue among civilizations to combine with them. Neither could succeed without the other.
Hans Küng (Switzerland), Professor of Ecumenical Theology and President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic, said that over the last decades, initiatives of inter-religious dialogue and cooperation had grown all over the world. In that dialogue, the world’s religions had rediscovered that their own fundamental ethical teachings supported and deepened the secular ethical values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Urging a globalization of ethics, he called on every person, institution and nation to take their responsibility for a culture of non-violence and reverence for all life; for a culture of solidarity and a just economic order; for a culture of tolerance and a life in truthfulness; and for a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women.
Kamal Aboulmagd (Egypt), Professor of Public Law and Judge of the World Bank Administrative Tribunal, Lourdes Arizpe (Mexico), Professor at the National University of Mexico and Vice-President for the International Social Science Council, and Ruth Cardoso, President of Comunidade Solidaria and member of the Board of the United Nations Foundation and Sergey Kapitza (Russian Federation), Russian Academy of Sciences, also spoke.
During the informal segment, a statement by Ahmad Jalali, President of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was distributed.
The Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. to conclude its debate on a Dialogue among Civilizations.
The General Assembly met this morning to begin the second day of its two-day debate on a Dialogue among Civilizations. Members of the Group of Eminent Persons on the Year of the Dialogue among Civilizations, appointed by the Secretary-General, were expected to address the Assembly, as was the President of Iran, who took the initiative for launching the Dialogue.
(For more background information, see Press Release GA/9950 of 8 November.)
The President of the General Assembly, HAN SEUNG-SOO (Republic of Korea) said since the Assembly first took up the current item, it had adopted several resolutions on the issue. However, near the end of the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, it was timely for the Assembly to provide impetus to progress. If the draft resolution now before the Assembly were to be adopted by consensus, it would mark a milestone in the Dialogue among Civilizations. Over the millennia, humankind had developed a wealth of civilizations that had interacted with each other. As globalization accelerated through advanced technologies, that interaction had also accelerated. 1995 had been the Year of Tolerance and 2001 the Year for Dialogue among Civilizations. Without dialogue and tolerance, peace and security could not be achieved.
Terrorism had become the major threat to peace and security, he said. All great religions in history, however, preached tolerance and compassion. In the globalizing world, diverse cultures could constitute a source of stability. That was an important lesson the Dialogue among Civilizations had taught. He welcomed the eminent persons from all over the world gathered here to address the Assembly. Their contribution would be a boon to cross-cultural understanding. He thanked the Government of Iran for its initiative in putting the item on the Assembly’s agenda.
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that if anyone had ever doubted the need for a Dialogue among Civilizations, let them doubt no longer. The 11 September events made the need for such a dialogue crystal clear. That was why the response of the United Nations must be to bring nations, cultures and civilizations ever closer together through dialogue and cooperation. The Dialogue among Civilizations was a central pillar of the global response to conflict and violence of every kind, particularly when they were based on bigotry and intolerance. With the dialogue taking place in every part of the world, appeals to war would be met with appeals to compromise. Hatred would be met with tolerance. Violence would be met with resolve. A dialogue among civilizations was humanity’s best answer to humanity’s worst enemies.
The Secretary-General paid tribute to President Khatami of Iran for launching the Dialogue among Civilizations within the United Nations, and to other leaders and Governments who had sustained the dialogue over the past year. The idea of a dialogue among civilizations had engendered wide interest in academic institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and wherever people had sought to find common ground. He added that a special contribution had been made by the Eminent Persons Group, and he congratulated them on their service to humanity and to the United Nations. The Dialogue among Civilizations was based not on the premise that we as humanity were all the same, or always in agreement, but rather on appreciation of the fact that we represented a diversity of cultures, and that our beliefs reflected that diversity.
It was when that diversity of identities was under siege, when a way of life was denied, when the basic freedom to live as one chose was threatened, that conflict, violence and suffering became inevitable. The Dialogue among Civilizations, in that sense, was not an expression of hopes but a reflection of the world as it was. Diversity was the basis for the dialogue among civilizations, and the reality that made dialogue necessary. He stressed that humanity was the product of many cultures and memories; that tolerance allowed the study and learning from other cultures; that humanity’s strength lay in combining the familiar with the foreign; and that those who perceived diversity as a threat denied themselves and their societies the best of humanity.
