Madrid: World leaders and personalities will meet in the coming week to announce the launching of a UN forum aimed at combating fear and suspicion between different cultures amid a growing divide between the Western and Arab-Islamic worlds.
The first Alliance of Civilizations Forum will be hosted by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero,Spanish prime minister who proposed it at the UN in September 2004 in an initiative inspired by the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people six months earlier.
Also attending will be Recep Tayyip Erdogan,Turkish prime minister, a co-sponsor along with Zapatero, Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general and George Sampaio, former Portuguese president Jorge Sampaio, the UN high representative for the Alliance of Civilizations.
“The objective is to encourage cultural and interreligious understanding, a common consciousness and the appreciation of diversity to promote a culture of global peace,” Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, Spanish deputy prime minister said.
Shamil Idriss, acting director of the Alliance of Civilizations, described it as a “major global platform” for leaders in the worlds of politics, industry and religion to discuss cross-cultural concerns.
The two-day gathering is to announce initiatives aimed at promoting understanding among cultures in the areas of media and youth, he said in New York.
One of these will be the launch of a multi-million dollar media fund, to be run independently of the UN and set up by private philanthropists and media agencies.
Idriss said the fund would “support major film productions that help to promote cross-cultural understanding and combat stereotypes.”
He said that so far investors, including three unnamed Hollywood studios, had committed $10 million of the $100 million required.
Another project to be announced will be a Rapid Response Media Mechanism, aimed at helping reduce tensions in times of cross-cultural crises, Idriss said.
He cited as examples the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005 that led to violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world; and the Holocaust conference in Iran last year.
“These events that seem to happen every few months and are not purely political but get quite politicised,” Idriss said. “This Rapid Response Mechanism would be a tool that we would hope media agencies would be able to use should they want to invite commentary from diverse global experts who could speak about the issues in a less polarizing manner than is often the case,” he said.
The Alliance will also promote a special fund for cross-cultural cooperation between youth organisations. The Turkish minister in charge of the forum, Mehmet Aydin, welcomed the support the Alliance has received.
Other participants in the forum’s two plenary sessions will include Turkey’s Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, Queen Noor of Jordan, Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa and the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson.