The United Nations “Alliance of Civilizations,” co-founded by Turkey and Spain, has an annual budget of approximately four million U.S. dollars. It just completed its Fifth Global Forum this past week in Vienna. The ostensible theme of the lavish two-day gathering was “Responsible Leadership in Dialogue and Diversity.”
According to its appropriately named “Vienna Declaration,” the forum was aimed, among other things, at an informed debate on how responsible leadership can make a difference in promoting and protecting full enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion and belief in “a context of religious pluralism” and “greater diversity.”
Outlining his vision to make the Alliance of Civilizations more active in addressing acute inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions, the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Nassir Al-Nasser of Qatar, stated, “We will strive to use the tools at our disposal in the difficult settings around the world. We will not shy away from them.”
How noble. Unfortunately, the Alliance of Civilizations’ lavish global forum turned at times into a perversion of its stated mission. The Emir of Qatar H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, for example, used his speech to complain about “an increase in the manifestations of misunderstanding about Islam and the Islamic civilisation in addition to the Muslims’ suffering from marginalisation, discrimination and hatred in many parts of the globe.” The Emir called “the Palestinian cause” the “last colonial issue in history.”
Where, in the interest of inter-faith tolerance and dialogue, was the Emir’s acknowledgment of manifestations of misunderstanding about Christianity, Judaism and other faiths in the Muslim world, where non-Muslims suffer from marginalization, discrimination and hatred? Where is his call for good faith dialogue towards reaching a viable two-state Palestinian Israeli solution and rejection of the call by Hamas – whom the Emir visited in Gaza late last year - to destroy the entire Jewish state?
Irresponsible, bigoted leadership was also on display at the Alliance of Civilizations forum.
Exhibit A was a speech delivered on February 27th by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His hateful remarks equated Zionism with fascism and, curiously enough, with anti-Semitism. He labeled each of these “isms,” starting with Zionism, as “a crime against humanity” and said that Islamophobia belongs in the same crime against humanity category.
Sadly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – who was present on the stage – remained silent. I asked his spokesperson whether “the Secretary General has any comment on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inclusion of Zionism as ‘a crime against humanity’ during his speech at the Fifth Alliance of Civilizations Forum.” His response was no comment at this time, but that he would let me know if there is any change. Don’t hold your breath.
Ban Ki-moon’s silence is reminiscent of his decision to remain in the room during the Durban II Review Conference in 2009 (the official name of the 2009 United Nations World Conference Against Racism) when Iranian President Ahmadinejad opened the conference with an outrageous attack on Israel, which he called the most racist country in the world. At least on that occasion, the Secretary General did condemn Ahmadinijad’s speech after the fact, calling it “unacceptable,” a “very disturbing experience” and “destructive.” So far, he has not done the same with regard to Erdoğan’s inclusion of Zionism as “a crime against humanity” in his Alliance of Civilizations speech.
“We remind secretary-general Ban Ki-moon that his predecessor Kofi Annan recognized that the UN’s 1975 Zionism-is-racism resolution was an expression of anti-Semitism, and he welcomed its repeal,” said the human rights organization UN Watch in its press release denouncing the speech. “Erdoğan ‘s misuse of this global podium to incite hatred, and his resort to Ahmandinejad-style pronouncements appealing to the lowest common denominator in the Muslim world will only strengthen the belief that his government is hewing to a confrontational stance, and fundamentally unwilling to end its four-year-old feud with Israel.”
Erdoğan would do well to finally apologize to the Armenians for Turkey’s own crime against humanity – its genocide perpetrated on the Armenian population in the early part of the twentieth century. The American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire at the time, Henry Morganthau Sr., described the Turks’ mass murders of the Armenians as a “death warrant to a whole race” and as “race extermination.”
But Erdoğan, who did not hesitate in branding Zionism as a crime against humanity, told President Obama last year that Turks “are tired” of hearing about the Armenian “problem.” And learning little from Turkey’s bloody past, his government is cracking down on the nearly 20 million-strong Kurdish minority in Turkey. Yet Erdoğan has the audacity to use the UN Alliance of Civilizations platform to brand the Jewish people’s expression of their right to self-determination in their historic homeland as a “crime against humanity.” Palestinians could have exercised the same right on land of their own sixty-four years ago, an opportunity which they rejected. They still can, if they would only sit down and negotiate a two-state solution in good faith rather than play games at the UN and fire rockets at Israeli civilians.
Iran was represented at the forum by its Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. He casted Iran, the world’s major state sponsor of global terrorism, as the victim of terrorism. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Salehi on the sidelines of the forum. To quote Iran’s news agency: “Referring to Iranˈs important role in promoting the dialogue among civilizations, the UN chief appreciated Salehi for attending the 5th United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Forum in Vienna.”
Was Salehi promoting constructive dialogue when he said in 2011 that “Palestine has, since the beginning, belonged to the Palestinians and we do not agree with partitioning Palestine under no circumstances [sic]?” He went on to say that Iran “will never recognize the Zionist regime [of Israel] and this has been the Islamic Republic’s position since the Islamic Revolution [in 1979] until now.”
Apparently, the Iranian leaders’ threats to destroy the Jewish state, their funding and arming of Hezbollah and Hamas, and the regime’s brutal treatment of religious minorities within Iran don’t matter so long as Iran’s foreign minister shows up at the UN conference.
Whatever utopian goals some of its supporters may cherish, the Alliance of Civilizations is yet another in a long string of United Nations forums wasting money with false hopes, and easily manipulated for ends that are a perversion of their stated objectives.
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