Remarks of the
High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser
XXXVIII EDITION- RIMINI MEETING
21st August 2017, Rimini, Italy
The Mediterranean: Building Bridges, Tearing Down Walls
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here with you again today to talk about “The Mediterranean: Building Bridges, Tearing down Walls,” a topical subject, indeed, given our current political climate.
The phrase “Tear down this wall,” has a specific political context related to the speech of Former US President Ronald Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate in June 1987 where he said that the Berlin Wall, “cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.” And so it is with all walls – whether used to keep people out or to prevent them from leaving. Walls between peoples, between countries or within cities represent failure.
Some of you may relate directly to the situation of the world today where we see nations putting up walls at their borders. These may be concrete, physical barriers but they can also be invisible walls of prejudice. These are the kind of walls that close the borders to refugees fleeing from danger. These are the walls that generate racism, discrimination and xenophobia.
In this context, the role of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations is very clear. Our mission is to tear down those walls and to build bridges between people, promote intercultural and interreligious dialogue and work for diversity and inclusiveness. Recognizing that all societies are now multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural, it is imperative that we invest in the social cohesion of those societies. To promote diversity as a source of richness not as a threat. This is where intercultural dialogue becomes a necessity.
We are inspired by the successful examples around us. One of these examples is the Mediterranean region where our projects can have a larger impact when done at the regional level.
For centuries, the Mediterranean Sea has been the cradle of various civilizations. It has served as the cultural, economic and religious link between Asia, Africa and Europe. It was the cultural and economic link because it was a route for the exchange of diverse goods from the three continents. It provided a religious link through the three monotheistic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – all of which have their origins among the people of the Mediterranean Sea region.
The example of the Mediterranean demonstrates that “tearing down walls” is a key for success, because it generates economic development, cultural richness, knowledge and wisdom. The Alliance has been working since its creation to highlight the benefits of diversity. For example, the impacts of migration may be negative if migrants are not integrated into communities.
Through the Symbol of a Tree under which we are reunited today, we cannot take this example of success for granted. A lot of work still need to be done in the Mediterranean region. “Earn it in order to possess it” as we said at the beginning of this meeting – We must preserve what was earned in the past.
A few examples of the work of the Alliance in this region, recognizing the role media plays in shaping perceptions, we launched (hash-tag) #SpreadNoHate initiative. The initiative aims at countering hate speech against cultural , religious and ethnic minorities culminating in a symposium in partnership with the EU in Brussels this past January. This is still an on-going project that is gaining a lot of traction and we hope to launch the next edition this year in the MENA region.
The Alliance also sponsors, organizes and participates in International Meetings about and around the Mediterranean region.
Just a year ago, during the First International Conference on Preventive Diplomacy in the Mediterranean, held in Spain, I emphasized that the Mediterranean Region “is the champion for peace”.
However, when we see an example of success, we need to export it to other regions. That is also the mission of the Alliance. On 18 July, we organized a successful meeting at the UN Headquarters on the “Role of Religious Leaders in Peace building in the Middle East.” Not only did we focus on the Middle East region, which requires our serious attention, but we also valued the partnership and collaboration of Religious Leaders.
Allow me to point out that our partnerships with our growing network of religious leaders is fundamental to our work in advancing new perspectives for humanitarian action. Religious leaders can reach out to their own communities and advocate a message of inclusion and understanding.
You can build bridges across communities plagued by humanitarian emergencies. As Religious leaders you can help to reduce polarization and develop inclusive societies in which diversity is valued as an asset.
I mention partnerships again because there are many mayors and local authorities with us today. Their work is critical because they operate at the grassroots level to engage directly with people’s needs. Local authorities have been instrumental in promoting partnerships.
The United Nations is very supportive of the work of mayors and local authorities. The UN Habitat, which is the UN agency for sustainable urban development, is mandated to help mayors promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities. Special Envoys for Cities and Climate Change are also appointed by the UN Secretary-General in order to achieve more ambitious goals for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Returning to our theme of “Building bridges, tearing down walls,” I would like to conclude by saying that this theme is central to the work of the Alliance. This year during “Diversity Week,” the Alliance signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China with the aim of strengthening cooperation of people-to-people exchange under their initiative for the “Belt & Road Forum.”
We well know that the ancient network of trade routes connecting the East and the West played a significant role in the world development. Historically, religious and cultural diversity came to us along the Great Silk Road. The revival of this project is another great step towards our goal of building bridges between civilizations.
UNAOC was created to foster understanding between nations and peoples and to the realization that differences between cultures and faiths are not a weakness, but strength. As the High Representative of UNAOC, I am determined to combat xenophobia and hatred, although current events show we still have a long way to go.
At UNAOC, we dedicate our efforts to foster respect and tolerance between peoples of different cultures and religions. We work to engage everyone, from political leaders to grassroots organizations, men and women, youth and elderly, in the pursuit of a peaceful and inclusive world.