Of course, there were often profound and very real issues of self-determination, of security, and of dignity at stake in the relations between peoples. Words alone would not resolve them, but a dialogue of words and deeds –- that is, of reciprocal actions based on respect and a genuine understanding of the other side’s grievances –- could resolve disputes and prevent violent conflict. The Secretary-General was not suggesting that the dialogue would be easy. But the difficulties faced must not be allowed to deter us from the pursuit of dialogue. He was convinced that it could make a genuine difference in the lives of ordinary men and women throughout the world
The Dialogue among Civilizations had a purpose and promise beyond the challenges faced today. Throughout history that dialogue had fostered understanding and compromise, and could do so even more in a world that was ever smaller and more closely linked. It could support and sustain every effort at peace, and every attempt to resolve conflicts between and within nations. It was the Secretary-General’s hope that in the months and years ahead, all nations would join the dialogue and make it genuinely valuable by placing it at the service of the weakest and most vulnerable of our world -– the victims of intolerance, bigotry and hatred. It was for their sake that the Dialogue among Civilizations must succeed.
SEYED MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, President of Iran, said that in the circle of those who cherished rational thinking 2500 years ago, Socrates would employ the method of dialogue. Those who, unlike the philosophers, felt less love for wisdom but a fiercer desire to possess it -- the Sophists -- did all they could to defeat Socrates, and eventually put him to death. The call to dialogue, however, did not die with Socrates. Dialogue among Civilizations presupposed and embodied a principled moral discipline of culture and politics. Today, as in ancient centuries, engagement in dialogue required wisdom, discipline and good will. Any exclusive claim to absolute truth must be relinquished.
When Iran proposed the idea of Dialogue among Civilizations, he said, few foresaw how soon it would prove instrumental in saving the world from imminent carnage and devastation, he said. Devastating wars had always erupted when one party refused to listen to what others had had to say. The terrorist attacks of 11 September were perpetrated by a “cult of fanatics who had self-mutilated their ears and tongues,” and could only communicate with perceived opponents through violence and devastation. The perception of a need for revenge, coupled with a misplaced sense of might, could lead to failure to hear the calls of people of good will or the cries of children, women and the elderly in Afghanistan.
He was pleased to introduce the draft Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations, and hoped the document would receive the unanimous support of the Assembly. Regrettably, the dawn of the new millennium had turned out bloody. A most brutal and appalling crime had been perpetrated against American civilians. In the name of the people and Government of Iran, he had firmly and unequivocally condemned that anti-Islamic act of terror. In the world today, the notion of political seclusion transgressed the boundaries of morality and fell into the realm of the impossible. All cultures, civilizations and faiths were now bound to cohabit the same world by the inviolable verdict of technology. It was therefore the best of times to cultivate harmony and foster empathy. Terrorism was begotten through the ominous combination of blind fanaticism with brute force. “Whoever chooses to reduce religion, art or science to destructive weapons bears no other than an inimical relationship to them,” he said.
Politicians and generals could simply attribute the recent catastrophe in the United States, as well as all other terrorist atrocities to the evil deeds of a certain state, group or religion. Yet that would simply amount to evading the question of where and in what soil the seeds of enmity would produce such unpalatable fruit. The correct answer had a long history, but having a long history in and of itself did not provide a remedy. “We can only hope to learn a new lesson from an old answer if we have prepared ourselves to accept the verdict of fairness and justice,” he said.
Injustice was neither unprecedented nor confined to particular communities, he continued. However, when an accumulation of injustices engendered despair and frustration, it turned into an explosive brew. A frustrated person might choose death as the only remedy for his predicament: death for himself and death for others. “Let us have compassion not only for ourselves but also for others. Let us have compassion for the others within their own idiosyncratic realms. Compassion should come unconditionally. The only condition is a mutual agreement to refrain from atrocity and violence,” he said. “Let us welcome any party that invites us not to racism but to respecting the human race. Let us respect the fundamental right of all parties to existence. When it comes to enmity and revenge, let us be as inclined to remember as a mirror. A clean truthful mirror could reflect to infinity our own and others’ beauties. It is unwise to shatter the mirror.”
