Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – 9 January 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me distinct pleasure to speak to you again, one year after my first visit to this very distinguished educational monument – The International Islamic University in Malaysia.
It is worth mentioning that my relationship with the IIUM goes back to the beginning of the year 2012.
In 2012, as the President of the UNGA, I invited Professor. Dr. Zaleha Kamaruddin, Rector of IIUM, to participate in the UN General Assembly Thematic Debate on the “State of the World Economy” that took place in New York at the UN Head Quarters.
She led the IIUM delegation to that debate and made valuable contributions to the deliberations.
On that occasion Prof. Zaleha and I had several interesting discussions and talks.
Therefore, I feel a strong bond of partnership between the UNAOC and the IIUM.
The IIUM then established the International Centre of the Alliance of Civilizations (INTAC) at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), one year ago.
I was invited to that auspicious occasion of the launching ceremony of INTAC.
During that visit we had various substantive discussions on numerous issues of mutual interest.
These discussions were followed up with the appointment of Prof. Dr. Muhammad Arif Zakaullah as the Ambassador of the INTAC to the UNAOC in New York.
Prof. Arif has not only played an effective role in bringing our two institutions closer, but his insights have also been very useful for the Alliance in dealing with various global issues.
Today, The Rector and I have signed an MOU for further cooperation between the UNAOC and the IIUM.
I have been asked to share the experiences of the AoC with this august house.
Therefore, I will try to be frank rather than diplomatic. Just today J
The UNAOC aims at building bridges of understanding between societies through multi-cultural dialogue, broader understanding, respect for diversity, pluralism and looking positively at the others.
As an initiative of the UN that started functioning in 2007, it was decided that the goal of the UNAOC was to contribute to world peace and security for achieving prosperity for humankind, regardless of our cultural, religious and economic differences.
The UNAOC needed a track to pursue this goal, therefore it was entrusted back then with four major pillars, demonstrating practical activities and programs to spread the culture of peace: Education, Youth, Migration and Media.
These key areas of focus have immense potential to inform and educate societies about the virtues of pluralism and inclusiveness.
Since we are living in a globalized and challenging world that exceeds even national borders, I felt that we needed to add additional focus areas to the four major pillars.
Globalization will exceed its classic economic scope and understanding of being just a developmental trend or phenomena.
It will entail changes to the global state of international peace and security.
Political Globalization started by signing the Charter of the UN.
In my opinion, multilateralism is all about the concept of “no more living alone”.
Collective interests, co-existence and sharing our planet along with astonishing emerging technology, determined new and continuous changes to the concept of Globalization.
The many signs of new Globalizing trends we witness, will not stop today or tomorrow but will continue to evolve and develop.
Globalization, through its aspects of universality has broader meaning that can cross over states borders and pose challenging circumstances for humanity, while we in the same time can not deny its shared benefits as well.
The continued identity based tensions can be easily carried out in our globalized world with its un-stoppable technology.
Different ideologies and different groups, combined with escalating security and cultural concerns and interests of super powers, will need more efforts to push for more understanding instead of unilateral actions.
These continued cultural tensions pushed for the creation of what so called the “United Nations Alliance of Civilizations”.
In its first report, the High Level Group that recommended to the UN Secretary General, the establishment of this institution, recognized how globalization made a big difference in how we perceive the other in a globalized world.
I invite you to browse our website www.unaoc.org to check out the high level group report and other useful material.
The High Level Group acknowledged that the political and technological developments during the twentieth century raised the hope and possibility for an unprecedented period of harmony between nations and a vast improvement in global well-being.
Indeed, much has been achieved. Multilateral cooperation paved the way to a number of positive developments in international relations, including a ban on the use of landmines, the establishment of international criminal tribunals, and the initiation of a wide range of cooperative initiatives aimed at eradicating diseases or fighting poverty.
However, despite these achievements, a general disorder continues to be felt in many quarters regarding the current state of the world peace and stability.
Of course, multilateral institutions were established to advance universal principles and to improve general well-being.
