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The UN and the dialog among civilizations



After the battle of Yorktown, the British army band played "The world turned upside down". Under the UN, a world anthem has been emerging: Beethoven's "Hymn to Joy": "All men shall be brothers". Since September 11, it should be replaced with "The world turned upside down". A US-led coalition is fighting global terrorism. However, the only two countries solidly committed to the fight are the US and the UK. Paul Simon quotes this remark from the speech given by Winston Churchill in the US capitol during World War II: "It is not given for us to peer into the mysteries of the future. But in the days to come, the British and American people for their own safety and the good of all will walk together in majesty and justice and in peace." Tony Blair proclaims the same message. John Wonder does not approve of him, but I like and admire him.

The United Nations played the "Hymn to Joy" in November 1988, when it passed resolution 53/22 proclaiming 2001 the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. The brochure describing it is brimming with optimism. Two days of the General Assembly meeting are to be devoted to it, and countries are urged to send top-level delegates. However, September 11 has intervened. The two days chosen are December 3 and 4. Between tbe West and Israel on the one hand and the Islamic world there is not a dialog but a shouting match. Heaven knows what will happen when the "dialog" takes place.

A "Group of Eminent Persons" has been named to assist Giandomenico Picco to prepare a book for presentation in the fall (?) of this year. They are an Egyptian judge; a Mexican anthropologist; the Palestinian Hanan Ashrawi; a Brazilian woman, president of a"solidarity community"; a Frenchman, Jaques Delors, former President of the European Commission; Leslie Gelb, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations (known as an expert on military strategy rather than on culture; Sam Huntington was presumably not chosen because he talks of a clash of civilizations rather than a dialog among them); a Hashemite prince, president of the Club of Rome; tbe Russian scientist Sergey Kapitza; a Japanese psychologist; Tommy Koh of Singapore; Hans Küng, the German theologian; a Portuguese (?) woman, chair of the UN Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children; the Indian economist Amartya Sen (now at Trinity College, Cambridge,England); a Chinese engineer; an Irish MP; a Chinese historian; former German President Richard von Weizsäcker; an Iranian law professor. I leave it to WAISers to decide how representative the list is.

The announcement proclaims "Unsung heroes" in the fight to overcome cultural, social, economic and racial barriers. They are an indigenous Australian educator; a young Bosnian woman who kept a diary of the atrocities in Sarajevo; a young Belfast woman who inspired the Wall of Peace Project in Belfast: a Kenyan ethnographer; a Brazilian in charge of the Department for Unknown Tribes; an Afghan surgeon who died tragically in 2000; and a Moroccan who organizes the Fez Festival of World Sacred Music. Again, the representatives are heavily loaded in favor of the less developed countries. What will happen when the meeting runs up against the wall separating cultures on September 11? Will it be a confrontation like the one at Durban, South Africa?

How will this affect the UN? New York Mayor Edward Koch asked the UN to leave New York because of its criticism of Israel. When Jesse Helms was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the US had a very negative attitude toward the UN. Recently, to get support in the fight against terrorism, President Bush has changed its tune toward the UN. We know that many in the world hate the IMF and the World Bank. They may support the UN, but what do they think about its being in New York? Bienvenido Macario suggests a site in the Philippines. Graham Stuart of Stanford argued that it should be in Tangiers (then an independent territory) in order to have it in neutral territory. Another Stanford professor used to argue that the OAS should be moved from Washington to Panama to shake off the label "US colonial office". Americans protested vehemently and it stayed put. Do foreigners regard the UN as likewise US dominated? Probably. Clarification of this would be appreciated. There may be a move to transfer the headquarters of the UN to Geneva, where it has important facilities.

Despite egalitarianism, States are not equal. The UN Security Council is a recognition of this, There is no cultural "security council", It is the General Assembly, that model--or monster--of egalitarianism, which will hold the meeting on civilizations, each one of which views itself as superior. John Gehl quotes the remark by David Brooks. "Some national cultures, the ones that have inherited certain ideas - about freedom and democracy, the limits of the political claims of religion, the importance of tolerance and dissent -- are more humane than other civilizations, which reject those ideas."

Ronald Hilton - 11/2/01


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