WOLFGANG SCHÜSSEL, Federal Chancellor of Austria, said that the tragic event of September 11 underlined the need to think beyond traditional patterns of diplomacy. Faced with an enemy contemptuous of human values and misusing religion to justify the unjustifiable, it was important to think -– and act -– beyond the current efforts to bring the terrorists to justice. It was important to build upon those values a world of tolerance and mutual respect which might bring about peace and security and a genuine human rights culture. Today, he spoke to the General Assembly as a European, as a Christian; and he spoke from his specific cultural background, as a concerned individual. These days, all were called upon to examine the value of dialogue in the fight against terrorism, for dialogue was the antithesis of hatred and intolerance. It was his firm conviction that one could and must use the Dialogue among Civilizations as a preventive tool against terrorism.
From the very outset, Austria had warmly welcomed and supported the initiative to declare 2001 the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. Last year, Vienna hosted the inaugural meeting of the Group of Eminent Persons established by the Secretary-General. In August of this year, Austria had held the “Salzburg Dialogue among Civilizations” where he had had the pleasure of discussing with the Secretary-General and many distinguished participants the role of dialogue as a new paradigm of international relations. In the “Salzburg Reflections”, they had stated their conviction that one must pass on to the next generations a willingness to learn from each other instead of a fear of diversity.
The Dialogue among Civilizations must be a dialogue between as well as within civilizations and societies. Its aim was better understanding, tolerance and respect for different opinions. Freedom of expression and thought were therefore indispensable for its success. Furthermore, it must promote justice and contribute to a better protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The principle of justice for example, was a centrepiece of both the Bible and the Koran. Holy scripts had played an essential historical role in overcoming injustices. One might indeed argue that belief in God remained empty or even blasphemous unless it included an unshakable insistence on justice, reconciliation and peace. He added that on a global level, justice must be a central aim in relationships among both sovereign States and individuals.
In order to reach all segments of society, it was important to put the Dialogue on a broader base, he said. In particular, one had to aim for the children, the future. They all -- boys and girls alike -– needed to be taught the merits of mutual respect and solidarity. They must be able to grow up with a profound and respectable understanding of diversity. He stressed that acts of violence, ethnic cleansing and terrorism were often rooted in the perception of diversity as a threat. That was why one must go beyond diplomatic circles and expert meetings and reach out to the hearts and minds of people, particularly young people, all over the world. Using globalization to create a new awareness of togetherness and closeness among people was a real possibility, he said.
One of the great advantages of modern information technology, he said, was its ability to bridge geographical divides. But it must also bridge the divides of mentality, culture and religion. The process could start with small but concrete steps, moving “bottom up” rather than “top down.” One instrument could be cultural dialogue stimulated by the creation of intercultural networks for religious, economic and ecological exchanges. Another tool could be strengthening scientific discourse and organizing forums on perceptions of history. It was also important to compare schoolbooks on sensitive phases of history. He concluded by stressing that dialogue, cooperation and understanding also entailed a shared intolerance of the intolerable. There could be no tolerance and no understanding for those who attacked humanity, and there must be no place for them to hide.
ZLATKO LAGUMDZIJA, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that less than 10 years ago in his country, terrorists had tried to misuse religion and ethnic identity in order to widen the gap between “us” and “them.” For years the international community remained neutral, positioning itself between the local armed forces and trying to protect civilians without interfering in the war. At that time, Slobodan Milosevic had been bombing Dubrovnik, and Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic were keeping Sarajevo besieged, explaining that, in doing so, they were protecting Christianity from Islam in the heart of Europe. However, when the world united to stop the war, the war ended.
Today, he said, another group of people was misusing religion in order to impose its own brand of terror. The international community had to use this overall human and American tragedy as an opportunity to wake up and hit the very roots of global terrorism. It was time to have statehood for Palestinians and security for Israelis. Dialogue among civilizations, on a local and global level, was the only way to extirpate terrorism.