But recently, the international community failed in resolving issues of great threat to International Peace and Security, such as the ongoing tragedy in Syria, Myanmar, the Middle East Crisis, prolonged conflicts in Asia, Africa and where else, where more of them resulted or got worse due to cultural differences
Based on gaging these tragedies, a new trend of thought has recently emerged, thought mixed with feelings of doubts that the multilateral institutions became ineffective, mainly due to the lack of support of the most powerful countries and a real fear that the prospect of a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous future for today’s youth is at risk.
Your own future dear students!
But what can we do to confront these challenges? While knowing that these challenges face all of us, regardless of our religion, culture or backgrounds.
In some cases, this pessimism is the result of particular local, national, or regional dynamics, but there is also a broader global context that must be considered.
In social, political and economic terms, the West is both driving globalization and yet seemingly threatened by some of its trends.
As mentioned in the high level group report and as many of you are thinking, yes there is no doubt that Western powers maintain overwhelming political, economic, and military power in the world, including disproportionate influence in multilateral political and economic bodies.
But we cannot just point fingers or posing blame, we need to think: why didn’t the other side of the world achieve cultural and developmental balance, a balance of power between East and West, balance of cultures and balance of mutual respect.
Due to our globalized world, mounting population flows from poor to rich countries, un-integrated immigrant communities and cross-border spill-overs of economic, environmental, health and even physical security factors have highlighted both the interdependence of societies, cultures and the widening gaps between them.
Why did things go specifically on this direction?
These challenges, if not well managed, will have effects on our security, coexistence and stability.
Therefore, I have expanded the key areas of AoC engagement to include concepts and means that may help us understand each other better.
That’s why, I decided to add Sport, Music, Art and entertainment, which so far I call (SMARTe), with a view towards deeper engagement by all relevant actors.
These concepts can bring together nations and peoples regardless of their differences; yes trust me this can work!
I also thought it would be important to add the concept of mediation to resolve identity based tensions by peaceful means, including through the use of help that religious leaders can provide.
We can, if we want, adapt to the needs of our new globalized life, we can find new innovative ideas to save our common future.
In addition, there is a special emphasis on engagement with academia.
The approach of the AoC is rooted in human dignity, respect for human rights, and educating people.
It is this focus of the AoC on Education and Youth that is in common with the IIUM’s mission.
Indeed, education institutions such as IIUM, being international in its focus and outreach, helps to prepare students for serving humanity, understanding intercultural tolerance and fostering moderation, while at the same time pursuing comprehensive excellence in life.
Given its mission, the UNAOC attempts to reach out to universities, the intellectual institutions, civil society, and religious organizations, to build networks for the realization of the goals that we mutually share.
Indeed, the job of my “peace-making factory” is not easy – more so in the contemporary world.
Today, the scale of violence, militancy, wars and hate-mongering is global.
Conflicts are no more simply limited to the Muslim world versus the West, North versus South, Right versus Left, Traditionalism versus Liberalism, racism versus pluralism, or discrimination versus equality, etc.
Instead, humanity today is riddled with conflicts in every form and aspect of our lives.
I cannot imagine a time that UNAOC would be needed more than now.
That is why it aims to build alliances with civil society, academia, youth, religious and media organizations, and think tanks.
The goal is to build national and regional networks that collaborate as partners in the mission for peace with dignity for the prosperity of all.
In addition to these global organizational efforts, the AoC experiences a host of other challenges on a daily basis.
The first and foremost challenge is that of scarcity of resources.
The Aoc is not funded by the UN budget. It has to raise its own funds.
The Alliance has established its Group of Friends (GoF). Presently the GoF has 138 members, of which 124 are countries and 14 are civil society organizations.
For funding, the AoC depends on contributions from its members and the private business sector.
One can imagine the impact of this financial reality on our staffing, logistics, and our ability to plan and then implement those plans.
The other challenge that we experience is that unlike other UN organizations, we are relatively new. The AoC was established in 2007.
The Alliance achieved remarkable success in developing its organizational structure from scratch.
Since I took over last March, I expanded and renewed the structure, identified new focus areas and decided to operate in the UN system in New York, in cooperation with the other UN bodies based on the concept of complementarity.
