As 2006 ended, Kofi Annan retired as United Nations Secretary-General after a disastrous 10-year term. As his final major act, he accepted a report from a group called the Alliance of Civilizations.
Annan had created the Alliance almost two years ago to “respond to the need for a committed effort by the international community -- both at the institutional and civil society levels -- to bridge divides and overcome prejudice, misconceptions, misperceptions, and polarization which potentially threaten world peace.”
Those are all worthy goals.
But when the group’s report came out late last year, it was a disappointment. For one thing, the report recommends the creation of a “High Representative,” and rumor has it that Annan is being considered for the job.
That would only compound the errors of the report itself. Annan should be allowed to retire to obscurity, not be rewarded with a comfortable job that allows him to continue jet-setting at others’ expense. And this report should be quietly filed away, to allow more serious people to begin addressing the problems of today’s world.
The report has many problems. First, it’s biased toward Islam. That’s probably not a surprise, since the high-level group that wrote it includes nine individuals from predominantly Muslim nations among its 20 members. One is the former president of Iran, a man whose successor has famously called for the destruction of Israel. So much for bridging divides.
The report does note that Islamic terrorism is undermining relations with the West, but it mostly gives the governments of Muslim countries a free pass.
Instead, it zeros in on “the growing urgency of the Palestinian issue,” calling it “a major factor in the widening rift between Muslim and Western societies.”
Well, perhaps it is. But Muslim nations themselves are a big reason why; the 2004 Arab Human Development Report said that the Israeli “occupation” (its word, not mine) “has also given Arab regimes a pretext for postponing internal reform.” Just so.
Meanwhile, the Alliance report doesn’t bother to come up with any new ideas for dealing with this problem. Instead, it calls for a white paper that would provide a “level-headed and rational analysis [that] would make it clear to the Palestinian people that the price of decades of occupation, misunderstanding and stigmatization is being fully acknowledged, while at the same time contributing to exorcize the fears of Israelis.”
That’s nothing more than the same old wine, and in the same old wineskins, to boot. Since this approach hasn’t worked before, there’s no reason to expect it to start working in 2007.
Another problem is that the report glosses over the fact that some terrorist groups explicitly define themselves through their faith.
“None of the world’s religions condones or approves the killing of innocents,” the U.N. report claims. “All promote the ideals of compassion, justice and respect for the dignity of life.”
Well, al Qaeda certainly doesn’t support those ideals. Usama bin Laden uses Islam to justify his attacks on civilians.
The Alliance report should at least have insisted that Muslim political and religious leaders denounce religiously-based violence and intolerance. That would include al Qaeda-style bombings, of course, but also even such (relatively minor) offenses as the cartoon riots, Koran riots and anti-Benedict XVI riots.
It’s also frightening that, while the Alliance report fails to call for reform from within Islam, it does ask Western media to engage in self-censorship.
“Assertions that Islam is inherently violent and related statements by some political and religious leaders in the West --including the use of terms such as ‘Islamic terrorism’ and ‘Islamic fascism’ -- have contributed to an alarming increase in Islamophobia, which further exacerbates Muslim fears of the West,” the report says.
It recommends that Western governments “avoid certain actions that have negative repercussions on debates taking place in Muslim societies.”
That’s the wrong approach. The West can’t defend its freedoms by remaining silent when they’re being threatened. If anything, Western governments should demand more free speech and a wider-ranging discussion about -- and within -- the Muslim world. Almost anywhere you look in the world today, you find serious conflict, with religious differences serving as a catalyst.
The Iraq Study Group insists there won’t be peace in the Middle East until the Israel-Palestinian (Jewish-Muslim) conflict is settled. In Iraq, Shiites and Sunnis kill each other in a battle for supremacy. And on almost every continent, certain groups of Muslims riot when the Pope mentions their faith or a cartoonist draws their prophet or a newsmagazine (wrongly) says an infidel touched their holy Koran.
We clearly need a better way to communicate, to determine whether there are peaceful ways to settle our differences. Unfortunately, the United Nations’ “Alliance of Civilizations” isn’t the way forward.
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation.