Dialogue Between Islam and Christianity, Moscow, 23-24 June 2008

DIALOGUE BETWEEN ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY

text of the speech delivered by

Mr Yaşar Yakış

Chairman of the European Union Committee in the Turkish Parliament,

 Former Minister of Foreign Affairs

in the International Conference “Russia and the Islamic World”

Moscow, 23-24 June 2008

Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to join my voice to those who expressed their satisfaction for the excellent arrangements made for the organization of the present meeting and convey my gratitude to the Russian authorities for the quality of the meeting.

The speakers who preceded me made very pertinent points regarding the substance of our meeting. They did it much more eloquently than what I will ever be able to do.  For this reason, my intervention will be confined to the description of an initiative already under way which promotes dialogue between civilisations or cultures. At the end of my intervention I would like to submit a suggestion for the consideration of this august body to transform our debates into a more action oriented format.

The need for dialogue between the religions became more urgent after the 9/11 attacks in New York. The blame for the attacks is put on an entire religion, in this particular case on Islam, because the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks tried to justify their attacks claiming that they were defending an Islamic cause.

The US military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq are carried out as a response to these attacks. However, instead of eliminating the root cause of such attacks, the terrorist gang that carried out the 9/11 attacks was able to use the US occupation of these two countries and the misconduct of the occupation forces as an opportunity to spread its ideology to a wider public and to recruit more terrorists.

On the other hand, the xenophobia that existed in certain countries transformed itself, after the 9/11 attacks, into islamophobia. The introduction of the concept of islamophobia into the vocabulary of the international relations widened the fault line between Islam and Christianity and increased the tension between these two Abrahamic religions that believe in the same God through different prophets.

Our efforts have to be focused now on what could be done to reduce tension between the two sides of the present cultural fault line?

Several initiatives are taken in order to promote dialogue between religions. I will dwell on one of them that is called the “Alliance of Civilisations”. The reason why I chose this example is that it is an initiative taken by the Secretary General of the UN; therefore it is the one that has the widest coverage in the international community. Secondly, the Russian Federation takes a very active part in the work of this initiative. Thirdly, Iran is also very strong supporter of this process. Fourthly, Turkey, the country that I come from, is directly and deeply involved in this initiative.

 The UN Secretary General appointed Mr. Sampaio, the former President of the Republic of Portugal as his Special Representative for this Alliance. The Prime Ministers of Turkey and Spain are both the co-chairmen of this UN initiative.

This initiative is already making a difference. The strong global interest in the initiative proves that the international community prefers an environment of cooperation rather than confrontation.

The initiative has established a High Level Group, composed of Ministerial level representatives. It has drafted a report containing a Plan of Action. This Plan is now moving into the implementation stage and is strengthening the institutional structure of the Alliance.

The Alliance has also a Group of Friends, formed within the United Nations. This Group now includes more than 80 countries and international organizations. The Group provides a useful platform for discussing strategic issues and channelling concrete support for the implementation process.

The Russian Federation is a member of this Group of Friends and it extends strong support to the work of the Alliance. Russia’s presence in the Group is very important because despite the fact that Russia’s population is predominantly Orthodox, it has a sizeable Muslim population as well. Furthermore, the Muslim population of Russia is not composed of immigrants. They are part and parcel of the indigenous population of the RF. This feature of the RF brings it to a privileged position in the promotion of dialogue between Islam and Christianity.

A Forum vas convened in Madrid on 15-16 January 2008 within the framework of the Alliance of Civilizations.  It brought together a high number of statesmen, political observers, diplomats, businessmen and journalists and initiated a useful exchange of views on the challenges facing the international community with respect to cross cultural issues. The Russian Federation was also represented in the Forum. Participants were able to map out the next stage of this process, on the basis of “National Strategies for Cross-cultural Dialogue” to be prepared by members of the Group of Friends.

Turkey is doing its best to contribute to the success of the initiative. It may assume a positive role in the inter-religious dialogue, because:

a)  it is a country with predominantly Muslim population (around 99%) and with a secular regime;

b)  Turkey inherited from the Ottoman period a State tradition of accommodating different faiths living in harmony in the same country.

This is the main reason why Turkey was asked by the UN SG to assume the co-chairmanship of the Alliance of Civilisations.

Turkey has developed a “National Strategy” within this framework. This Strategy rejects the demonization of peoples of other cultures and faiths and regards diversity as a source of enrichment. Turkey’s Strategy is based on the principles of pluralism, dialogue and respect for human dignity, fundamental freedoms and gender equality.

Turkey will host the Second Annual Forum of the “Alliance of Civilizations” to be held on 2-3 April 2009. I am confident that the Russian Federation will bring its equally strong contribution to this UN meeting in Turkey as well.

We call on all countries and international organisations that are represented in the present forum to extend their support to the initiative by participating in its implementation stage.

As decades of misperceptions and disconnect cannot be redressed overnight, we are aware that this is a long process which can only be successful with the full contribution of the international community.

I would like to conclude my words by proposing to this distinguished forum that we discuss whether we can move one step further from where we stay at present to a more action oriented framework. This framework could be for instance the elaboration of a Plan of Action, similar or comparable to the one that is worked out in the Alliance of Civilizations.

If we do not do this, our meetings may remain like a Debating Society where scholars come and discuss the agenda items at a philosophical level and disperse without making any concrete progress and start from scratch at the subsequent meeting.

I conclude my words with this suggestion and thank you for your attention.

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