Taking first hard steps to civilization alliance

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Moscow. (Vitaly Naumkin for RIA Novosti.) – The Alliance of Civilizations, a Kofi Annan project announced last summer, has every chance of becoming a global effort because it appeared at a time when there is great demand for it, in a world threatened by cultural divide.

It is a challenge not only for international but – in the case of some countries in Europe and elsewhere – for intranational relations. It involves many interwoven cultural and religious interests, but the most prominent issue is the divide between the Islamic and Western worlds.

Despite globalization, the cultural gap in this world is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge as civilizations become trapped by prejudices, misconceptions, and besieged fortress mindsets. The huge problem is that the gap in the living standards between the two grows even faster, and real threats – religious terrorism, much of it in Islamic disguise, and extremism in the first place – make things still worse. There is ample evidence of this from Spain’s 3/11, Britain’s 7/7, France’s weeks of street violence, and other countries and events.

The impending civilizational collision is to a large extent fueled by two trouble spots, Iraq and Palestine. The Western G-SAVE policy – Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism – is being pursued for a reason, but from the Islamic perspective it often looks less as a defensive strategy than a war one civilization is waging against another. The Muslims see the accepted term “Islamic terrorism” as yet another manifestation of Islamophobia, an attempt to label a religion for the modus operandi of isolated individuals who claim to profess it. The global freedom and democracy promotion effort is, accordingly, also seen as a convenient way to promote the West’s own agenda while speaking about a need to take on poverty and environmental degradation.

The only light of hope in this grim picture is a union between governments, international institutions and civil society intent on preventing the world from plunging into hostility, violence and alienation, which means, first and foremost, bridging the East-West gap. This is where the Alliance of Civilizations comes in with a very special task to create a new relationship between governments, societies and cultures.

We have embarked on a very long and painful road which requires a concerted effort against poverty, illiteracy, WMD proliferation, inhuman ideologies, and other sources of terror, and apt management of conflicts to prevent them from evolving into open hostilities.

This will require extensive education development programs, a stepped-up religious dialog, more open societies, active sports and cultural networking, etc. The Alliance is less a philosophic – though we understand the importance of philosophy – than a practical gathering. We are aware that much more needs to be done to persuade nations and communities to try to understand and tolerate one another and restrain themselves from violent means of conflict resolution.

To do so is to look into ways through which religions are used as a disguise for secular political agendas and ways through which we could rid religions of political motivation. This is to understand how wind-sowing stereotypes and prejudices work. And this is to build a universal commitment to equality, mutual respect and tolerance, and to make multi- and interculturalism the guiding principles of world politics.

The recipe for success for civilizations I think lies in fusing together to come out of that fusion into enriched instead of just peaceful coexistence. Every government and every civil institution must do more to outlaw violent xenophobia at home.

While promoting dialog on all fronts, we need to bear in mind that it might involve such painful issues as gender equality and role of women. The world could make more use of all available resources to encourage tolerant, respectful, and non-antagonistic concepts and ideas.

A better knowledge of the other party comes only through joining intellectual and material resources for powerful cross-cultural mobilization aimed to devise and gradually implement a program for an East-West reconciliation.

The early stage of that effort is likely to bring no more than a general framework, a picture of cultural concerns, hate factors, erroneous and harmful stereotypes and misconceptions. However, the situation is so critical that we need to act now before it is too late.

The high-level group set up by the UN Secretary General is to report on all that at the end of next year. The plan is still in vague outline and a strong commitment to a shift from alienation to alliance requires a truly optimistic frame of mind.

Vitaly Naumkin, PhD, is a member of the high level group named by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to guide the Alliance of Civilizations.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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