Annan appoints head of group formed to foster respect among cultures

14 November 2005

A prominent writer and researcher on the history of relations between Christendom and Islam has been named by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the director of a new United Nation initiative to foster respect and dialogue among cultures.

Tomas Mastnak, currently a director of research at the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts, was chosen to be the first Director of the Office of the Alliance for Civilizations, and will take up his duties toward the end of December, a UN spokesperson said today.

Shamil Idriss, formerly Senior Adviser dealing with Islamic-Western relations for the international conflict resolution organization Search for Common Ground has been named Deputy Director of the office.

The establishment of the office of the Alliance of Civilizations follows up on a Spanish and Turkish initiative, announced this past July, meant to respond to the need for the international community to bridge divides and overcome misconceptions that threaten world peace, according to a statement issued by Mr. Annan at the time.

Today, reiterating that theme in a message delivered to a meeting in Vienna by his Special Advisor, Lakhdar Brahimi, Mr Annan called for unity between cultures in addressing extremism in all faiths.

"The great religions all contain pluralistic traditions, yet, increasingly, many of their followers are succumbing to exclusivism," he said in the message to a conference titled Islam in a Pluralistic World and taking place in Vienna, Austria. "We must respond to extremists, but not in kind," he continued, saying that the answer should come from the logic of "reconciliation, of inclusion and mutual respect."

The inaugural session of the high-level group of the Alliance of Civilizations, chaired by former UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Frederico Mayor and including eminent personalities such as Desmond Tutu, is expected to take place in Spain on 27 November.

Mr. Annan expressed regrets today that he will not be able to attend the inaugural session, but will be sending as his personal representative S. Iqbal Riza, who currently serves as his Special Advisor on the initiative.