Thank you for inviting me and giving me this opportunity to speak at this important Group of Friends of the Alliance of Civilizations.
The Secretary-General, who is out of town, sends his best greetings to participants at this meeting and I want to thank you, High Representative, for your comprehensive report of the impressive activities of the Alliance. Activities which are seriously and sorely needed in today’s world.
And, like you, High Representative, I would like to bring back the image of the marking of Malala Day last week at the United Nations. I think it was a truly memorable occasion which made, I think, a deep impression on most of us.
It was a watershed event in itself that young people from around the world came to the United Nations to speak up about their dreams, their aspirations, as well as about their concerns and problems.
Lack of education. Racism and other forms of discrimination. Poverty and joblessness. Violence and terrorism. The list is long.
When Malala [Yousafzai] spoke, she was, as you said, Mr. High Representaitve, convincing, profound and deeply moving.
She told the world: “Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.” And that the only thing her attackers had killed was indeed fear.
And I would not forget some of the last words of that speech when she said “One girl, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” It truly inspires hope and determination. And that comes from a sixteen year old girl who was brutally attacked eight months ago.
The Alliance of Civilizations was created to answer division and hatred with dialogue and reconciliation.
It aims to embrace diversity and energize a global movement for mutual understanding.
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 should strengthen our common values and our common humanity.
Religious leaders have a decisive influence over their followers.
When they preach hatred and intolerance, they breed polarization, they breed confrontation, they breed violence.
But when they embrace a message of understanding, brotherhood and sisterhood, they lay the foundation for trust, understanding and indeed, lasting peace and security.
As we know, there is not peace without development, there is no development without peace and none of the above without the respect of human rights and the rule of law.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was one such towering faith leader that I would like to bring back to our memories and to this room.
He changed the direction and destiny of a nation and he inspired the world.
Next month marks the 50th anniversary of his famous landmark speech “I Have a Dream.”
The Secretary-General will take part in a special commemoration by sharing his own dream for the world, along with a number of other prominent personalities. He will then call for a future where every member of the human family can live in dignity and look to the future with hope.
The Alliance of Civilizations is helping us realize this vision, on the foundation of an unwavering belief in the power of dialogue and in building of bridges between cultures and religions.
The Alliance does not shy away from discussing the complex conditions that lure young people into radicalization and extremism, a grave danger in today’s troubled world.
The Alliance adopts various approaches to defuse tensions and conflicts based on ethnic identity or religious belonging.
It demonstrates the value of constructive engagement in society’s mainstream involving both governments and civil society.
And in carrying out its activities, the Alliance has learned what works, and what does not work.
I commend High Representative Al Nasser for initiating a thorough review of setbacks and successes. I want to thank him and the Alliance secretariat for crafting a strategic plan based on lessons learned. This strategic plan deserves active support of Member States and continued advice.
The Alliance deals with problems that become most obvious when they make headlines.
I think of terrible acts of hatred, atrocities and blatant brutalization and violence against civilians. We read about it every day. We almost turn numb because it happens all the time. And you ask yourself how deep can they fall.
We have communal tensions that flare-up into fighting and death.
Abuses against women and girls take place, justified by the most strange perversions of religious beliefs.
Our challenge is to anticipate the problems, take preventive measures and present formulas for solutions.
A young woman who worked with the Alliance once said: “Intercultural dialogue is actually one of the most powerful tools we have to save lives. Understanding, compassion and empathy are the only weapons that can and will undo violent rivalries that have existed for centuries.”
I thank you, the members of the Group of Friends, for supporting this Alliance at this critical time. Let us work together to make it even stronger in the years to come.
And I thank you very much.