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Secretary-General stresses need for peoples to understand each other better

Secretary-General stresses need for peoples to understand each other better

Kofi Annan
Calling for greater understanding between cultures, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today warned the General Assembly that in the current atmosphere of “rising tensions among societies” all humanity must work together to strengthen and improve civilization worldwide.

Mr. Annan made his remarks while presenting the report of the High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations, an initiative he launched last year to tackle fear and suspicion between Islam and the West. The proposal for the Alliance was made by the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey, who were also present at today’s Assembly session.

“We should make an active effort to learn more about each other, to understand the source of our differences, and to discover what is best in each other’s beliefs and traditions. Only in that way can we overcome suspicion and prejudice. Only in that way will we heal past wounds and move ahead together,” said Mr. Annan.

The High-Level Group’s Report, launched last month in Istanbul, analyses the state of relations between Muslim and Western societies and puts forward a range of proposals in the areas of education, media, youth and migration to build bridges and promote a culture of respect, suggestions Mr. Annan said must be built upon.

“We have learned through experience that it is not enough to publish insightful reports, and applaud great ideas, unless we then do something about them, and put them into action. In this period of rising tensions among societies, none of us should simply call from the sidelines for peaceful coexistence, and then go on with our life as usual…”

“So let us work together to transform this Report into action, and let us work to strengthen and improve not any single society or any one nation, but all of human civilization,” Mr. Annan concluded.

General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa echoed this call for action, noting also that the diverse composition of the 20 member High-Level Group – which includes such figures as Mohamed Khatami, the former Iranian president, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu – was itself a “symbol of the Alliance of Civilizations.”

“As the Report concludes, we live at a time when tensions across cultures have spread beyond the political level into the hearts and minds of populations. That is why we urgently need a global agenda to support greater dialogue among civilizations and cultures,” she said.

“The main challenge before us all is to ensure a proper balance between our legitimate attachment to our own cultural background, and the need to relate to each other by embracing our differences, so that we can all live in peace and harmony.”

“To highlight the importance of these issues and to promote greater dialogue and tolerance among civilizations and cultures, inspired by enlightened ideas of humanity across history, I intend to convene an informal interactive thematic debate of the General Assembly in the summer of 2007,” Sheikha Haya said.

Representatives from several countries spoke during the Assembly session and the Turkish and Spanish prime ministers also held press conferences to publicise the Report.

Later in the evening, Mr. Annan, Sheikha Haya and other officials attended a farewell concert for the Secretary-General by the cross-cultural West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in the Assembly Hall at UN Headquarters.

“I cannot think of a better example than the one set by [the conductor and pianist] Daniel Barenboim and [the scholar and writer] Edward Said – an Israeli and a Palestinian… They were both dedicated to the cause of peace and justice for their peoples. And they created this marvellous orchestra, composed of young musicians from Israel and from other Middle Eastern countries,” Mr. Annan said before the concert began.

Sheikha Haya echoed these remarks, noting that while politics “may sometimes divide us, music can unite us. Music can transcend culture and religion. It knows no borders or barriers…”

“So, as we honour the Secretary-General, let us also celebrate the power of music to transcend barriers, and, build bridges of love, peace and understanding among peoples of the world,” she said.