DOHA (AFP) -UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called on influential world figures to fight extremism and bridge the divide between East and West at the opening of a conference of Muslim and European leaders.
“Lofty ideas alone are not enough … We need to develop sobering, but equally compelling counter-narratives of our own,” Annan told delegates at the second gathering of the UN-sponsored Alliance of Civilizations.
The UN chief drew attention to the violent demonstrations across the Muslim world over the satiric cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in Europe as symptoms of a greater global sickness.
“At the heart of this crisis is a trend towards extremism in many societies,” Annan told the gathering Sunday.
“I very much hope that you can come up with specific, concrete suggestions for ways of carrying dialogue forward so that it can really catch the popular imagination; so that we are not just a nice group of people agreeing with each other, but people with a message that can echo around the world.”
He said world figures, especially artists, entertainers and sports champions, must promote the ideology of tolerance and understanding between cultures among youth before they are swayed by extremists.
“It is very important to reach young people before their ideas and attitudes have fully crystallised,” he said.
The Alliance of Civilizations initiative, launched in November 2005 by Spain and Turkey, has created a “high-level group” of some 20 members including Iran’s former president Mohammed Khatami, former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine, South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the wife of Qatar’s emir Sheikha Mozah.
The group, which had its first meeting in Palma de Mallorca in Spain in November and will have two more meetings after Doha, is expected to come up with concrete steps for promoting dialogue between cultures that will be presented to the UN, other international organisations and world governments in the autumn.