To fight terrorism, ignorance must be tackled, UN communications official says

4 October 2002
Shashi Tharoor

In order to eradicate the roots of terrorism and put a halt to the practice, efforts must be made to counter ignorance about other cultures, Shashi Tharoor, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said today.

Blind hatred of strangers is the product of fear, rage and incomprehension, Mr. Tharoor told a conference on promoting tolerance and human rights through education and the media, held in Nürnberg, Germany. "If terrorism is to be tackled and ended, we will have to deal with each of these three factors by attacking the ignorance that sustains them," he said. "We will have to know each other better, learn to see ourselves as others see us, learn to recognize hatred and deal with its causes, learn to dispel fear, and above all just learn about each other."

Mr. Tharoor stressed that the media can help remedy the inequalities, corruption, ethnic tensions and human rights abuses that form the root causes of many conflicts by giving voice and visibility to all people, especially the poor, the marginalized and members of minorities. This endeavour is all the more pressing in today's world which, following last year's terrorist attacks against the United States, had come to realize that "a fire that starts in a remote thatched hut or dusty tent in one corner of [a] village can melt the steel girders of the tallest skyscrapers in the opposite corner of the global village," he added.

Setting the stage for discussions during the two-day conference, the Under-Secretary-General urged participants to consider the question of how to combat and prevent terrorist attacks without simultaneously eroding human rights. He also called for attention to the need to respond to the growing incidence of Islamaphobia in the West, stressing the vital contribution of the media in this effort.

On the broader issue of the challenges presented by globalization, Mr. Tharoor took issue with the argument advanced by Samuel Huntington, who coined the phrase the "clash of civilizations." The Under-Secretary-General said this vision can and must be replaced with a "dialogue among civilizations." Civilizations, he pointed out, are not monoliths, and religion or culture are merely some among the many variables governing the actions and policies of States.

A large part of today's intercultural conflicts are a result of perceived cultural humiliation, he noted. As such, the need for tolerance and effective protection of minorities and other vulnerable groups has never been stronger.

"A world in which it is easier than ever before to meet strangers must also become a world in which it is easier than ever before to see strangers as no different from ourselves," he said. "There has been many a terrible night in the century that has just passed; let us preserve the diversity of the human spirit to ensure that we will all have a new dawn in the century that has just begun."

 

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