Press Releases

    GA/9951
    9 November 2001

    HISTORY OF HUMANITY BASED FOR TOO LONG ON MUTUAL NEGATION, REPRESENTATIVE OF ISRAEL TELLS ASSEMBLY

    In Second Meeting to Discuss Dialogue among Civilization,
    Assembly Speakers Call Tolerance, Understanding "Imperatives for Survival"


    NEW YORK, 8 November (UN Headquarters) -- Promoting interchange and understanding among peoples and coexistence among cultures and religions was not only a good policy –- it was an imperative for survival, said the representative of Cyprus this afternoon as the Assembly continued its discussion of a Dialogue among Civilizations. A local crisis in a place far removed from one’s borders or shores now unfailingly and immediately affected the world. Instead of drawing closer to each other in this interdependent world, societies continued to experience conflict and human misery as a result of segregation and divisions. Separatism, especially militant separatism, was one of the root causes of conflicts in the world.

    To achieve the goal of dialogue among civilizations, he said, dialogue among peoples of different cultures and civilizations must be institutionalized. Mutually beneficial interactions among civilizations must be cultivated and must form the basis for educating the young, especially children.

    The representative of Armenia said that the international community must respect the right to cultural self-determination just as it did the right to political self-determination. There were small ethnic groups in today’s world which despite their modest demographics were living heirs of great past civilizations. Such ethnic and religious groups must be regarded as the cultural heritage of all mankind. Calling others "inferiors," "barbarians" or "infidels" was a sign of cultural insularity -- fertile soil for ethnic and religious intolerance -- and far too often manifested itself in acts of violence and terrorism.

    The dialogue among languages and civilization in his region would help create a language of peace, necessary not only for achieving political harmony but also for beginning reconciliation and coexistence among the people of the region, said the representative of Israel. As an old saying went: "He who propagates a culture of one people with another people avoids the stupidity of war." The State of Israel was a modern incarnation of an ancient people, and the common basis of the three monotheistic religions was a generating force for dialogue and openness. The history of humanity had for too long been based on mutual negation. In a world prone to divisions, of the kind that triggered 11 September, dialogue among civilizations became an antidote to terrorism. The United Nations, led by the visionary Kofi Annan, was a vital catalyst in that vital project.

    The representative of the Republic of Korea said that many conflicts could be attributed to a lack of communication and misunderstandings between different groups. The international community needed to be wary of those who exploited differences and diversity for political purposes, particularly those who espoused hatred under the guise of safeguarding civilization. Unless guided by the spirit of tolerance, increased contact among peoples in the era of globalization might arouse fear of those who were different -- and such fear could turn into hatred.

    Indonesia’s political problems in Aceh, the Moluccas and Irian Jaya were being addressed through dialogue, said that country’s representative. The Government of Indonesia did encourage a free exchange of views through a free press, and various social groups were working together to solve the problems of globalization and economic uncertainty. The dialogue was alive and well in Indonesia.

    Also addressing the Assembly this afternoon were the representatives of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Qatar, Bhutan, Norway and Mexico.

    Background

    The General Assembly met this afternoon to continue its two-day debate on Dialogue among Civilizations, which started this morning.

    (For more background information, see Press Release GA/9950 of 8 November.)

    Statements

    SUN JOUN-YUNG (Republic of Korea) said the benefits of globalization and the information revolution had been unevenly distributed throughout the world. Also, thanks to rapid advances in telecommunications technology, different civilizations now interfaced more frequently than ever before, but that was generally done in an asymmetrical manner. Such developments had inevitably produced side effects which might shed more light on the economic disparities and diverse perspectives that existed among different civilizations. Rather than allow the technology revolution and globalization to drive a wedge between civilizations, the international community should take advantage of their potential to enhance contact among diverse groups.

    Many conflicts could be attributed to a lack of communication and misunderstandings between different groups, he said. The international community needed to beware of those who exploited differences and diversity for political purposes, particularly those who espoused hatred under the guise of safeguarding civilization. Unless guided by the spirit of tolerance, increased contact among people in the era of globalization might arouse fear of those who were different, and such fear could turn into hatred. Rich diversity among the world’s civilizations could and should be an asset and rallying point for mutual development, rather than a source of conflict.

    Although acceptance of diversity and a spirit of tolerance were essential ingredients in any dialogue among civilizations, one could not deny the existence of certain universal values, he said. Those values were the embodiment of the collective wisdom, insights and experiences emanating from different civilizations over the course of humankind’s long history. They provided fertile soil in which diverse seeds from different civilizations could be planted and encouraged to flourish.

