The UN-backed Alliance of Civilizations is the latest
international endeavor to promote cross-cultural understanding and
bridge cultural divides, which is seen as a good recipe for
resolving conflicts and building a harmonious world, analysts
The United Nations has thrown its weight behind the efforts to
promote inter-cultural dialogue between religions and countries, as
the world body views such dialogue as, in essence, one between
civilizations, they say.
The Alliance of Civilizations ended its first international
forum last week with a series of initiatives aimed at promoting
cross-cultural understanding and seeking new ways to handle
Civilization dialogue more urgent than ever
The need for inter-cultural dialogue is more urgent than ever,
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the forum, designed to
build bridges of understanding across cultures and promoting
understanding between the Western and Muslim countries.
The forum will aim to "avoid the predicted clash of
civilizations, by promoting security, understanding, tolerance, and
mutual respect in a globalized world," Spanish Prime Minister Jose
Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in an inaugural speech at the Alliance
of Civilizations Forum, a brainchild of his.
Conflicts and wars caused by religious and cultural factors have
intensified after the Cold War. The Sept. 11 attacks on the United
States have further strained the relations between the West and the
Those conflicts and misunderstandings have been caused not only
by the religious and cultural divides and many other factors
including differing political approaches also play a part.
The publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish
newspaper in 2005 that led to violent demonstrations throughout the
Muslim world, and the Holocaust conference in Iran last year are
"These events that seem to happen every few months and are not
purely political but get quite politicized," said Shamil Idriss,
acting director of the Alliance of Civilizations.
As religions and cultures have many points in common, such as
the spirits of peace, tolerance, respect and equality, enhancing
understanding between the West and the Muslim world and other
regions is seen by many as an important way to counter and heal the
divisions that threaten world peace.
"Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for
constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among
communities, among cultures, among and between nations," Ban
"The threats are terrifying but the responses are at hand," Ban
Forum is not just talk
The idea of establishing a forum for dialogue between
civilizations was initiated by Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero to
the UN General Assembly in September 2004, after the Madrid train
bombings that claimed 191 lives on March 11 of that year.
The forum, approved by the UN, has enlisted support from over 80
countries in the world. Around 350 delegates, including government
members and representatives of international organizations and
civil society, discussed ways to bridge gaps, promote exchanges and
The attendees also included Turkish Prime Minister Recep Yayyip
Erdogan, who co-sponsored the idea along with Zapatero, and UN High
Representatives for the Alliance Jorge Sampaio.
The forum aimed to contribute to isolating those extremists who
attempt to use religion and culture as pretexts to achieve their
political purposes, Zapatero said.
Youth, education, migration and the media are four areas to
which the Alliance pays special attention.
In a bid to prove the forum is not just talk, Queen Noor of
Jordan has unveiled a project of 100 million U.S. dollars to
promote movies productions that help build cross-cultural
A Rapid Response Media Mechanism is another project announced at
the forum, which is aimed at providing a platform to journalists
from all over the world when a cross-cultural crisis erupts.
Both challenges and hope ahead
While there is confidence and hope, some people issued cautious
or even suspicious note about the prospects of the forum.
For one thing, some major countries were absent from the forum,
with the United States most conspicuously, which has been
spearheading efforts to combat terrorism by military means.
However, Sampaio said that at least they were not against such
an idea and that he hoped to bring those absent on board.
Some critics of Zapatero in Spain even dismissed the forum as a
futile bid simply aimed at boosting the Socialists' standing ahead
of Spain's general elections in March.
While the road ahead is tortuous, the Alliance did provide a ray
of hope. As Sampaio put it, the forum provided "a solid glimpse of
a renewed hope that if we unite efforts we will bring some change
to the world."
The forum serves not as a miracle solution to all problems in
the world but as one of the best ways to handle confrontations
--"the work on the ground counts," Sampaio added.
It is easy to speak about building bridges of trust, but harder
to make it into concrete action, one commentator said.
"Fostering dialogue will not produce change overnight. It is not
the fast way. But it is the sure way. It is the enduring way. The
careful plans of the Alliance will deliver in the long run," Ban
(Xinhua News Agency January 22, 2008)