Cablegate: Unga High Level Dialogue On Interreligious And

DE RUCNDT #0851/01 2841339
P 111339Z OCT 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: Speakers at a UN General Assembly High-Level
Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding
and Cooperation for Peace, Oct. 4-8, stressed the value of
dialogue and education in overcoming misunderstanding and the
importance of respecting basic freedoms, particularly freedom
of religion and expression. Addressing the issue of
stereotypes and misunderstanding, many focused on the
misinterpretation of Islam and in several instances this
discussion led to criticism of the West, the media and
freedom of expression. While many delegations cited examples
of actions taken within their own countries to increase
understanding between religions and cultures, few made
specific recommendations for international action. Two panel
discussions focused on the importance of dialogue, respect
for human rights and the importance of local leadership and
grassroots action. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Ross
highlighted the need for dialogue between moderates and
extremists within each faith in parallel with interfaith
dialogue. U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy
and Public Affairs Karen Hughes stressed the importance of
dialogue, education and exchanges to promote intercultural
and interreligious understanding and to reduce misperceptions
between groups. End Summary

Dialogue Between and Within Religions

2. (U) Most countries welcomed the High Level Dialogue and
supported international, regional, national and local
dialogue as the key to creating a tolerant, secure and
peaceful world. Nearly all provided examples of successful
cultural and religious dialogue within their own regions and
nations. While most argued that interreligious dialogue is
important to avoid the clash of civilizations, very few
countries called for dialogue within religious traditions as
a means to address extremism.

3. (U) Indonesia, Pakistan and Finland were the only speakers
that addressed dialogue within religious groups. Indonesia,
recognizing that conflict and tension also rise between
factions of the same religion, called for intra-faith
dialogue. Pakistan called for an initiation of "dialogue
among our own people to build further understanding of the
true spirit and values of their own and other major
religions." Finland called for self-reflection and discussion
of beliefs and freedoms within religious communities.

"Islamophobia": Where does it come from?

3. (U) Nearly all delegations argued that lack of
understanding and stereotypes create division between
religions and cultures, specifically between the Western and
Islamic world. Most delegations called for increased
religious and cultural education and dialogue to reduce
stereotyping and blamed current conflicts on lack of mutual
understanding, as well as underlying socio-economic and
political factors. However, several countries pointed the
blame at the West for what they described as growing
discrimination and attacks on Islam and on Muslim people
around the world.

4. (U) Algeria argued that this tension comes from an
incorrect association of Islam with violence, intolerance and
extremism. Pakistan stated that in the post-9/11 world,
Islam is perceived by the West as propagating terrorism,
extremism and bent on striking at Western values. Syria and
the OIC also focused on the Western role in creating
anti-Islamic sentiment. The OIC pointed to campaigns of hate
speech to denigrate and attack Islam, noting, "Islamophobia
is on the rise."

5. (U) The Pakistani representative stated that in the
Islamic world, the West is seen as suppressing Muslims in
places like Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir. Malaysia stated
that "oppression and ill treatment" of certain groups, such
as the Palestinians and Muslim minorities, contribute to the
conflict between the West and the Islamic world. The UAE
argued that violence, occupation, cultural and economic
domination by developed states increases feelings of
injustice, inequality and marginalization in developing
nations and leads to "a breeding ground for new security

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threats that include extremism, violence and revenge."

6. (U) Western media were often accused of creating a
negative image of Islam. The Pakistani representative argued
that Western media exploit freedom of expression to propagate
insults against Islam and its sacred symbols. Kuwait also
argued that fear of Islam leads to discrimination and that
the media have a large role connecting Islam with terrorism.
Senegal pointed to the abuse of freedom of expression to
attack Islam. Cuba also criticized the Western media for
their negative portrayal of Islam as a religion associated
with terrorism and violence.

7. (U) Jordan noted an attempt to portray Islam as a religion
of violence, but also mentioned the need to combat extremism
within Islam, specifically citing the need to define who is
authorized to issue a Fatwa.

Role of the Media

8. (U) Most countries agreed that the media play an important
role in promoting understanding between religions and
cultures and cited ways to include the media in this
dialogue. However, some sharply criticized the media's role
and called for measures against media abuse, particularly in
their portrayal of Islam.

