Your Excellency, Vice President Noli De Castro [Philippines]
Your Excellency, Ambassador Akram, [Pakistan]
I am honoured to be here for this dialogue. In the nine months that I have been in office, I have travelled to all corners of the United Nations, from Kinshasa to Kabul, from Brussels to Beirut. Everywhere I have visited, and among all the different people I have met, I have encountered one common sentiment – a universal longing for peace, and an aspiration of prosperity.
But, all too often, I have discovered that people who aspire to the same things also suffer from the same prejudices. They all fear that which is different from them: the other ethnicity, the other skin colour, the other cultural or linguistic tradition and, above all, the other religion.
And yet, in today's era of global travel and instant satellite transmissions, people everywhere are encountering less of the familiar, and more of “the other”. This reality has fed rising intercultural and inter-religious tensions, as well as growing alienation among vast segments of the world population.
Today, there is an urgent need to address this worrying trend. We need to rebuild bridges and engage in a sustained and constructive intercultural dialogue, one that stresses shared values and shared aspirations.
It is time to promote the idea that diversity is a virtue, not a threat. It is time to explain that different religions, belief systems and cultural backgrounds are essential to the richness of the human experience. And it is time to stress that our common humanity is greater – far greater – than our outward differences.
In short, it is time – indeed, it is past time – for a constructive and committed dialogue; a dialogue amongst individuals, amongst communities, and between nations.
The UN General Assembly is a unique forum for such an exchange. Indeed, by bringing together representatives of all countries under one roof, this Assembly provides a universal platform to reach out to different nations and cultures.
Today's gathering also comes at a particularly auspicious time, as Jews mark the celebration of the Torah and Muslims approach the end of the Holy month of Ramadhan. Such occasions remind us that men and women of faith around the world can be brought together, rather than separated, by their convictions and their belief in something greater than themselves.
Last week, there was also a ministerial meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations, the UN's initiative to help build bridges and promote dialogue between cultures and religions. I was delighted to see how membership of the Alliance had nearly doubled since the inaugural meeting a year ago.
This reflects the valuable work being performed by the Alliance under the leadership of His Excellency, Mr. Jorge Sampaio. But it also represents a growing resolve among nations to work together to heal divides in our world.
I draw strength from that resolve, at a time when so many of the challenges we face are aggravated by distrust and hostility.
And I draw strength from gatherings such as this one. Looking around this chamber today, I feel that we are all united: we are united in our choice of dialogue before confrontation; united in our pursuit of engagement before alienation; united in our embrace of harmony and understanding.
In that spirit, I wish all of you a most productive meeting, and look forward to the outcome of your discussions.