He said that coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina -- that had been treated as a problematic Balkan country because of its multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious nature -- he was especially sensitive to terrorism which misused religious feeling. The fight that was being fought today was a fight against the consequences of poverty, ignorance and injustice. There was, however, a much bigger task facing the international community: uprooting the causes and eliminating potential focal points for the new extremists. In that respect, he supported actions targeted against terrorists, but at the same time more action must be taken to help the people of Afghanistan.
He was using today’s forum, he continued, not to say, not to ask, but to scream and beg for the multiplication of efforts to speed help to innocent people who were the victims of their own leadership. One more dollar, yen or euro, disbursed one hour faster, could save some child who might one day come to the United Nations to speak on behalf of his proud country as a new leader of Afghanistan. The war for civilization and open society, the war for the right to be different, could not be won without the leadership of a new, creative, credible generation which proved their courage by words and deeds.
“Our” enemy, he said, was not “they.” There was a common enemy, poverty and injustice. Civilization confronted with terrorism had no choice. Terrorism and crime had no religion, ethnicity or civilization. But terrorism could only be defeated by force. People like Karadzic or Bin Laden had to be brought to justice. However, the peace-building process could only succeed through investment in education, building institutions of State, strengthening the economy and ruling by the rule of law. Dialogue, should not only be in words, but in deeds, through five dimensions of the new era: education, ecumenism, environmental responsibility, economy and electronic media.
LOUIS MICHEL, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that a new kind of terrorism had emerged as one of the major challenges to globalization. The perpetrators of the 11 September attack had made a deliberate attempt to spread hatred between peoples and to provoke a clash between religions and cultures. The debate today should prove that their actions had had the opposite effect: instead of dividing us it had brought us closer together. Because their perpetrators had invoked Islam to justify their actions, some people had seen in those events the beginning of an era ripped apart by violent, passionate and radical confrontation. He wished to condemn such talk of division and fear. The attacks had been directed at everyone, regardless of civilizations, cultures or religions.
Humanity, he said, had developed its ethical traditions in the conviction that human beings were endowed with reason and a moral conscience, and should treat each other as brothers and sisters. The debate within the framework of the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations had given everyone a chance to ask if they had remained faithful to their own cultures and underlying values. Had the culture of the Western world, for example, been perceived as aggressive because the great majority could not experience it first-hand? Had the great cultural debates of the West not sometimes appeared as discussions of rich, ethnocentric people who did not understand or else ignored the political, economic cultural and spiritual realities of anything outside their world?
The only real answer was dialogue, he said. Underlying a true dialogue of cultures should be recognition of the equal dignity of all cultures and their ability to interpenetrate and enrich each other. There was also a need for cultural diversity -- the right to difference and identity. That principle was inseparable from the principle that all cultures possessed equal dignity. It was in that perspective that the European Union saw the dialogue among civilizations. The community of nations needed a revitalized, renewed and reinvented dialogue, in touch with what was going on. The dialogue of peoples and cultures presumed both respect for others and self-respect. Respecting others meant first of all wanting to know them so that they were not seen as radically different.
In the United Nations system, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was called upon to play a privileged role in developing the dialogue among cultures. The UNESCO was a reminder that one of the major aims of the dialogue among civilizations was to increase and propagate a knowledge and appreciation of the historic and cultural bases of societies all over the world. Cultural diversity was at the heart of the founding vision of the European Union. The Treaty of Rome which had established the European Union had stressed that the community should contribute to the flowering of different cultures of Member States, while bringing common values to the fore. Improving knowledge and the dissemination of the culture of the European peoples had already started at the dawn of European unification.
The European Union attached great importance to the promotion of understanding its Member States and by civil society and the individuals which made it up. Promoting those values went hand in hand with the dialogue among cultures, and could only enrich and affirm it. In that connection, the European Union insisted on affirming the existence of a universal ethic, especially the one which had inspired the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The European Union had followed with great interest the work carried out by the Eminent Persons Group. They had marked out the essential milestones for what would be a very long-term project. The Group should be congratulated for the remarkable contribution it had made. The European Union was confident that it would encourage discussion and reflection –- in other words, dialogue.