While working in the UN system we are also aware of how complex the professional environment when it comes to handling issues with multifaceted challenges, you can then imagine how hard it is and sensitive in the same time, to conduct our work without stepping on other agency’s mandate.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The fate of the world seems to have been hijacked by a minority who are extremists, militants, terrorists and hate-mongers.
My efforts to expand the reach of the Alliance has taken me around the globe.
During these travels I have had the privilege of meeting leaders from all walks of life, including the youth and the grassroots.
These meetings have revealed a puzzle to me, may be a paradox or another type of challenge.
The paradox is that the majority of people are peace-loving and want security as well as prosperity, but, unfortunately, this majority is silent and finds itself helpless.
If we are to take charge of our future, we will have to give a voice to this silent majority.
Building the alliances that we are trying to build can do this.
In fact, even though we are a new organization, our efforts to expand the global reach are bearing fruit.
On many fronts our contributions are being recognized, and our brand name is trusted.
Since the leadership I have comes with responsibility, I also took into account very acute and high standard benchmarks in selecting my team, and I thank them for their support and good work regardless of the abovementioned challenges.
We all know very well that a reliable and respected brand name goes a long way in earning the goodwill and support from society and its leaders.
There is no doubt that a noble mission, especially one on the scale of the AoC, has enormous challenges. But maximizing the ways of exploring every source of efficiency in conducting our responsibility as one team in the Alliance house, can provide a very positive energy in the face of challenges.
Thus, these facts and developments are encouraging.
We are determined to face our challenges with the cooperation of our support networks like the INTAC and others around the world.
To say more on how can balance be found and achieved, it should be noted that besides the challenges that the AoC faces, the AoC has its strengths also.
We are building on those strengths. Indeed, as we are not funded by the UN regular budget, we have a high degree of autonomy, and we are using it to the maximum.
We are reaching out and building networks of partners independently.
Another strength of the AoC is that we are the only UN initiative empowered to work with religious organizations and their leadership.
Religion is a very powerful component of human civilization.
We are utilizing this access to build bridges among various religious organizations and communities.
Our autonomy also allows us to work closely with civil society, academia, and youth organizations irrespective of race, religion, political ideology, etc.
We use this freedom responsibly to inform and educate the youth about the benefits of pluralism, inclusiveness, and train them in leadership skills.
The UNAOC also organizes competitive programs for youth, such as the Plural+ program and summer school.
I hope the booklets before you can give you useful information on these 2 major activities of the Alliance.
This coming August, the 6th Annual Forum of the UNAOC will be held in Bali with the support of the Indonesian Government.
I have invited the honorable Rector and the representatives of the INTAC to attend this forum as it offers enormous potential for networking and building bridges in the region and beyond.
The Malaysian Government will also be invited.
Malaysia, being a multi-ethnic multi-religious country, has a healthy record of tolerance.
As I said yesterday at the 27th Annual Conference of Latinity here in KL, the Malaysian people and their leaders have established a consistent record of highly enriching traditions and institutions to enhance unity in diversity.
Indeed, Bapa Merdeka (‘Father of Independence’) Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, led the OIC as its first Secretary General. In addition, Malaysia played an important role in ASEAN’s declaration of ZOPFAN in 1971.
This declaration established the ASEAN as a Zone of Peace, Friendship and Neutrality, thereby saving it from the rivalry between superpowers during the cold war and enabling its citizens to enjoy peace, economic development and prosperity.
This record of bridge-building continues to the present day. Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib’s initiative to launch the GMMF (Global Movement of Moderates Foundation) showcases Malaysia’s ability to pave the way for creating a tolerant and broad-minded world.
Also, the establishment of the INTAC by the IIUM in 2013 signals the leading role Malaysian institutions are playing in solving the pressing issues that confront the world today.
Collectively, all these accomplishments establish Malaysia as a country with great potential to be an effective contributor to world peace through dialogue.
It is for all these reasons that the AoC looks forward to working with INTAC, the IIUM and the Malaysian nation.
I thank you and look forward to interacting with you further.