    CONSTANTINE MOUSHOUTAS (Cyprus) said that promoting cooperation, interchange, tolerance and understanding among peoples and coexistence among countries, cultures and religions was not only a good policy –- it was an imperative for survival. A local crisis in a place far removed from one’s borders or shores now unfailingly and immediately affected the world. There was a contradiction in today’s society, he said. Instead of drawing closer to each other in this interdependent world, societies continued to experience much conflict and human misery from segregation and divisions. The twentieth century had been marked more by rivalry than by cooperation. It had been rightly observed that the majority of conflicts where United Nations peacekeeping operations took place were based on ethnic, tribal or religious grounds. Separatism, especially militant separatism, was one of the root causes of conflicts in the world.

    To achieve the goal of dialogue among civilizations, dialogue among peoples of different cultures and civilizations must be institutionalized, he said. The many positive and mutually beneficial interactions among civilizations, the mutual enrichment of civilizations, must be underlined and cultivated, and must form the basis for educating the young, especially children. It was time that the beauty of integration and peaceful coexistence through diversity was further promoted and addressed.

    It was through dialogue that his Government was committed to solving the problems of Cyprus. He strove for a peaceful solution, where the two groups on the island might live in peace and harmony as they had done for centuries in the past, without occupation, troops and barbed wires.

    SRGJAN KERIM (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) said that in today's imperfect world, some people believed there was a struggle between globalization and cultural diversity, while others feared they would be left behind in the great global process. Recognizing those fears, political leaders as well as international organizations had realized that the world could not be handed over to market forces alone. With that in mind, it must be emphasized that globalization could not be separated from democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, individual liberty, social justice and respect for cultural identities. It was, therefore, the duty of political leaders and all other people in positions of power to civilize the process of globalization to ensure that the interests of all peoples prevailed.

    A genuine dialogue between cultures and faiths could help the protagonists find their way to peace and a prosperous future. Who, for example, could forget the bitter experience of the inter-ethnic clashes in the Balkans during the last 10 years. Such conflicts were serious warnings. Even in the age of highly sophisticated information and communication technologies, humankind was suffering from the same inherent atavisms, typical of medieval times or the Crusades. The dialogue among civilizations must play a crucial role in overcoming every type of fundamentalism and intergralism, as the two most obvious societal forms of intolerance, regardless of their religious roots and backgrounds.

    Special attention, he continued, must be given to the work of the Group of Eminent Persons, established by the Secretary-General. The authors had embarked upon a mission focusing on the elaboration of a new paradigm in international relations. The reassessment of the concept of enemy, alignments based on issues rather than ideology, the concept of stakeholders, and the decision-making system based on equal footing and individual responsibilities, were certainly crystallizing that new paradigm. The basic values and principles of a multipolar and independent world differed substantially from the one in which the United Nations was created. Implementing alignments based on the new paradigm would require a reconsideration of the United Nations Charter, or at least some of its basic principles. To construct a dialogue along those lines would imply breaking a taboo when it came to the grassroots of the United Nations. On the other hand, were people really eager to make the United Nations a permissive organization, bearing in mind the clear commitment of the Millennium Summit Declaration to principles which had proved timeless and universal?

    NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar) said the debate was timely, not only because of the new millennium, but also in the context of the present violence. The last century had been one of the bloodiest in history, and the new century had started with one of history’s bloodiest events. Was it not time for those in charge of policies to study the essential elements of culture and dialogue, and recognize that they represented safety and peace? There was an urgent need to establish global human solidarity. A dialogue could be used to settle individual and collective conflicts.

    Despite all available resources, cultures, noble religions and technology, the world today was faced with more problems than solutions. Many countries were torn apart by violent conflict, poverty and disease. There was a greater need than ever to embark on the dialogue in order to face contemporary threats like terrorism for the sake of future generations. An effort must be made to create peace, instead of just maintain peace. "We must learn first and foremost to live in peace with ourselves," he said.

    Dialogue among civilizations was crucial in analysing concepts and assembling the values certain extremists were trying to reject, he said. Because of the recent terrorist attacks, Muslim countries were seen as guilty. The international community was facing an intensification of civilizational conflict, particularly in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Appeals for a dialogue were becoming louder across the planet. The United Nations could become a leader in the dialogue because of its cultural diversification. Islam considered killing others a crime. Perpetrators of terrorist acts had nothing to do with that divinely-inspired religion. They were filled with hatred, not representing any religion or any nationality. Diversity was a source of strength, not a source of division.

    LYONPO OM PRADHAN (Bhutan) said that dialogue amongst civilizations was a unique item on the General Assembly agenda. In fact, he was of the view that in many ways the entire range of discussions and interactions within the United Nations family between different peoples, cultures and ways of life, also constituted part of such a dialogue. Most of the effort in the United Nations must be with the objective of pursuing peace and security through non-violent resolution of disputes, no matter how difficult that might seem. Above all, the objective must be to foster peaceful coexistence among nations, peoples and their respective civilizations. On that issue, there must be a basic premise from

    which to continue forward. In his view, all civilizations taking part in dialogue had to subscribe to and faithfully practice the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter.

    History had shown that peoples had gone to war to wipe out or dominate each other in the name of religion and civilization. The colonization of peoples and their lands, the enslaving and exploitation of people of other races and colours, and conflicts over political ideology and religion, had only led to gross injustice, suffering, violence and terrorism.

    It was his understanding that civilization arose out of human evolution, through the acquisition over centuries by peoples of diverse races and religions of higher values, knowledge and experience. It also arose from dealings between civilizations and the ironing out of differences and rough spots. Rarely did civilizations emerge in a state of total isolation. Hence, civilization could not be expected to remain static. Civilization must be dynamic. Long-held views and beliefs, however dear or final they might seem to us, were sometimes not tenable in the context of today’s global village. Practices that harmed others, that stunted the full potential of individuals -- including ones own people -- and belligerent views that gave rise to conflicts, had to be changed or abandoned –- so that all could live in peace and could cooperate to achieve common human goals.

    ARNE B. HONNINGSTAD (Norway) said that technology, migration and integration were bringing people of different races, cultures and ethnicities closer together, breaking down old barriers and creating new realities. The ongoing process of globalization entailed an intensified intercultural exchange. At the same time, today's communication opportunities presented the peoples of the world with the challenge of increasing their ability to understand and make themselves understood. He stressed that the dialogue must also encompass indigenous peoples and cultures, adding that dialogue among civilizations should also become a vehicle to promote and ensure the enjoyment of indigenous peoples themselves.

    Alongside the world's rich variety of civilizations, cultures and groups, there was a global civilization based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That global civilization could thus be characterized by its insistence on universal human rights and freedoms, its tolerance of dissent and its belief in the right of every individual to have a say in how he or she was governed. It was a civilization based on the belief that diversity was something to be celebrated, not feared. Indeed, many wars were fuelled by people's fear of those who were different from themselves. Only through dialogue could such fears be overcome.

    The United Nations itself, he said, had done a great deal to establish a culture of dialogue, and the world community had repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to a shared ethical foundation. At the same time, it was important to emphasize that governments had the primary responsibility for ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. In light of the attacks against the United States on 11 September, the need for global dialogue and an international commitment against terrorism lay at the heart of all activities. Terrorism transcended national borders and struck at the core of values held to be universal, independent of cultural backgrounds and religious affiliations. Like the people of New York -- who stood united in grief and bravery, the international community must stand united in confronting international terrorism.

    JORGE EDUARDO NAVARRETE (Mexico) said the atrocious terrorist acts of 11 September, and their consequences in the political, economic and security spheres, had made it even more urgent to hold a permanent dialogue to tackle, deal with and resolve differences derived from diversity. The topic under examination was complex, and distinguished by a complexity of interactions. Culture was a very broad term and no human community was without it, but there were communities without civilization, where there was no rationality or civilized life.

    Dialogue was the best way of throwing light on what was unsure, he said. Plato said that thought was dialogue with oneself, but thought in its turn was closely related to formulating reasons or arguments. That was why it was difficult to understand oneself without submitting one’s reasons to the arguments of others. Dialogue among civilizations was a eulogy to diversity, which represented wealth, creativity and inventiveness. What made humans fascinating was that each one was different, as was each nation. Dialogue presupposed respect for what was different. It was not a matter of erasing, but of incorporating and preserving different characteristics.

    Different cultures could only understand each other if they had dialogue. Understanding civilization meant grasping it as the similar response of a different genre, and seeing it in the context of the needs and ideals of the civilization which it was. In other words, dialogue meant making a different civilization become one’s own. There was no great distance between lack of understanding, hostility and conflict. Confrontation was the failing of mutual understanding, the breakdown of dialogue, the destruction of that which was not understood. If there was such a thing as human moral progress, it should be reflected in the effort to understand, through dialogue, cultures and civilizations which seemed different.

