1 MAY 2015


UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

"Religion does not cause violence. People do," Secretary General Ban Ki-moon rightly and sincerely told a gathering of "faith leaders" at U.N. Headquarters. He explained that the dignity and worth of the human person, the equal rights of men and women, tolerance and living, together in harmony "are our bedrock and they are what this organization defends."

Regrettably, these basic positions did not seem to reach outside U.N. premises in New York.

A two-day meeting on April 20-21 was touted as a "High-Level (an empty mantra by now) platform for Member States and faith leaders from around the world, along with other stakeholders, to discuss means of promoting tolerance and reconciliation, as well as to address challenges of countering radicalization and extremism."

The first day was supposedly divided, again to a "high-level plenary" and an "interactive panel discussion." Participants would discuss "practical strategies to foster peaceful, inclusive societies and to counter the threat of radicalization and violent extremism." Day two would generally focus on interfaith dialogue, "featuring high-level statements and an interactive panel discussion on the role of faith leaders in promoting tolerance for diversity, freedom of expression and human rights."

An official statement claimed that the meeting will be "a powerful demonstration of how diverse communities can address common challenges."

Not a whimper anywhere else. Very little impact of the priorities above actually materialized.

While Mr. Ban has been travelling the globe, stressing his welcome stand, and General Assembly President Sam Kotusa was performing his assigned duties appropriately, the substantive office expected to carry the basic operational work was obviously not up to that promise. The "High Representative (how 'High'?!) for the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations," Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, has no name recognition even in his own Arab region. His cultural and academic credentials are almost obscure compared to prominent Qatari intellectuals. . For one example Qatar Minister of Culture, Hamad Al-Kuwari, has a P.H.D. from New York University, Maters from the Sorbonne University.in Paris, a B.A. in Islamic Studies from Cairo University, and High Diploma from the Jesuit University of Beirut. A number of Qatari women have impressive credentials which help make a social and cultural difference in the dynamics of that country.

Obviously, money is no object, particularly during these times at the U.N. What ever was behind his designation is a matter of speculation. For sure, the Secretary-General, who is elected by the General Assembly, is entitled to designate his own choice. Yet he is entitled to receive a productive impact, particularly in an area where any accomplishments, however limited, will be appropriately noted.

In a world of extended, expanded conflicts exploiting the mantle of holy religion, any serious effort should focus on the tortured fragmented regions. Prominent and influential religious leaders, popularly renowned and highly regarded with recognized followings, should be involved. A seriously highly regarded "High-Level" Representative who could draw such effective leaders and involve their grass-root civic groups should be designated.

More meetings in New York in April or at the resort of Bali in September will not only have no effect, there will be no media or popular response. More damaging, they inflict undue harm on the role of the U.N. and the standing of our distinguished Secretary-General.