Press Releases

    11 November 2004

    “Unlearning Intolerance”:  Secretary-General to Open Seminar on Confronting Islamophobia at Headquarters, 7 December 2004

    NEW YORK, 10 November (UN Headquarters) -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan will open a seminar on “Confronting Islamophobia: Education for Tolerance and Understanding” at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 7 December. The seminar will be the second in a series entitled “Unlearning Intolerance”, organized by the Educational Outreach Section of the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI).

    The series aims to examine different manifestations of intolerance and explore ways to promote respect and understanding among peoples. As its name suggests, the “Unlearning Intolerance” series offers opportunities to discuss how intolerance, wherever it exists and for whatever reason, can be “unlearned” through education, inclusion and example.

    Part of DPI’s mission is to bring together voluntary organizations, educators and other components of civil society for discussions with the United Nations system on issues that are not just universal in their scope, but have a direct and palpable impact upon the lives of children, women and men everywhere. This series falls squarely within that effort. It also responds to a specific request to DPI from the Committee on Information (a committee of the United Nations General Assembly), asking the Department help disseminate information relevant to the “dialogue among civilizations” and the “culture of peace”.

    The seminar will be held at United Nations Headquarters in Conference Room 1. After the opening statement by the Secretary-General, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, will deliver a keynote address. There will then be panel discussions offering different perspectives on Islamophobia today, on the role of education in fostering tolerance and understanding, and on ideas for confronting Islamophobia more effectively. Panellists will include eminent writers, scholars, theologians and experts on Islamophobia and other issues relating to tolerance and education. These discussions will be chaired by Shashi Tharoor, Under Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, and will allow the audience and the panellists to make comments and pose questions. In the afternoon, the panellists will join in an overview of the day’s discussions and further interact with the audience and each other.

    The day-long programme will be open to the delegations of United Nations Member States, UN-affiliated non-governmental organizations, media representatives and members of the public who register in advance. (Please see contact details at end.) It will also be webcast live at

    The DPI launched the “Unlearning Intolerance” series at the mid-point of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, proclaimed by the General Assembly in 1998. The first seminar, held on 21 June 2004, was on “Confronting anti-Semitism:  Education for Tolerance and Understanding”. Coverage of this seminar and the text of the Secretary-General’s opening remarks are online at

    DPI’s Educational Outreach Section also seeks to stimulate informed discussion on global issues, including those relating to discrimination and human rights, through the print and online editions of UN Chronicle The UN Cyberschoolbus of the Global Learning and Teaching Project caters to online educational needs of primary and secondary schools and is currently preparing the first comprehensive multimedia web portal on the Millennium Development Goals for young people.  An entire section of is also devoted to providing a general introduction to human rights.  Most notably, the Global Learning and Teaching Project was involved in a large-scale project on human rights for the World Summit on Information Society which involved 880 schools from around the world.

    The Section’s UN Works Programme, through an innovative blend of television programming, a multi-language web site and successful global publicity/media campaigns has given educational and media outreach a person-specific thrust that is, at once, compelling, memorable and provocative. It puts a human face on important issues such as poverty, AIDS, sustainable development, child labour, child soldiers, girl's education in its effort to educate civil society and raise awareness of the Millennium Development Goals.

    The Outreach Division has partnered with Court TV to produce a programme on the International Day for Tolerance in 2003 entitled “We Are Family: Educating Our Children for a Safer World”; and its NGO Section arranges public briefings, including a well attended meeting in early 2004 on anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism.

    In conjunction with the “Unlearning Intolerance” seminar on Confronting Islamophobia, a photo exhibition titled “ISLAM”, by renowned Iranian photographer Abbas, will be open to the public on 6 December at the Visitors’ Entrance to United Nations Headquarters at First Avenue opposite 46th Street. This exhibition of his work is arranged by DPI in collaboration with Magnum Photos.

    On the day of the seminar the International Film Festival for High School Students in New York will screen the film “Journey to the Sun” at the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium at 1:30 p.m.  Directed by the young cinematographer, Yesim Ustaoglu, this award-winning film chronicles the story of friendship between two people and their understanding of human suffering caused by racial and ethnic intolerance.


    8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.

    Registration and I.D pickup:  United Nations Visitors’ Lobby. Enter at First Avenue opposite 46th Street

    10 a.m.

    Welcoming remarks from Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor

    10:05 a.m.

    Opening address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan

    10:15 a.m.

    Keynote address by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Professor of Islamic Studies, George Washington University (who spoke on “Islam and the West” in the Secretary-General’s lecture series)

    10:35 a.m. - 11:50 a.m.

    Panel I -- Perspectives on Islamophobia Today

    Ahmed Kamal Aboulmagd, Professor of Public Law, Cairo University; Judge, World Bank Administrative Tribunal

    Hany el-Banna, President, Islamic Relief, London

    John L. Esposito, University Professor and founding director, Georgetown University Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding

    Asma Gull Hasan, author, Why I Am a Muslim; American Muslims: The New Generation

    Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, President, American Sufi Muslim Association

    11:50 a.m. – 1 p.m.

    Panel II -- Education for Tolerance and Understanding

    Azizah Y. al-Hibri, professor of law, The T.C. Williams School of Law, University of Richmond; President, KARAMAH:  Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights

    R. Scott Appleby, John M. Regan, Jr. Director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame

    Calvin O. Butts, III, Pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church in the City of New York

    Noah Feldman, Associate Professor of Law, New York University

    Panchapakesa Jayaraman, Executive Director, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, USA (Institute of Indian Culture)

    1 p.m. - 3 p.m.


    3 p.m. - 4:15 p.m.

    Panel III -- Confronting Islamophobia

    Mons. György Fodor, Rector, Peter Pazmany Catholic University, Budapest

    Amaney Jamal, Assistant Professor of Politics, Princeton University

    Abbes Jirari, Adviser to His Majesty King Mohammed VI, King of Morocco; former Chairman, Council of Theologians of Rabat-Salé

    Giandomenico Picco, Chief Executive Officer, GDP Associates, Inc.; Special Adviser and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for the UN Dialogue among Civilizations

    Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

    4:15 p.m. - 5:15 p.m.

    Unlearning Intolerance:  Open discussion between and among the day's panellists and the audience


    Closing remarks from Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor

    To register, please write including your name and affiliation to:  Vikram Sura, Educational Outreach Section, Outreach Division, Department of Public Information, e-mail:, tel: 1-212-963-8274, fax: 1-917-367-6075; or Lisa Krutky, Educational Outreach Section, Outreach Division, DPI, e-mail:, tel: 1-917-367-3609, fax: 1-917-367-6075.

    For media accreditation, please visit, Abdellatif Kabbaj, Chief, Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, DPI, tel: 1-212-963-6937, fax: 1-212-963-4642

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