    YEHUDA LANCRY (Israel), speaking Arabic in honour of the current debate, said that in his country Arabic was the second official language. He thought of himself as lucky that he could read and write in that beautiful language. He was convinced that the dialogue among languages and civilizations in his region would help create a language of peace, necessary not only for arriving at a political peace but also for beginning reconciliation and coexistence among the people of the region. As an old saying went: "He who propagates a culture of one people with another people avoids the stupidity of war".

    Continuing in French, he said the State of Israel was a modern incarnation of an ancient people. The common basis of the three monotheistic religions was a generating force for dialogue and openness. The history of humanity had for too long been based on mutual negation. Throughout the centuries, the harsh antagonism between civilizations, the attempts to eliminate one race by another, had become a source of chaos and suffering. But in that itinerary of disasters one could still see some bright periods that had led humankind to civilization, such as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, ancient Egypt in the times of Joseph, the Jewish millennium in the Maghreb. Dialogue and respect for diversity during those periods had been the driving force of our civilizations.

    In order to intensify the dialogue, one’s metal frontiers had to be crossed to make sure that the best of each would shine in a liberating world. In the contact with culturally mixed regions, with multiple cultural histories it was possible that humankind could see its future in peace. In a world prone to division of the kind that produced 11 September, dialogue between civilizations became an antidote to terrorism. After the disaster, there was a special urgency to promote the dialogue between civilizations, as well as to promote a religious dialogue. It was a responsibility first of all for the family of nations, for its spiritual leaders, its intellectuals and politicians. The United Nations, lead by the visionary Kofi Annan, was an essential catalyst in that vital project.

    MOVSES ABELIAN (Armenia) said there was a growing understanding of the fact that the human race could no longer be weakened by cultural, religious and ideological differences. These differences must be turned instead into an inexhaustible source of strength and inspiration. A dialogue among civilizations was both a sign of mankind’s maturity, and an instrument of its progress, he said. In today’s world more and more people had begun to realize that they belonged to more than one civilization. Multiculturalism had become a reality, and it could grow to become a universal standard for cultural self-identification in the present century.

    He said, this process must not be artificially accelerated or enforced. The unfortunate reality was that each decade several mini-cultures and micro-civilizations vanished from the face of the planet, even in the remote and hardly accessible regions. This could not be perceived as a necessary and unavoidable sacrifice on the altar of globalization.

    He said the world must not shrink at such a high cost. The international community must respect the right to cultural self-determination in the same manner as the right to political self-determination. There were small ethnic groups in today’s world which, despite their modest demographics, were living heirs of great past civilizations. Many of them were forgotten and neglected, some were endangered in their own homelands, such as the Assyrians, who kept alive the Aramaic tongue of Jesus Christ. Such ethnic and religious groups must be regarded as the cultural heritage of all mankind, with special approach to their needs and aspirations.

    There was opposition to the dialogue of completely different kind, he said. It fed on the notion of cultural superiority. Calling others "inferiors", "barbarians" or "infidels" was a sign of cultural insularity, which provided fertile soil for ethnic and religious intolerance, and far too often manifested itself in acts of violence and terrorism. The tragedy of 11 September had revived the ill-fated theory about a clash among civilizations, which seemed to have acquired many new adherents. The seriousness of this theory must not be underestimated, he said. It was a serious threat, and it was a bold challenge for the adherents of dialogue, for the United Nations itself, and it was up to everyone to determine the possible course of human history.

    MAKMUR WIDODO (Indonesia) said Indonesia, as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multilingual country, embraced the need for tolerance and understanding. The peaceful transition of power and a further strengthening of the democratic process had marked the Year for Indonesia and the beginning of a more stable era. He therefore fully supported the notion that the necessary political will must be summoned to ensure a dialogue among various groups in society, and that the dialogue must be carried from the local and national levels to the regional and international levels.

    Indonesia’s own political problems in Aceh, the Moluccas and in Irian Jaya were being addressed through dialogue. The Government of Indonesia did encourage a free exchange of views through a free press and various social groups were working together to solve the problems of globalization and economic uncertainty. The dialogue was alive and well in Indonesia.

    Integral to the effort was the contribution made by non-governmental organizations in particular and by members of civil society. According to his experience, those bodies could be effectively utilized as venues for dialogue between groups representing different constituencies, and as mechanisms for building confidence and trust. It was imperative to have such dialogue at the regional level, where it could contribute to confidence-building measures and create an atmosphere of understanding. At the global level, Indonesia’s commitment to dialogue among civilizations was appropriately reflected in its co-sponsorship of the Global Agenda and its Programme of Action. The task now was to ensure that the necessary financial resources were made available for a successful implementation of the programme.

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