LILA HANITRA RATSIFANDRIHAMANANA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Madagascar, said that approaching the end of the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, there was a need to address new aspects of the topic. She stressed that Madagascar was a strong supporter of dialogue among civilizations, and had signed the resolution on the protection of religious sites. She said that Madagascar was one of three African countries that had celebrated the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. A symposium had been arranged on that important issue, which had witnessed the participation of academics, members of the Government, civil society, national and international experts, and political and religious leaders. The main theme discussed had been the promotion of diversity, tolerance and interdependence.
Enemies of today’s world were global, international and collective, she said. The enemies of today were poverty, HIV/AIDS, terrorism, global warming. That was an international enemy, since it attacked all countries, whether rich or poor, without discrimination. The threat had to be dealt with in the same manner in which it operated -- in a global, international and collective manner. The response must be based on the interdependence of States, international solidarity, and the urgent need for a permanent and multi-directional dialogue. To make the enemy a partner, it was necessary to create appropriate situations for an exchange of ideas and for the understanding of “the other.” To make the partner a friend it was necessary to establish a climate of complete trust.
Dialogue was an instrument which generated positive, peaceful and pragmatic actions, she said. That could only benefit the sustainable human development process and lead to the eradication of poverty and scourges of all kinds. Dialogue was a catalyst for cultural integration on different levels. Traditional values could serve as a point of reference in the establishment of a system of behaviour for peace, in an attempt to strengthen links between nations and the respect for human rights. The President of Madagascar, Didier Ratsiraka, had proposed a national pact of non-aggression between religious institutions in order to preempt a clash between religions or different schools of thought. It was important to have the courage to denounce fanaticism and ideological extremism, which threatened harmonious relations between people of different cultures, religions and countries.
She stressed that all dialogue required preparation. There were several different ways in which one could use the concept of dialogue, depending on specific situations, sensitivities, and needs. A universal manual of procedures for conducting dialogue could serve as a point of reference. In that way, any radical reaction could be avoided. On access by developing countries to new information and communication technologies, she called upon developed countries to provide as much support and assistance as possible. If developing countries had access to such technologies, the distances between different countries and cultures would be reduced, facilitating the process of dialogue.
MUSTAFA OSMAN ISMAIL, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sudan, said Islam was based on the unity of humanity, as all humanity came from one origin. The common nature of humanity undoubtedly unified all cultures. On the basis of those concepts, human relations were formulated through proactive interaction to enjoy the planet’s fruits. It showed that man was equal and free, capable of peaceful coexistence in which pluralism became a source of power.
Dialogue between religions was a very important matter in Sudan’s dealings in international affairs, he said. In 2000 Sudan had organized a conference on such a dialogue, with fruitful results. Its concepts could be generalized to frame a unified language for dialogue among cultures and civilizations.
As today’s debate was a call for a tolerant world, he urged people of various cultures not to propagate a clash of civilizations or think their culture superior to others. Some leaders had adopted such claims, he said. It was clear that the present cultural clash in the international community was the result of problems that degenerated into military confrontations. Main areas of disagreement concerned human rights, democracy, religion, social values, international economy and the culture of gender. Different cultures agreed that the freedom of individuals was the basis of political practice. He noted the importance of spirituality in establishing noble values, and affirmed that the concept of freedom of belief should not be an issue leading to conflicts.
The economic concept of globalization had become a reality, he said. The economic dialogue of cultures should begin with exploring the injustices separating the rich and the poor of the world, and should explore areas of possible cooperation to reduce the distance between the two worlds. The rich world had not met that responsibility. The debt burden had become an important issue in that regard. The events of 11 September made the idea of dialogue among cultures a priority. If it had not been for some rational people who had refused to link the events to Islam, it could have led to catastrophe. Today’s event should be a beginning of fruitful dialogue. Islam could not be called intolerant or described as a terrorist religion. “Despite the tragic events of history, we must call on the values of tolerance and give up violence,” he said.
