Noting that the melting-pot of Islamic and Western civilizations on the Iberian peninsula a millennium ago has changed into the present hostilities and conflict, the United Nations-supported Alliance of Civilizations grouping must "propose a collective response" to these tensions, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.
In a message delivered by Special Adviser Iqbal Riza to the first high-level meeting of the Alliance in Palma de Mallorca, Mr. Annan said: "Trends of recent years have strained relations between East and West. They have notably strained perceptions between Islamic and Western peoples. If unaddressed, these may even threaten stability in our world."
"Your High-level Group must assess these alarming developments. And it must propose a collective response to defuse these tensions," he added.
The Alliance, which was proposed by the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey and whose launch Mr. Annan announced earlier this year, will aim to address the hostile perceptions that foment violence and to bring about cooperation among the various efforts to heal divisions. The high-level group guiding the initiative is expected to present recommendations and a practical plan of action late next year.
The participants range from such renowned theologians as Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Karen Armstrong of the United Kingdom, Arthur Schneir of the United States and Mehmet Aydin of Turkey, to administrators of cultural institutions, such as Ismali Serageldin of Egypt's Biblioteca Alexandria and former UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Frederico Mayor.
"Your diverse backgrounds and experiences epitomize what we all must strive towards: an alliance of social, political and civil forces to counter policies and actions which isolate cultures and societies from one another," Mr. Annan said. "Only by such concerted efforts to come together can we deprive the extremist and the terrorist of the discontent and mistrust that serves as his oxygen.
"This is a challenging task. It would be easy to descend into generalities, or adopt inflexible and unbridgeable positions. I trust you will avoid those pitfalls."
The Iberian melting-pot's lasting legacy was learning and the exchange of ideas that benefited all humanity in the process, he said.
Living today in one world, people have no choice but to understand and respect each other, live peacefully together and search for commonality in the best of each of their traditions, Mr. Annan said.