Baku, Azerbaijan, 29 May 2013
H. E. Ambassador Elshad Iskandarov, Chairman of The State Committee For Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan,
H.E. Abulfas Garayez, Minister of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan,
H.E. Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, Director of ISESCO,
Distinguished Representative of the Civil Society,
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am privileged as the High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, to have the opportunity to address this distinguished audience, in your wonderful country of Azerbaijan, located at a strategic crossroads between Asia and Europe. I wish you all success on this occasion as you launch the National Tolerance Centre, on the eve of the opening of the 2nd World Forum On Intercultural Dialogue.
I sincerely thank The State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan for hosting this innovative event, here in beautiful BAKU!
As I look around this audience, I see a group of great diversity – diversities of race, faith and culture. We speak many different languages, and call a number of different countries our homeland. We do, however, share one thing in common – and that is, the legacy of the 20th century.
I believe, I can safely say, that each and every one of us here was born, and grew up under the shadow of violence and social upheaval that marked the 20th century and still threatens the peace and security of this new century, which is barely 13 years old – a mere teenager as this century goes on.
The 20th century was the most war-afflicted century in human history. Depending on how you count, there were between 100 to 170 conflicts following the end of the World War II. Today, with armed conflict erupting in every corner of the globe, the core mandate of the United Nations remains even more important, as it was first enshrined in the Charter, namely ”to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”
As we pursue our human destiny in this new century, we must acknowledge the corrosive influence on civil society of constant reliance on violence to achieve political objectives. Violence begets violence, and constant exposure to violence in all its forms, breeds insensitivity, coarseness, brutality, cynicism, despair and intolerance, a dangerously negative mindset that becomes increasingly entrenched in the culture, as it passes from generation to generation.
As the world becomes economically more inter-dependent, we face increasing challenges of living harmoniously together in a world of different cultures, languages, beliefs, ethnic loyalties and patterns of behavior. As a global community we must have the capacity to cope with diversity, to cope with and respect others, and to promote tolerance, understanding and cooperation among cultures and peoples. To help achieve this, is our challenge at the Alliance of Civilizations.
The Alliance of Civilizations is a platform on which the international community seeks to build greater understanding and communication to stem the tide of intolerance and misunderstanding, which is sometimes deliberately promoted for political ends. It is intended to offer a new perspective of hope and peace for security and development while respecting cultural diversity. The four pillars of the Alliance include: Education, Youth, Media and Migration. It is through Education and Training that we develop programs to encourage respect for cultural diversity, and to address problems such as fear, intolerance and xenophobia.
The unifying benefits of technology and economics will only fully take shape when mutual respect and cross-cultural understanding prevails. As such, the spread and promotion of tolerance becomes a crucial issue to be addressed. Since 16 November 1995, the importance of tolerance has been elevated to a priority in the UN agenda through observance of the International Day for Tolerance.
The beauty of our world resides in its diversity, which at the same time has sparked many conflicts. This occurs as a result of misunderstanding and intolerance towards people whose attitudes and practices differ from our own.
Tolerance fosters sentiments of mutual appreciation and affection. Without it, suspicion and mistrust can easily emerge. Likewise, people from different backgrounds, religions, and cultures will lean toward conflict. In such a context, diversity becomes an obstacle, rather than an asset or benefit.
Intolerance often leads to fighting and violence. Furthermore, it destroys peaceful relations in any society. People will then resort to force and aggression, as a way to promote their seemingly “correct” view. We have witnessed many incidents in history where this has occurred. The only way to prevent this in the future is through the spread of tolerance and the idea of unity through the acceptance and embrace of diversity.
Tolerance is the ability to accept opinions or behaviors that you may not agree with. Moreover, it requires you to behave civilly towards those who differ from you. It means showing respect for various races, genders, opinions, religions, nationalities and ideologies.
Tolerance is a fundamental principle for global cooperation and understanding. From an interpersonal level to a governmental level, it is needed in all spheres of life. This is because it plays such a vital role in providing the basis for cooperation and problem solving. Tolerance is the key to solving many of our complex global issues, from human rights to war and genocide. It is the first step in the process of establishing global harmony.
As such, the need to educate people about the dangers of intolerance is the most urgent priority. At the same time, we need to instill the importance of tolerance in people of all ages, races, religions, nationalities and genders. While intolerance spans the hearts and minds of many, it can be combated through education.
Education can steer people in the direction of acceptance and understanding, rather than hate. It exposes us to differing attitudes and opinions, while simultaneously, instructing us on how react respectfully to them.
Tolerance is an essential component of any healthy, peaceful society. Without tolerance, a community cannot flourish. Humans are not born intolerant. Children are seen playing on the playground with other children without regard to age, race or gender. It is impossible to pinpoint exactly what changes and makes us develop our prejudices, but there are obvious factors: the attitudes of parents and teachers, peer pressure, cultural factors, some religious beliefs and lack of exposure on other ways of doing things. We must always strive to have a fair and objective attitude toward others, regardless of whether or not their opinions and beliefs align with ours.
Tolerance is keeping an open mind and having respect for others: embracing our differences, rather than letting them get in the way of our success. It is easy to say that tolerance is important, and that it is something everyone must adhere to; it is another to implement it in one’s daily life or to promote it as a global norm.
I look forward to see the Center becoming a National Tolerance Center for Social Success, and provide lessons-learned to the world. You can count on the Alliance to support your noble objectives.
Let’s not forget the Human rights issues, which are so closely related to tolerance. Within a human right based approach, promoting respect for cultural diversity can promote intercultural dialogue, prevent conflict and defend the right of socially excluded group. These qualities produce the most advantageous conditions for achieving development goals. National development programmes worldwide, should include a Tolerance Center like yours that will help us in our search for who we were yesterday, who we are today and for who we will be tomorrow.
The launch of the National Tolerance Centre represents a pivotal step in promoting tolerance. It will serve as a resource for those who aspire to spread mutual respect and understanding. Furthermore, its actions and goals will further a global society of peace and understanding.
Let’s retain from the “the Teaching Tolerance”, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center the last four commitments of their Declaration of tolerance,” which says:
I will …
· examine my own biases and work to overcome them,
· set a positive example for my family and friends,
· work for tolerance in my own community, and
· speak out against hate and injustice.