ROBERTO ROJAS, Foreign Minister of Costa Rica said that the initiative of the General Assembly in proclaiming this year as the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations was one of most important acts the Organization had undertaken. Dialogue was the best way for us to understand one another and made it possible to build bridges of understanding and achieve harmony based on common humanity. The dialogue was taking place in a new and unforeseen global context since the terrorist attacks. The consequences were being felt strongly in major current developments. The battle against terrorism should not mean a confrontation among civilizations or religions, since all religions shared a similar message of respect and tolerance towards others. It should not be interpreted as a struggle of values. All human beings should enjoy the same potential for human development, and diversity should not drive humankind to intolerance.
What had prompted people to turn terror and suffering into a way of life? he asked. How did human beings have such contempt for their fellows? One facet of the fight against terrorism was the struggle against poverty, which bred ignorance, contempt and fanaticism. Solidarity between rich and poor countries was thus of key importance: for example, industrialized countries should honour their commitment to donate 0.7 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product to developing countries, and products of developing countries should be bought at fair prices without unfair trade restrictions.
Terrorism did not simply grow out of poverty, he said. Many of the individuals making up terrorist groups were from wealthy families. Many had lived in the United States or Europe for years and been exposed to the Western way of life. Neither poverty nor ignorance could explain their actions. It was necessary to look at a deeper level of the human psyche. One key lay in intolerance and an inability to understand others, in a profound self-centredness. The appeal for the dialogue among civilizations to focus on changing mentalities was of particular importance. It would also be necessary to overcome the mentality that saw its own belief as the only valid one.
There needed to be a reassessment of the concept of “enemy”. One consequence of 11 September was a new pattern in politics. A bridge had sprung up between old rivals, and the world had become united and reinforced the oneness of the global civilization. That new phase had a number of distinctive features. Respect for human rights was the first global ethic that humankind had developed, and it was that ethic which should serve as the basis for the dialogue among civilizations. One fundamental task that humankind faced was to continue to bolster the doctrine of human rights. The sense of love for humanity must prevail and must come to characterize the global civilization of the twenty-first century.
The Assembly then adjourned its formal debate and moved to an informal segment set aside for statements by the Group of Eminent Persons.
Eminent Persons’ Statements
KAMAL ABOULMAGD (Egypt), Judge of the World Bank Administrative Tribunal, thanked the President of Iran who had stimulated interest in the Dialogue among Civilizations within and outside the United Nations. He also expressed his gratitude to the Secretary-General for establishing the Group of Eminent persons. Giandomenico Picco, Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, had been more than a master during their work -- he had been a musician playing several instruments. The document before the Assembly had been drafted on the basis of collective work. It was a communiqué, a manifesto which provided an urgent reminder that the Dialogue among Civilizations was the only alternative to a clash between civilizations.
He stressed the importance of the phenomenon of globalization, which had removed all distances between peoples. There was no longer an intermediary in international relations, and there were several new actors in the arena of international affairs. Several changes and developments in the international system had been seen since the disappearance of the bi-polar system, he added. The work of the Group had been transformed by the shocking attack of 11 September.
He asked whether the Dialogue among Civilizations was mortally wounded because of that attack. Were people panicking about diversity? What had happened showed that the spirit of destruction and violence was still very much alive. Of course, the perpetrators of those crimes needed to be brought to justice and punished. However, wise people were starting to fear that the focus on reprisals might trigger a catastrophe and that the idea of Dialogue among Civilizations might crumble. He stressed that merely tightening up security could not eliminate terrorism. Root causes needed to be addressed. The environment in which terrorism developed was marked by the absence of freedom, the absence of democratic channels, and the absence of a modicum of social justice.
Education about other people was necessary, he said. It needed to be tackled -- people needed to learn about each other, without taboos or censorship. All civilizations had contributed to the heritage of humanity; no civilization was morally bankrupt or without anything to contribute.
LOURDES ARIZPE (Mexico), Professor, University of Mexico and former Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO, said the world was one but that many had not yet found their place in it. Our nature as human beings made us forever look at the world from a specific place, a specific time. And the horizon of our eyes was always transformed into the boundary of “our world.” In this new millennium could it not be possible to extend that horizon to a sphere with no boundaries, an imagination with no barriers, solidarity with no limits? It could certainly be aspired to, but the more the basic needs of so many people were not met, the more resentment grew, and the more conflicts would erupt into wars.
