UN chief slams religious divide theory

Neither the Koran, Torah nor the Bible are the cause of the growing Muslim-Western rift, outgoing UN chief, Kofi Annan, said yesterday, speaking at the launch of the Alliance of Civilisations initiative hosted by Catholic Spain and Muslim Turkey.

Mr Annan, who will complete his term as UN Secretary-General at the end of this year, added that any broad solution to the problem must include an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"We should start by reaffirming and demonstrating that the problem is not the Koran nor the Torah or the Bible," Mr Annan said after receiving a report by an international group of scholars that proposes ways to overcome the rift.

"The problem is never the faith; it is the faithful and how they behave toward each other."

Mr Annan, who will relinquish his post to successor Ban Ki-moon on 1 January 2007, said violence was fuelled by fear and misunderstandings, economic disparities, wars by Western powers in Muslim countries and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

His claim that religion was not the root of the conflicts that have multiplied since the "September 11" terrorist attacks in the US in 2001 contradicted those of some theorists who believe cultural and religious identity emerged as the main source of tension following the Cold War.

In a challenge to that theory, Mr Annan travelled to Istanbul to attend a meeting of the UN-backed "Alliance of Civilisations Initiative," which enabled a group of experts and luminaries to draft a report on how to promote peace.

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and South African activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu are among 20 members of the group.

The report, made public after being presented to Mr Annan at a ceremony on Monday, said the Arab-Israeli conflict is a critical symbol of the deepening rift between the West and Islam, and calls for the resumption of the Middle East peace process.

Mr Annan agreed that any efforts to reduce Muslim-Western tensions would be in vain without a solution to that conflict.

"As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dance halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed," Mr Annan said.

The UN initiative is co-sponsored by the prime ministers of Spain, a predominantly Catholic country, and Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim.

Annan says politics, not religion, at heart of Muslim-West divide (International Herald-Tribune, 13/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
United Nations Alliance of Civilisations
Alliance of Civilisations Initiative (Wikipedia)
Clash of Civilisations (Wikipedia)

UN chief warns against new religion world war (CathNews, 21/9/06)
Human dimension of Iraq War dominates Australian Bishops' meeting (CathNews, 12/5/03)
Pope laments 'clash of civilisations' (CathNews, 3/12/02)
Vatican official praises Nobel peace prize award to Kofi Annan (CathNews, 15/10/01)
Annan supports Vatican's UN observer status (CathNews, 19/6/00)

14 Nov 2006