Press Releases

    21 March 2006

    "You Can Help Bridge the Chasms of Ignorance, Fear and Misunderstanding", Secretary-General Says in Message to Congress of Imams, Rabbis

    NEW YORK, 20 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the message by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Second World Congress of Imams and Rabbis for Peace, in Seville, 19-21 March:

    I am delighted to send my warmest wishes to this Second World Conference of Imams and Rabbis for Peace.

    You are all are aware of recent manifestations of intolerance, extremism and violence in many parts of the world, which have strained relations alarmingly between communities and nations of different beliefs and cultures.  There is a danger that the essential dialogue between Muslims, Jews and Christians may be reduced to an angry exchange between the fringes, with each side assuming that extremists speak for the other side as a whole and, in turn, allowing its own extremists to frame its own hostile response.

    Driving these disturbing developments is the increasing tendency to articulate differences in terms of identity -- be it religious, ethnic, racial, or otherwise -- rather than in terms of opinions or interests.  For whereas opinions and interests may be open to re-evaluation and negotiation, identities rarely are.  This has entrenched today's identity-fuelled differences, and made solutions appear elusive.

    No where is this problem more evident than in the realm of religion, and no single instance is more tragic than the schism between Muslim and Jew.  Notwithstanding your common heritage, dating back to the prophet Abraham, and the periods of historical harmony, such as the centuries-long Convivencia in Spain, there persists the popular fallacy that Islam and Judaism have always been, and will always be, at odds.

    Yet, you know better than anyone that the problem is not the Torah or the Koran.  Indeed, the problem is never the faith -- it is the faithful, and how we behave towards each other.  That is why gatherings such as yours, which bring together leading religious figures, both Jewish and Muslim, are so important.  People of faith are a strong influence on group and individual conduct.  As teachers and guides, you can be powerful agents of change.  You can inspire people to new levels of commitment and public service.  You can help bridge the chasms of ignorance, fear and misunderstanding.  You can set an example of interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

    Today, large numbers of Muslims and Jews around the world view themselves as "victims" of one another, or of the larger forces of globalization.  We look to you to help overcome this sense of victimhood and exclusion.  Your communities have to be convinced that they need not be helpless bystanders in the changing world around them, but can be involved and constructive participants in it.  The subjects you intend to discuss in the next two days -- from "faith in secular societies" to "technology and morality" -- directly address the role of religious identity in our modern world.  These deliberations can help chart a path of moderation for the devout, showing them that they can remain true to their convictions and beliefs, while engaging fully in the changing world around them.

    At the same time, your work here should also enable you to make an important contribution to the "Alliance of Civilizations", which I launched last year, at the initiative of the Spanish and Turkish Prime Ministers.  This initiative is intended to respond to the need for a committed effort by the international community -- in both its intergovernmental and its civil society forms -- to bridge divides and overcome prejudices, misconceptions, and polarizations, which potentially threaten world peace.  Meetings such as yours will be essential for its ultimate success, a goal made all the more urgent by recent alarming events.

    It is in this spirit that I wish you a successful Congress and encourage you to spread its message of dialogue and peaceful coexistence in your communities.

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