The terrorist attacks of 11 September had highlighted how, through the cultural and religious dimensions of conflict, groups of extremists could have a far grater impact than their political or intellectual resources would have otherwise made possible. The initial reaction to those attacks gave the impression that the international work carried out in previous years on the culture of peace had been insufficient. Their contribution, however, could be seen in the many statements and demonstrations showing that the vast majority of peoples in the world were on the side of peace and cultural coexistence. That was the movement that must be focused on amid the swirling dust and the bereavement.
In the report presented today, her Group argued that wars were constructed though discourse; yet it was the exercise of power that applied them to relations between States or peoples. Was the present conflict really a “clash of civilizations”? Or was this the discourse to legitimize the use of violence between groups with special interests? Significantly, some had asked whether in actual fact this conflict was a “crash of civilizations”.
In a shrinking planet, wired and webbed by the most continuous and interactive cultural contacts in history, people were constantly having to negotiate with others having different values, attitudes and behaviours. In the report before the Assembly, the Group had argued that the framework of international relations must change so that the Other was no longer seen as an Enemy but as an antagonist. To do this, the realm of political relations must be one of narratives that might be criticized, dissected, remodeled and transformed into negotiated conciliation. The Dialogue of Civilizations must lead to the careful and conscious building of a new constellation of political will.
RUTH CARDOSO (Brazil), member of the Board of the United Nations Foundation, said that since 11 September, it had become a necessity to turn the feeling of perplexity into the starting point for a reflection on this unexpected manifestation of violence, which had prompted total rejection by all humanists. On the other hand, the commotion created all over the world by those incomprehensible events had increased the difficulty of objective analysis. The duty of those who believed in freedom was to go beyond a mere condemnation and to carry out a major effort to attempt to understand the incomprehensible.
Labelling fundamentalism a by-product of poverty and deprivation was misleading, she said. Discrimination and obstacles to development were certainly factors that contributed to the process, but they failed to account for the hatred and intolerance that were present in most modern-day conflicts. Everyone was aware that a strong collective identity was the aggregating factor within societies, but that identity should not preclude the possibility of change, nor should it lead to viewing other groups as enemies.
The present challenge before the international community, she said, required concrete answers attainable through a dialogue that engaged not only governments but all segments of society. The United Nations was the ideal forum for that dialogue, as long as it kept on incorporating the voices of civil society. Throughout its existence, the United Nations had produced a valuable set of norms based on common values, among them instruments for the protection of human rights. “Such a legacy is proof that the goals that bring us together, as an international community, are stronger than the forces setting us apart.”
NADINE GORDIMER, Nobel laureate for Literature, said it was a sober reflection on the self-destructive obduracy of humans that it was at last a realization of our vulnerability that had brought us together. But there was no doubt that as the Assembly met within a few blocks of a great abyss in a great city, it met today in the ultimate realization of human vulnerability. And also not far from where delegates gathered was something new –- the final evidence that there was no such thing as superiority of weaponry as a life-policy to make a city, a country, a nation invulnerable.
There had to be other ways to stop people from killing one another, starving one another through ruined economies, and filling the roads with desperately wandering refugees, she said. There were and would continue to be many essential meetings where relations would be discussed on the premise of internationality: that is, vital cooperation between countries and individual nations, in the glare of recent happenings and their international fallout. The difference of the Assembly was not that of nations and countries, but of the civilizations of which national communities and countries were disparate, sometimes far-flung -- an ancient diaspora.
She said that everyone, regardless of religious background or political leaning, carried life-precepts of a particular civilization. It was the broader community of human divisions that met in dialogue among civilizations, rather than nations. All shared the living heritage of a civilization as individuals within it. Civilizations were both the greater collective for humanity and the greater recognition of individual beings. One did not have to vote to belong to a civilization. It was a paradox that the great collectives of values and knowledge acquired over millennia should see one another as rivals, and too often as bitter enemies. Most enmity came between religions, which became a deadly, ready weapon in the service of despotic power. There was also self-righteousness, secular as well as religious, the arrogance of discounting as inferior the faith, ethics, scientific and artistic knowledge of other civilizations.
