Press Releases

    UNIS/INF/112
    14 November 2005

    Islam in a Pluralistic World: United Nations Secretary-General Calls for Unity in Addressing Extremism in All Faiths

    Lakhdar Brahimi Delivers Secretary-General's Message to Conference in Vienna, Austria

    VIENNA, 14 November (UN Information Service) -- Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivered the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to a Conference titled "Islam in a Pluralistic World", currently being held in Vienna, Austria. The Conference is hosted by the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Österreichische Orient Gesellschaft Hammer-Purgstall.

    Secretary-General Kofi Annan emphasized that, "clearly, there is a need to unlearn our collective prejudices; to promote a continuing dialogue among the great religions - a dialogue based on the premise that diversity -- in thought, in belief, and in action - is a precious gift, not a threat. We must educate ourselves and our societies to go beyond stereotypes of the other, and to avoid simplistic categorizations that exacerbate misunderstandings and prevent real problems being tackled".

    "We must also unite in our efforts to address the extremism that is, alas, on the rise, not only in Islam but among adherents of many faiths. The great religions all contain pluralistic traditions, yet, increasingly, many of their followers are succumbing to exclusivism," said the Secretary-General in his message.

    "We must respond to extremists, but not in kind. If we respond to violence with violence, to anathema with anathema, to exclusion with exclusion, we will be accepting the logic of those we seek to defeat, and thereby helping them win new converts to their ideas. On the contrary, we must respond to them with our own logic -- the logic of peace, of reconciliation, of inclusion and mutual respect. We must resolve, even more firmly, to build nations within which people of different communities can coexist, and enjoy equal rights," the Secretary-General added.

    Earlier this year, at the suggestion of the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey, Secretary-General Kofi Annan had announced the launch of an "Alliance of Civilizations". This initiative was intended to respond to the need for a committed effort by the international community -- both at the institutional and civil society levels -- to bridge divides and overcome prejudices, misconceptions, and polarizations which potentially threatened world peace. The Alliance would aim to address emerging threats emanating from hostile perceptions that foment violence, and to bring about cooperation among various efforts to heal such divisions, stated the Secretary-General, in his message delivered by Mr. Brahimi.

    The intellectual discussion of the current problems in form of a rational dialogue was more important than ever, stated Austrian President Heinz Fischer in his welcoming address to participants of the Conference. "In the one world in which we live, the principle of tolerance must be a basic foundation of the dialogue between different cultures and religions," he said.

    "Relations between the Muslim and non-Muslim world dominate public and private discussion. In a globalized world, there are increasing points of contact between cultures and civilisations. At the same time, mistrust and violence are also growing on both the regional and global level, not least in Europe, where an increasing number of Muslim citizens are seeking their rightful place in society. This conference should foster mutual understanding, dialogue and cooperation between cultures and religions," said Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik at the inauguration of the Conference.

    Participants at the Conference include Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan; Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq; Mohammad Khatami, former President of Iran; Shirin Ebadi, winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize; Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu; Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; Mahmoud Zakzouk, Egyptian Minister for Religious Affairs; Tarek Mitri, Lebanese Minister of Culture; Ahmed Taoufiq, Moroccan Minister for Religion; Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna; and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (Istanbul).

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