As reported here previously, the Alliance of Civilizations celebrated its fifth anniversary last month with a conference in Vienna (see The Alliance of Civilization Jihad and “Reflections on a World Gone Mad” Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).
The following article by Henrik Ræder Clausen about the Alliance of Civilizations was published on March 26 in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten (subscription required). Many thanks to Nemo for the translation.
A UN alliance against Western values
by Henrik Ræder Clausen
The UN organization Alliance of Civilizations was founded in 2005 to prevent a clash of civilizations, but it has a one-sided focus which in many ways coincides with the interests of Islamic states.
A lot of criticism has been aimed at the UN system during recent decades, especially because its raison d’être, the protection of universal human rights, has veered off track. Yet another UN project, the Alliance of Civilizations (AoC), contributes to the confusion.
The founding of the Alliance of Civilizations was announced at the Arab League summit in Algiers in 2005 by the Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The proximate cause was the bombing of Madrid in March 2004, but the roots stretched further back. The organization is a continuation of the UN initiative “Dialogue Among Civilizations,” originally proposed by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in 1998.
The main purpose of the Alliance of Civilizations was to counter the claims of Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations, where he describes how different civilizations have clashed through centuries, and how the Arab world especially seems to have always had ‘bloody borders’ in relation to its neighbors. The idea was to defuse conflicts before they turned violent, and thus avoid terror attacks like those in Madrid and other Western cities.
In a collaboration among Turkey, Qatar and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a so-called “High Level Group” was convened, which defined in a 63-page report the purpose and most import areas of focus for the Alliance of Civilizations. This report remains the foundation for the work of the Alliance, and should be read carefully by responsible politicians in the countries joining the Alliance, as they commit themselves to work for the stated goals.
One would expect that the report would take as its starting point Samuel Huntington’s book and theories, and seek to counter them; that it would treat all the large civilizations of the world equally; and that it would conclude that the road to avoiding conflicts and confrontations would be to implement the UN humans rights universally, so that the Alliance could work to avoid defining individuals by their religion, but rather, throughout the world, strengthen the understanding of individual, inalienable rights for all. However, that turned out not to be the case.
Instead the report — and thus the alliance — builds on Huntington’s fundamental ideas of large confrontations between different groups of the world’s population. However, it takes no interest in any conflict except the one between Islamic and Western civilizations, and places a special emphasis on what it views as the different reasons for the Muslim world to feel dissatisfaction and anger towards the Western world.
In this way the Alliance remains bafflingly like the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which continually take up grievances against the West.
There are a lot of pretty phrases about the three ‘Abrahamic religions’ in the report, while not a lot of space is dedicated to all the other religions, such as Hinduism, Taoism or Buddhism. The secular perspective — the possibility that people choose to have no religion at all — is completely absent.
On the other hand, a lot of space is taken up by the conflict between Palestinians and Israel, which in Section 4.4 is even considered the main reason for the conflicts between the Islamic world and the West — a viewpoint that the enemies of Israel are very fond of maintaining.
With that perspective, it should be no surprise that the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during the recent 5th UNAOC Global Forum in Vienna in February demanded that Zionism should be branded “a crime against humanity” — meaning that Israel is not at legitimate state, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is the only country ever founded by a UN mandate.
General Secretary for the UN, Ban Ki-moon initially failed to protest this provocative statement. Only when it became an international scandal did Ki-moon condemn the demand as “in conflict with the fundamental principles of the Alliance”. That, unfortunately, is not true. The fundamental principles of the Alliance are defined in the 2006 report. They were fully confirmed by the conference in Vienna, and they are all too well in accordance with the provocative statement by Erdogan.
The overarching theme of the conference was “responsible leadership”. That may seem strange for an organization that should focus on human rights, but the conference left no doubt as to its priorities.
The longing for leadership was a recurring theme throughout the sprawling event. It was repeated in a lot of speeches, and it was on the front page of the conference program. In comparison, the words ‘human rights’ were mentioned only twice one morning, both times in passing.
The conference in Vienna also reflected other priorities for the Alliance. Emphasis was put on education for young people, training of future leaders, and guidelines for the media. The purpose of that last item was to avoid the many negative media stories about Islam and immigration in favor of a more positive public attitude to immigration and in order to avoid “unnecessary provocations” — also known as “blasphemy”. Again, completely in accordance with the wishes of the OIC.
At this point, it would be beneficial to take a step back and consider what such a conference might have accomplished, if it had taken the UN’s universal human rights seriously. Instead of a wish for “responsible leadership” and “guidelines for the media”, the conference could have shed light on real problems by inviting prominent activists as speakers.
One such speaker might have been the Pakistani-born activist Sabatina James, who would have talked about forced marriages and the plight of Christians in Pakistan. Madame Mahjouba might have spoken about the lack of rights for single mothers in Morocco. Journalists Without Borders might have spoken about freedom of the press in Turkey, and the Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, could have spoken about the problems for Christians in Egypt etc., but that would, undoubtedly, have been seen as ‘unnecessarily provocative’ by Turkey and Qatar, main sponsors of the Alliance.
Instead of dealing with human rights in real and concrete terms, this UN organization wastes its energy on talk, mutual praise and a joint underlining of the necessity of the Alliance.
In spite of marked problems with human rights in Turkey and Qatar have, those two countries have a remarkably strong position in the Alliance of Civilizations. Leadership has now been passed on to Qatar’s former Ambassador to the UN, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser. The small but very influential country will definitely not put the brakes on the OIC’s work to strengthen the position of Islam throughout the world.
The Alliance of Civilizations has strayed a long way from the UN’s ideals of inalienable individual rights and a thriving democracy. The Alliance does not solve the problems one would expect them to solve, but, to the contrary, has the potential to develop into a kind of world government without democratic control. Unless the organization changes and begins taking universal human rights seriously, we are much better off without yet another impractical and misguided UN bureaucracy.
Henrik Ræder Clausen participated in the Alliance of Civilizations Global Forum in Vienna in February. He is a former European Parliament candidate for the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) and the author of Cyprus: In the Shadow of the Crescent Moon, amongst others.
For more on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, see the OIC Archives.