Dear Mr. Angelo Sala, President of Crossroads Cultural center,
Your Excellencies ambassadors and Distinguished Guests,
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
It is my privilege to have this opportunity to address you this evening on the theme: “Social Harmony and Religious Identities: a discussion on the foundations for a true dialogue among religions”. While each faith tradition has its unique identity, we also recognize the values and principles that are shared widely across the religious traditions, forming a social harmony that unites us in the midst of our diversity.
Religions exist throughout history. Billions of people around the world identify themselves as believers, and one is hard-pressed to find any society, culture or civilization which has not been shaped in significant ways by religious values and practices. And whereas at times religious differences have contributed to tensions and conflicts, religion has been a force for the good of humanity, promoting justice, peace and human dignity. Moreover, as interreligious conflict gives way increasingly to interreligious dialogue and cooperation, religion’s potential in the promotion of peace and stability in our world becomes more apparent.
Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly complex world, where polarized perceptions, fueled by injustice and inequality, often lead to violence and conflict, threatening international stability. Over the past few years, wars, occupation and acts of terror have exacerbated mutual suspicion and fear within and among societies. Some political leaders and sectors of the media, as well as radical groups have exploited this environment and created more confusion and mayhem.
Our world is alarmingly out of balance. For many, the last century brought unprecedented progress, prosperity, and freedom. For others, it marked an era of suppression, humiliation and dispossession. Ours is a world of great inequalities and paradoxes: a world where the income of the planet’s three richest people is greater than the combined income of the world’s least developed countries; where modern medicine performs daily miracles and yet 3 million people die every year of preventable diseases; where we know more about distant universes than ever before, yet 130 million children have no access to education; where despite the existence of multilateral covenants and institutions, the international community often seems helpless in the face of conflict and genocide. For most of humanity, freedom from want and freedom from fear appear as elusive as ever.
Towards that end, the Alliance seeks to improve understanding and cooperative relations among nations and peoples across cultures and religions, and in the process to help encounter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism.
In our globalized world, with societies composed of people of different worldviews, and characterized by a great diversity of religious and cultural references, the UN Alliance of Civilizations promotes pluralism and good governance of cultural diversity. The mantra of the Alliance is: Many Cultures, One Humanity. This is what we believe in and what we, in the Alliance, strive to fulfill.
These common values unite rather than divide us. Against this backdrop, the need to build bridges between societies, to promote dialogue and understanding and to forge collective political will to address the world’s imbalances has never been greater. This task constitutes the “cornerstone” of the Alliance of Civilizations.
Since, you want to know more about the Alliance of Civilizations, let me first, give you some details on its purpose.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations emanated from a potential clash between great Civilizations. It is a political initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General, with the co-sponsorship of Spain and Turkey, addressing the rising tensions between the Western World and the Muslim World, but also pointing to the growing issues in our modern society of diversity and mixity worldwide. For most of the world, today’s challenge is how to live together in a society that is increasingly complex and made of different cultures, different communities, different beliefs and the need therefore for all people around the world, to have this capacity to cope with diversity, to cope with and respect the other, and to get prepared to promote understanding and cooperation among cultures. So, this is the mission and also the challenges of the Alliance.
The Alliance of Civilizations is a platform on which the international community can 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 when the cultural diversity has been respected. With the four current pillars of the Alliance: Education, Youth, Media and Migration, it is through Education and Training that we develop programs which encourage respect for cultural diversity, and which address issues such as racism, intolerance and xenophobia.
The Alliance is supported by a Group of Friends – a community of around 140 UN Member States and international organizations and bodies.
Working in partnership with governments, international and regional organizations, civil society groups, foundations, academia and the private sector, the Alliance is engaging in and supporting a cluster of projects and initiatives aimed at building bridges among a diversity of cultures and communities.
We believe that the Alliance of Civilizations can enhance international cooperation and contribute to the efforts of the United Nations to address the challenges facing humanity today, particularly when they are routed in identity and cultural underpinnings. These challenges are the core of the mandate of the Alliance and its legitimacy, as expressed in the report of the High-level Group that gave birth to the Alliance.
In this context, I as the UN High-Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, outlined my vision and priorities for the next five years at the 5th global Forum for the Alliance of civilizations, which was held in Vienna on February 27-28 this year.
These priorities for the next five years were endorsed by the Membership. Under my leadership, the support of Member States and the SG, the Alliance will seek to defuse tensions in communities wherever possible. We will do so by reaching out to religious leaders, grassroots organizations and youth groups. In fact, the Alliance can use mediation as a tool of preventive diplomacy. The UN Secretary General last year said in Istanbul that the Alliance could have an important mediating role in the many conflicts where culture or religion come to play. The Alliance will also make every effort to use sports, arts, music and other forms of collective expressions of human values to foster the culture of peace.
