Media, religion must overcome rampant mistrust between cultures – Ban Ki-moon

Media, religion must overcome rampant mistrust between cultures – Ban Ki-moon

With an epidemic of mistrust of the “other,” along with rising terrorism and other inter-group violence, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the General Assembly today called on the media, religions and individuals to work for mutual respect as a major conference on co-existence opened in New York.

“In our age of satellite television and jet travel, distances have collapsed but divisions have not,” Mr. Ban said at the start of the Assembly’s two-day programme entitled Civilizations and the Challenges for Peace: Obstacles and Opportunities, which will feature prominent academics, commentators and political leaders exploring causes and solutions to the problem.

“Instead, our proximity has heightened longstanding suspicions of ‘the other’ – the other religion, the other ethnicity, the other nationality,” he noted.

“In response, we need to reassert the truth that diversity is a virtue, not a threat,” maintained Mr. Ban, who recently named former Portuguese president Jorge Sampaio as the first UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, the international initiative set up in 2005 to promote reconciliation between religions, cultures and nations.

At today’s Assembly session, Mr. Ban said that the media can shape people's views and influence their actions, educating, informing and demystifying, even while it entertains.

“It can promote the message that what unites humanity is much stronger than what superficially separates us,” he said.

Similarly, he said that religion can have a tremendous positive influence if people of faith stress their common ideals – compassion, solidarity, respect for life and kindness towards others – and urge their fellow believers to treat others as they themselves would wish to be treated.

In opening the programme, Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa agreed that religions were the key. “We must put a stop to the misuse of religion in contemporary society, and reject extremist ideologies that severely threaten peace and understanding among nations and peoples,” she said.

In general, she said, “It is our obligation to act quickly to put an end to preconceived ideas and to mutual fears. Only then will we rise above our differences and together build a better future for all.”

It is also necessary to acknowledge and act on the causes of instability in the world, she said, listing poverty, disease and armed conflict, as well as intolerance and cultural clashes.

In a series of round-tables during the event, panellists will include Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and Ghassan Salame, Professor of International Relations at Sciences Po University and Former Minister of Culture of Lebanon.

Karen Armstrong, a prominent author of texts on comparative religion, is also expected to participate, along with Mohamed Arkoun, Emeritus Professor of the History of Islamic Thought at the Sorbonne, Robert Thurman, Department of Religious Studies at Columbia University, Manish Kasliwal, National Chairman of the Young Jains of India, Karen Brooks Hopkins, President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Paul LeClerc, President and CEO of the New York Public Library.