22 September 2006

In Period of Sharply Increasing Intolerance, Extremism, Conference on Interfaith Cooperation Can Urge Governments to Take Stronger Steps, Secretary-General Says

NEW YORK, 21 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message to the High-Level Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, delivered today by Carolyn McAskie, Assistant Secretary-General Peacebuilding Support Office:

I am delighted to convey my warm wishes to all who have gathered for the High-Level Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace.  It is both appropriate and auspicious that you meet on 21 September, the International Day of Peace.

Our global community is experiencing a period of sharply increasing intolerance, extremism and violence.  Recent developments in the Middle East have only fuelled this trend.  Relations between adherents of major world religions have been particularly affected.  If unaddressed, these may even threaten stability in many places.

Driving these disturbing developments is the growing 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.

That is why gatherings such as yours are so important.  You can help us unlearn our collective prejudices, and promote contacts and dialogue among different societies.  You can educate us to go beyond stereotypes of the other, to avoid simplistic categorizations that exacerbate misunderstandings, and to embrace the notion that diversity -- in thought, in belief, and in action -- is a precious gift, not a threat.

The United Nations has always seen such dialogue as an important building block for peace.  At last September's World Summit, world leaders agreed that "all cultures and civilizations contribute to the enrichment of humankind", and committed themselves to "encouraging tolerance, respect, dialogue and cooperation among different cultures, civilizations and peoples".

At the start of a new United Nations General Assembly session, you can help remind gathered Heads of State and Government of this important commitment, and urge them to take stronger steps to promote dialogue and cooperation.  At the same time, your work can help people everywhere discover the best in each other's traditions and cultures, and to learn from it.

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

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