9. (U) Saudi Arabia called for international laws regarding
respect for religion and attacks on religious symbols. The
OIC also called for legal provisions to prohibit defamation
of religions and their sacred symbols to avoid "provocative
attempts that poison relations between the adherents of
different religions, under the guise of freedom of
expression." Pakistan called for prohibition of hate
literature and the "defamation of religious personalities
under the pretext of freedom of expression." Malaysia,
Kuwait, Cuba and Lebanon also noted the media's sometimes
negative role, but stopped short of calling for restrictive

Practical Solutions

10. (U) Most speakers called for continued dialogue and
education in general terms. Nearly all speakers cited
examples of interreligious and intercultural dialogue and
harmony within their own nations and steps already taken
nationally and regionally to achieve cooperation. Education
was almost unanimously recognized as key to a solution. The
majority expressed support for the work of The Alliance of
Civilizations, an initiative of the UN Secretary-General,
co-sponsored by Spain and Turkey, to urge governments and
civil society to work to overcome prejudice and

11. (U) Several nations praised regional action plans, such
as the Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue, which seek
to increase connections, foster tolerance and improve media
coverage. European countries expressed support for the
EUROMED Barcelona process.

12. (U) Several countries, including the Philipines, Belarus,
Vietnam and Syria, called for establishment and strengthening
of a focal unit on interreligious and intercultural dialogue
within the UN Secretariat. Belarus also suggested broader
involvement of the UN Secretariat's ICT mechanism. Pakistan
called for the establishment of a common school training
diplomats and officials from nations representing different
faiths to teach greater understanding of other religions and

Dialogue as a Platform for Criticism

13. (U) Several speakers used the opportunity of the High
Level Dialogue to criticize other nations. Nicaragua
criticized powerful UN members for their "addiction to
warfare", the UN for its inability to curb the "insane
concept of preventive war in which the potential aggressor
looks into his crystal ball to decide who will be the next

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target of its occupations and aggressions", and the Security
Council for its failure to criticize powerful nations, even
in cases of flagrant violations of the UN charter.

14. (U) Cuba accused global power elites of imposing their
culture as part of a neo-colonial policy. Its representative
stated that "today's world bears witness to genocidal wars
that the powers of the North wage in their voracious pursuit
of hegemonic dominance." Cuba alleged human rights
violations committed "in the name of the so-called "war on

15. (U) Azerbaijan used the platform to accuse Armenia of
ethnic cleansing and genocide and to call for international
cooperation for restoring the rights of Azerbaijani refugees.
Serbia criticized the government of Kosovo.

16. (U) Syria used the platform to criticize current world
trends. Its representative called the twentieth century the
most violent, despite globalization and advances in science
and communication. He pointed to colonial injustices against
Afro-Asian and Latin American cultures and the first use of
nuclear weapons. He called for an end to using religion for
expansionism and settlement and for an end to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. UAE also called for a solution
to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Panel Discussion with Civil Society

17.(U) Along with the plenary speeches, two panels comprised
of members of civil society discussed interreligious and
intercultural dialogue and current best practices. Many
panel members called for turning dialogue into action and the
need to respect human rights around the world. They stressed
the need to use local leaders for successful dialogue and
peace building. Several examples of local initiatives were

18.(U) Many speakers addressed the role of the media. A
Nigerian Imam criticized the media for lack of sensitivity to
religion and culture. A speaker from a Spanish NGO called
the clash of civilizations a "clash of ignorance" and argued
that the media have an important role in changing
misperceptions. A Sri Lankan journalist cited erroneous
reports, such as initial attribution of the Oklahoma City
bombing to Middle Eastern terrorist groups, as evidence that
the media often report based on stereotypes. Although these
reports are later proven false, he asserted that the damage
is already done.

19.(U) Several speakers addressed the need for
self-reflection within religions. A U.S. professor called
for religions to examine extremism within their own
communities. He argued that religions cannot deny that
extremists are a part of their community, since they use
their same text and teachings to preach extremism. Egypt's
representative disagreed, arguing that he is Muslim, but has
"nothing in common with those who kill in the name of God."
Speaking for the U.S., Ambassador Christopher Ross called for
two parallel dialogues: one between different religions and
another, equally important, between moderates and extremists
within a religion to seek a return to non-violence.

20.(U) The Philippines recommended the creation of a UN body
organized for interfaith dialogue whose membership would
include members of civil society.


21.(U) Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public
Affairs Karen Hughes delivered a well-received statement
focusing on the positive impact of religion. She stressed
the importance of dialogue, education and exchanges to
promote intercultural and interreligious understanding and to
reduce misperceptions between groups. The full text is
available at releases/20071004 225.html.

22.(SBU) Comment: While uplifting, this high-level dialogue
is not likely to lead to a measurable improvement in

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interfaith or intercultural understanding.

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