In addition to mediation, other priorities also include:
-Building on the achievements of my predecessor, President Jorge Sampio.
– Strengthening the Alliance partnerships and cooperation in the multilateral system.
– Fostering the interconnectedness between the Alliance and the development agenda beyond 2015.
– Strengthening the financing and Structure of the Alliance.
– Increasing the Alliance interaction with Media, civil Society, business sector and Academia.
The Alliance promotes projects around the world to build generations that can understand the culture of peace, co-existence and the benefits of diversity. Among the most important values to be transmitted are notions of fairness and justice in our youth. In all societies, cultures, and religions, justice is fundamental to basic morality, but also to social peace.
Just to mention a few prominent examples of some of the projects and initiatives that the UNAOC is developing towards these goals, I would like to highlight the following:
The PLURAL+ Youth Video Festival, organized in partnership with the International Organization for Migration, gives youth around the world the opportunity to express their ideas and visions for a more inclusive society; supported by a large network of global partners PLURAL+ is a platform for the distribution of youth-produced media as well as a tool for the empowerment of youth.
Another initiative we believe very much relevant to the topics in this conference is the web platform developed by the UNAOC focusing on Education About Religions and Beliefs (ERB). This clearinghouse has been created in partnership with Universities, research institutions and organizations developing resources and new educational initiatives aiming at a better understating between different religions and philosophical beliefs. ERB is a platform facilitating access to these resources.
Another successful programme worth mentioning, is the The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations fellowship program. It is a cultural exchange program that offers an opportunity for emerging leaders from the Arab world North America and Europe to know and engage with each other. They meet and exchange ideas with key decision makers, media, local communities, grassroots and religious groups for in-depth discussion and full immersion in each other’s society. It is a unique partnership under the auspices of the UNAOC and other organizations and institutions.
By exposing emerging leaders to the reality of other cultures and societies, this highlights not only the challenges, the gaps and the tensions but also common ground for mutual positive action. By creating an active alumni network amongst future leaders in these countries, the fellowship programme encourages people with different cultures and backgrounds to cooperate together.
UNAOC fellows from North Africa and the Middle East visiting New York in the aftermath of the disastrous hurricane Sandy, this past November 2012 has enriched the cross-cultural experience in a different way. It was an emotionally intense time for victims of the hurricane who lost power for weeks and some even lost their homes. To learn about faith-based relief efforts, fellows paid a visit to the Bowery Mission a faith based organization, which provided food, shelter, and health care for the homeless and needy, and has been a refuge for many hurricane victims. “It’s humbling to serve those that are most in need of society’s compassion and attention. It’s hard to judge someone after you have served them, cleaned and cooked for them, as a caretaker,” said Fellow Rihab ElHaj from Libya reflecting on the experience. Adlane Meddi, Algerian Fellow, added, “The Bowery Mission was a great experience to see how solidarity has no borders.” Moreover, Yousef al-Helou from Gaza, Palestine, commented on his volunteer experience saying “human values unite us despite our religion, ethnicity and background differences.”
In addition, the UNAOC has launched the world campaign “Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion” to celebrate World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, on May 21st : individuals in India will be invited to visit a temple, a mosque, a church and a synagogue, on the same day to get the deep down peace and understanding that all paths lead to the same goal. The Geeta Nagar Slums adopted by SAGE Foundation, a partner in the campaign, have a temple, mosque and church side by side, and Hindus, Muslims and Christians live together in harmony.
Last but not least through the Intercultural Innovation Award develop in partnership with the BMW group, the Alliance is supporting projects that promote effective inter-faith dialogue in highly sensitive regions such as Mindanao, Philippines. Local young female and male Muslims are mobilized to work as volunteers in non-Muslim organizations to promote dialogue, understanding and development to non-Muslim and Muslim communities in Mindanao. They are empowered by channeling their participation into concrete activities, involving them in decision making and the peace process. This project fights youth unemployment among Muslim youth, as well as builds bridges between Christian and Muslim communities. The Alliance is supporting this project financially, thanks to the donors, and in strengthening their structure so that they can expand to other local communities. The projects will also be piloted this year in Israel and Palestine, as a new way to build trust among both communities.
As we can see, Great civilizations are built upon a culture of, rule of law and respect for one another.
Promoting respect and tolerance among human beings and valuing the diversity of their beliefs, cultures, and languages are at the core of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations mission, and the United Nations Charter, which recognizes “the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members.”
This is why we believe it is important for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations to acknowledge the social and moral significance of religion. The United Nations shares a common goal with religion, namely, the flourishing of human life in a peaceful and healthy world of opportunity for all. It is towards that ideal that we must continue to strive to ensure the social harmony and true dialogue among religions.
