UNITED NATIONS. FARCICAL "ALLIANCE OF CIVILIZATIONS." MINI U.N./DPI/UNESCO PROPOSED WITH "RISK FUND" TO "TEMPER MARKET FORCES," "MONITOR" MEDIA, "ENCOURAGE" OTHERS, "COMPENSATE" THEATRES, "PREVENT USE AND ABUSE OF INTERNET," AND PRESTIGIOUS POSTS FOR "HIGH LEVEL GROUP OF EMINENT PERSONS"!

 

FARCICAL "ALLIANCE OF CIVILIZATIONS." MINI U.N./DPI/UNESCO PROPOSED WITH "RISK FUND" TO "TEMPER MARKET FORCES," "MONITOR" MEDIA, "ENCOURAGE" OTHERS, "COMPENSATE" THEATRES, "PREVENT USE AND ABUSE OF INTERNET," AND PRESTIGIOUS POSTS FOR "HIGH LEVEL GROUP OF EMINENT PERSONS"!

15 March 2007

While no one is watching, outgoing Secretary General Kofi Annan will be returning through the back door of the proposed Alliance of Civilizations. When first initiated, it sounded like such a farce that we listed the names of his senior officials who were under varied investigations as proposed members of its board, with the forgettable Kojo as advisor.

Having shifted from its earlier incarnation as "Dialogue Among Cultures" -- a brainchild of distinguished Iranian scholar and former President Sayyed Mohammed Khatemi -- the rehashed project seemed more like an appropriate exit strategy for famed shredder Iqbel Riza. Although it was farfetched to have the most frequently investigated U.N. staffer in U.N. history assume the mantle of world civilizations, no fierce objections were raised mainly out of courtesy to the Secretary General, who was at the point of having to change his wily Chef de Cabinet. Perhaps he needed future immunity, or at least a face-saving ploy.

It turns out that once more Mr. Riza was fronting for Mr. Annan, with something in it for him, as usual.

December 18, 2006, marked the starting signal for a free-wheeling mini-U.N., under the guise of that alliance. Assembled in the Trusteeship Council chamber under the enthusiastic oversight of the unsuspecting General Assembly President, the proposal took official shape with the supportive presence of two Prime Ministers, Jose Zapatero of Spain and Recep Tayeb Erdogan of Turkey. Both politicians perceived the value of a civilization's "vision." One is under the illusion that it would polish his image in handling Islamic terrorist outlaws hijacking that religion's noble name in bombing trains and killing innocent people; the other hopes it will strengthen his hand in getting into Europe. Both have active compatriots seeking prestigious international designations; a former Spanish Director General of UNESCO and a former Turkish ambassador to the U.N. are said to be anxiously waiting in the wings.

Unfortunately, however, invoking civilizations, like invoking religious sentiments, could be highly explosive and terribly counter-productive. Modern Spain and Turkey are dynamic influential countries with enlightened leadership. Both are superbly placed -- geographically, politically and culturally -- to play a pivotal role in their regimes (Spain has several) and the world. But delving into "civilizations" will eventually open old ethnic, religious and historic wounds where these two countries, seats of former empires, could be particularly vulnerable. A recent establishment of a Spanish Institute for the Arab World, like the ailing one in Paris, could hardly have an impact. And most likely Mr. Annan's article in Canada's Globe and Mail (about how wonderful the Bosphorus flows) was not read by the Arab and Moslem masses (except perhaps that diligent interpreter in Manama).

What is that project about anyway? What does it mean in the scheme of current things?

Never mind the stated purpose. It is gibberish for the worn out bureaucratic axiom: "when in doubt, mumble." Something about overcoming misconceptions that "militate" against a common consensus. There is also that hope for "a coalescing global movement" which "rejects extremism in any society."

How could that be achieved?

Obviously by naming a High Representative with a support office; a U.N.-financed Forum for the Alliance; regional, national and local "Alliance Councils." In brief, a new mini-U.N. with the same old objectives: another layer with jobs for already designated boys, blended by an occasional pretense of intellectual intercourse, if feasible.

What do they propose to do that had not been done before?

  • Creating training programs in schools of journalism (how novel!)
  • Encouraging leaders (it is either "leaders" or "high level"; no grass roots need apply). In turn, "leaders" would "generate op-ed pieces, commentaries and videos to help deepen intellectual understanding." (Perhaps that lonely article on the Bosphorus was the opening salvo.)
  • "Directing greater resources" towards media (does it mean bribing some writers?!) aimed at improving popular attitudes between different cultures.

If you didn't get the point, another proposal puts it more directly: Establishing a "risk fund to temper the market forces that encourage sensationalists and stereotypes." (Who would be paid, who decides, for what?!) A further explanation follows: "To COMPENSATE theatres, museums, publishers and other cultural venues for losses incurred..." (Again, that would entail "monitoring and reviewing media coverage" and encouraging governments, organizations and civil society generally "to work together TO PREVENT THE INTERNET from being used and abused." One more "encouragement" would go to Hollywood, where diplomatic rock stars would look for a few scripts to be duly rewarded by funds in hand.

To give the High Representative an even "higher" stature, a "High Level Group of Eminent Persons" would be designated -- with the usual political or financial expediency.

That freewheeling mini-U.N./mini-UNESCO may be a harmless exercise of ego rejuvenation. A farcical invoking of civilizations, cultures and, inevitably, religions -- particularly by those not seriously versed with the issues -- will most likely backfire not only at the self-appointed Cultural Commissioners but in fanning further tensions within and among member states. The Risk Fund -- to "temper market forces" -- may risk unleashing other forces which would be less tempered.

Preparatory measures are underway to launch that project in March. While the U.N. Secretariat and the majority of delegations are preoccupied by new restructuring proposals, authorization to move to a "higher level" of implementation would immediately follow.

Outgoing Secretary General Kofi Annan had served the U.N. for over forty years, with the last ten years as its political symbol. Particularly with the very difficult last four years, he deserves a rewarding acknowledgement. By now he is a widely recognized world figure. While it is tempting to push for a project, however dubious, that would assure some regained limelight potential, repercussions may not be worth the venture. He does not need the prestige and quite frankly his forte is elsewhere; not in that field but in the wider area of human communications.

For a U.N. trying to regain its balance -- and role -- after recent years of turmoil, another uncoordinated layer of operatives would fragment rather than cement its role. Thus, we would be having a double operation at the same time: a Secretary General and a Secretary General Emeritus.