Alliance Of Civilizations – Or, Just Voices In The Wilderness?

“Our world is alarmingly out of balance. For many, the last century brought unprecedented progress, prosperity, and freedom. For others, it marked an era of subjugation, humiliation and dispossession. Ours is a world of great inequalities and paradoxes: a world where the income of the planet’s three richest people is greater than the combined income of the world’s least developed countries; where modern medicine performs daily miracles and yet 3 million people die every year of preventable diseases; where we know more about distant universes than ever before, yet 130 million children have no access to education; where despite the existence of multilateral covenants and institutions, the international community often seems helpless in the face of conflict and genocide. For most of humanity, freedom from want and freedom from fear appear as elusive as ever.”

The above quote is from the beginning of a report released by the UN yesterday. The report is entitled “Alliance of Civilizations”. It is a lengthy tome – understandable, considering the idea was espoused over two years ago – and has been over a year in the compiling. Anyone wishing to peruse it in its entirety may do so (as a pdf. document) HERE.

Despite the disreputable Fox News Channel calling it a “questionable initiative”, the writers have produced a document worthy of attention, though it is unlikely to receive very much of that from the world’s politicians, whose present-day philosophy of “grab what we can for our own and stuff everyone else” is at odds with the message of peace, goodwill, and understanding emanating from its pages.

The original idea was put forward by the, then, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, back in 1998, but no-one in the West showed much enthusiasm and it wasn’t until 2005 that the Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, called out in the UN for “an alliance of cultures” to combat poverty and increasing Islamic radicalisation . Kofi Annan supported the idea, and the result was yesterday’s report.

Two members of the “High Level Group” responsible for compiling the document were Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and Karen Armstrong from the UK. Archbishop Tutu is one of very, very few high-ranking officials of the Christian church who deserves respect and admiration. Ms Armstrong’s knowledge as a historian of world religions is unsurpassed. Any think-tank involving both these people deserves more than a cursory glance.

Yet, reading through the report was a disappointing experience, in that it seemed to contain much that was simply obvious common sense. In a way, Fox’s damning as a “questionable initiative” seemed less unreasonable, though for vastly differing reasons.

I was left with the conclusion that our world society could not possibly be evolving into something more “civilized”, but rather must be degenerating into a free-for-all where no-one really cared what happened to others provided they, themselves, were fine. And really, this is what the report is all about. As a species, we are moving away from the ideals and principles once sacrosanct in our society. The milk of human kindness no longer overflows. It has run out.

Sure, we dig into our pockets and give to charities; some of us even get off our backsides and organize events, but why we do these things is questionable. Do we truly and unselfishly act to help those in other countries less well off than ours? Or, is it simply as a boost to our egos – another “step on the stairway into heaven”?

George W Bush took America to war in Iraq and Afghanistan so as, he said, “…….to not have to fight the terrorists on American soil.” The implication being that it was alright to kill Iraqis and Afghans – to fight a war on their turf, rather than ours. Is that because we consider them less important as human beings? Would it be more disastrous if the carnage happening on the streets of Baghdad right now was instead happening in New York, or Washington? Are not the rights of Baghdad’s innocent residents just as important as those of Americans?

Not to Americans – that is painfully obvious. And, of course, its not fair to single out Americans even if their president was the one to bring such differences into focus. We all are happier knowing it’s happening to “them”, rather than “us”. We can all express sympathy and throw up our arms in horror at the lastest atrocity in the Middle East, while deep inside feeling smug and content that its not our personal problem.

That’s what the “Alliance of Civilizations” is all about. It is a blueprint of what should be done to stop the degradation our species is imposing on itself. It basically says we should care for one another; nurture our relationships with other cultures; heal the wounded and the sick; love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

It has a certain familiar ring. Someone else spouted much the same ideas two thousand years ago.

He wasn’t listened to, either.

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