Tonight we have examined many ways in which the positive values upheld by faith and wisdom, have inspired people in various parts of the world to work for the common good of all, often in partnership with United Nations instruments and often in areas of hardship.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Lately, there has been a greater trend toward dialogue with religious and inter-religious organizations at the United Nations. I believe this dialogue should be encouraged, for there is not only a common ground that binds faith traditions together, but also a common ground, that is shared by religions and the United Nations. This common ground includes respect for human rights, affirmation of the equal values of all human beings, the importance of compassion and service to others, and the universal aspiration for peace.
In recent years a wide range of initiatives have emerged that illustrate the United Nations’ growing awareness of religion’s value as a civil society ally, in the effort to fulfill the mission outlined in the UN charter. In 2004 Resolution 59/23 called for the Promotion of Interreligious Dialogue; in 2006 the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace was formed as a partnership of member states, UN bodies and NGOs; in 2007 Resolution 61/221 established a Focal Unit on interreligious dialogue within the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in 2009, Resolution 64/81 called for the Promotion of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation and finally we got in 2010 the Harmony Week!!
Resolution A/RES/65/5 reaffirms, “that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue constitute important dimensions of a culture of peace” and underscores the significance of interfaith cooperation as a necessary condition for a culture of peace. Let each of us commit to the advancement of interfaith harmony that is affirmed each year during the first week of February.
The fruits of such understanding and dialogue are cooperative actions that save lives and give us hope for a new era of peace for all humankind. The future of our world demands nothing less.
During this week dedicated to interfaith harmony, we are called not only to affirm our own traditions, but to reflect appreciatively on the virtues and values of traditions, other than our own, thereby promoting a culture of mutual respect and social harmony. It is this spirit of mutual respect and cooperation that will afford us a firm building-block for the establishment of a global culture of peace, a climate of hope and healing to address the challenges that confront our world today.
In addition, many religious groups have found common ground in adopting UN campaigns, such as Agenda 21 to maintain a balanced and fair Human Sustainable Development and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Thus, we see evidence of a fruitful partnership that can and should be strengthened. In order for a culture of peace to become a reality, the religions must play a constructive role.
Last year under my presidency of the UNGA, we conducted several events related to interfaith where we discussed cross cultural dialogues as crucial components for building peace, tolerance, harmony and mutual understanding around the world.
I addressed the Holocaust remembrance service at the New York Synagogue on 21st January 2012; gave a lecture at the “Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies” on 1 March 2012 and had an audience with his Holiness Pope Benedict XVII (the 16th) at the Vatican, on 15 June 2012.
It is also worth mentioning that before the adoption of the second UN General Assembly resolution on mediation on 13 September, we screened highlights of a documentary entitled “Beyond Right and Wrong”. The theme of this film was “forgiveness”.
The documentary presented three conflicts from three separate regions of the globe: the 1984 Brighton Hotel Bombing in Northern Ireland, the conflict between Palestine and Israel, and the Rwandan Genocide.
Forgiveness makes mediation and peace possible.
Our prophet peace be upon him said “Shall I not inform you of a better act than fasting, alms, and prayers? Making peace between one another”
Abraham Lincoln said once “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?”
How wise and intelligent examples!
Ladies and gentlemen,
My country, Qatar, is proud to be the home of the Doha International Center for Interfaith Dialogue. Established in May 2008, the Centre’s mission is to promote a culture of dialogue and peaceful coexistence. As Qatari, I can see this commitment rooted in the Holy Quran, and I quote:
“We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other, not that you may despise each other.” [End quote].
But do we really know each other?
The “global village” – to quote Marshall McLuhan – is our home, yet we still need to do more to reach out, to respect and to understand one another. This is even more of a compelling obligation today than it was before the inception of ICT.
I pray that the spirit of our gathering tonight can go out from this meeting and touch the lives of all of those we come in contact with.
The important reality of this dialogue is not that we have differences in our religious and spiritual beliefs or practices, but how much we share in common. However the external trappings may differ, the quest for connection with a higher spiritual reality is common to us all. And the need for social harmony in the world is greater today than ever before.
Too often politics can divide people, while faith should be the tie that binds us together. It is up to us as we go out from here to model in our respective communities, the ideals that we have spoken about at this event. It is only through our example and testimony that we can build bridges between different communities of faith and spirituality.
Thank you for being here tonight for this special occasion as members of the human family, regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity, culture or nationality. Regardless of all these differences, we stand on social harmony and religious identities. From that exclusive position, let us work together for a world at peace.
The Alliance team, pledge to build bridges between different cultures to foster peaceful coexistence.
Overcoming national boundaries and promoting peace, social harmony and human values through diversity is our goal, with the understanding that humanity can be one and many at the same time.