Note No 166
9 November 2001





New York, 9 November 2001

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a special pleasure for me to join the General Assembly for a debate on a subject of profound moral and political significance to the United Nations. If ever one doubted the need for a Dialogue among Civilizations, let them doubt no longer. 11 September made the need for such a dialogue crystal clear.

That is why our response – the response of the United Nations – must be to bring nations, cultures and civilizations ever closer together through dialogue and cooperation. Throughout history, civilizations have grown and flourished through dialogue and exchange, learning from other cultures, and finding new inspiration to pursue knowledge and understanding.

The Dialogue among Civilizations is a central pillar of the global response to conflict and violence of every kind, particularly when it is based on bigotry and intolerance. With this dialogue taking place in every part of the world, appeals to war will be met with appeals to compromise. Hatred will be met with tolerance. Violence will be met with resolve. A dialogue among civilizations is humanity’s best answer to humanity’s worst enemies.

I wish to pay tribute to President Khatami of Iran for launching the Dialogue among Civilizations within the United Nations, and to other leaders and Governments who have sustained this dialogue over the last year. By doing so, you have not only advanced an essential vehicle of understanding, but served the noblest aims of the United Nations. Over the last year, the idea of a dialogue among civilizations has engendered wide interest in academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and wherever people have sought to find common ground.

From Austria to Costa Rica to Egypt, Mali, Korea and many other countries, Governments and civil society have joined United Nations agencies in advancing this dialogue, and bringing its message to every culture and continent. A special contribution has been made by the Eminent Persons Group, and I congratulate them on their service to humanity and the United Nations.

Mr. President,

The Dialogue Among Civilizations is based not on the premise that we as humanity are all the same, or always in agreement, but rather on appreciation of the fact that we represent a diversity of cultures, and that our beliefs reflect this diversity.

The idea that there is one people in possession of the truth, one answer to the world’s ills, or one solution to humanity’s needs has done immense harm throughout history. We need look no further

than the composition of this great Assembly to know – as an unmistakable, incontrovertible fact of life – that there are many ways of living, many beliefs, many cultures.

It is when this diversity of identities is under siege, when a way of life is denied, when the basic freedom to live as one chooses is threatened, that conflict, violence and suffering become inevitable.

The Dialogue among Civilizations, in this sense, is not an expression of hopes, but a reflection of the world as it is. Diversity is the basis for the dialogue among civilizations, and the reality that makes dialogue necessary. We understand as never before that however diverse we are, we are fully human and fully worthy of the respect and dignity that are essential to our common humanity.

We recognize that we are the products of many cultures and memories; that tolerance allows us to study and learn from other cultures; that our strengths lie in combining the familiar with the foreign; and that those who perceive diversity as a threat deny themselves and their societies the best of humanity.

All of us have the right to take pride in our particular faith or heritage. But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous. In contrast to what some would suggest, we can love what we are without hating what we are not.

Of course, there are often profound and very real issues of self-determination, of security, and of dignity at stake in the relations between peoples. Words alone will not resolve them. But a dialogue of words and deeds – that is, of reciprocal actions based on respect and a genuine understanding of the other side’s grievances -- can resolve disputes and prevent violent conflict.

I am not saying that this dialogue will be easy. But we must not allow the difficulties we will face to deter us from pursuing it. I am convinced that it can make a genuine difference in the lives of ordinary men and women throughout the world.

And that – ultimately – is the standard by which this dialogue will be measured – its ability to help alleviate suffering and protect the fundamental human rights of future generations.

Mr. President,

The Dialogue among Civilizations has a purpose and promise beyond the challenges we face today. Such dialogue has throughout history fostered understanding and compromise, and can do so even more in a world that is ever smaller and more closely linked. It can support and sustain every effort at peace, and every attempt to resolve conflicts between and within nations.

It is my hope that in the months and years ahead all nations will join this dialogue, and make it genuinely valuable by placing it at the service of the weakest and most vulnerable of our world – the victims of intolerance, bigotry and hatred. It is for their sake that the Dialogue among Civilizations must succeed.

Thank you.

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