All shared responsibility for the sanctity of human life, she said. The book, Crossing the Divide: Dialogue among Civilizations, set out firmly the concept of dialogue as the “human face of globalization.” Branded on the human face of globalization was a number: 1.3 billion -- the count of the world’s population who lived in poverty. The ethos and structure of world finance had to be rethought and remade for the dialogue among civilizations to combine with them. Neither could succeed without the other.
SERGEY KAPITZA (Russian Federation), Russian Academy of Sciences, said that among the global problems of today was the question of how to instill the need for dialogue in public awareness. Dialogue, which was necessary for the move to a more open and democratic society, must be multilateral. In the 1950s, during the discussions surrounding the threat of nuclear war, the most important challenge was how to change public opinion. During those discussions, doctors had played an important role as they could explain the situation better than the physicists. Dialogue was especially necessary in extreme situations.
Turning to population growth, he said that each year, 85 million people were being added to the world’s population. There was every reason to believe that the growth could be controlled. The entire demographic revolution would take less than 100 years, and would push mankind to new heights of development. The explanations for crises lay simply in the nature of man. He hoped that it would be in the wisdom of dialogue that ways to address today’s challenges would be found.
HANS KÜNG (Switzerland), Professor of Ecumenical Theology and President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic, said that as a scholar, he had for decades striven to promote world peace through dialogue among civilizations and religion.
The fact that the Assembly had put the Dialogue among Civilizations on its agenda had given him great hopes. In the twentieth century, three opportunities for a new world order had been missed: after the First World War, because of “Realpolitik”; after the Second World War, because of Stalinism; and after German reunification and the Gulf War, because of a lack of vision. His group proposed such a vision in its new paradigm of international relations.
He said that over the last decades, initiatives of inter-religious dialogue and cooperation had grown all over the world. In that dialogue the world’s religions had rediscovered that their own fundamental ethical teachings supported and deepened those secular ethical values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the 1993 Parliament of World Religions at Chicago, more than 200 representatives of all world religions had expressed their consensus on a set of shared ethical values, standards and attitudes, the basis for a global ethic.
The basis for such an ethic was first the principle of humanity -- “Every human being must be treated humanely,” or more explicitly: “What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others.” In light of those principles he called on every person, institution and nation to take their responsibility for a culture of non-violence and reverence for all life; for a culture of solidarity and a just economic order; for a culture of tolerance and a life in truthfulness; and for a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women. It was a matter of urgency that the globalization of economy, technology and communication be supported by a globalization of ethics.
Some political analysts had predicted a “clash of civilizations” for the twenty-first century. His alternative vision for the future was not an optimistic idea but a realistic vision of hope: the religions and civilizations of the world in a coalition of all people of good will could help to avoid such a clash, provided they realized that there could be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions, no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions, no dialogue among religions without global ethical standards, no survival of our globe without peace and justice and without a new paradigm on international relations based on global ethical standards.
AHMAD JALALI, President of the General Conference of UNESCO, said (in a statement he issued in lieu of speaking in person) that UNESCO’s General Conference -- the first intergovernmental ministerial gathering within the United Nations system since the wanton terrorist acts of 11 September -- had concluded on 3 November after three weeks of intensive work. The General Conference had adopted a resolution which referred to the strong condemnation by the Security Council and General Assembly of the heinous acts of terrorism. The resolution also affirmed that dialogue among civilizations constituted a fundamental challenge based on the unity of humankind and commonly shared values, the recognition of its cultural diversity, and the equal dignity of each civilization and each culture.
The General Conference had also approved the Organization’s Medium-Term Strategy, which identified the promotion of the dialogue among civilizations as a strategic objective. He quoted from Iranian President Khatami’s message to the General Conference, which said that dialogue among civilizations was “the principal need of the international community; it is a way to maintain the security of the world”. Real dialogue -- a “sacred art” -- required active listening, and the road to hell was paved with failures to listen and understand. The international community could rely on UNESCO, which was able and willing to work with it.