The rejection of the use of violence to justify acts of terrorism and the “importance of promoting dialogue, understanding and tolerance” were at the heart of a two-day UN interfaith meeting that saw the participation of representatives from 80 nations, including some 20 heads of state. Such views were given greater importance by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who read the final declaration at a press conference.
“King Abdullah's initiative has come at a time when the need for dialogue among religions, cultures and civilizations has never been greater,” Ban said.
Still despite the unanimous support for the final declaration about the importance of dialogue, the meeting highlighted fundamental differences between the West, which stresses human rights, and Muslim countries, which have an entirely different take on the issue.
For example, US President Bush said today that everyone has “the right to choose or change religions and the right to worship in private or public.”
The day before European Union representative, Frenchman, Alain Juppé made the same point.
But Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, criticised Saudi Arabia, a country “where religious intolerance runs deepest.”
Conversely, Muslim countries have focused instead on what they see as Islamophobia in the West.
Pakistani President Asif Zardari tackled the issue head-on, criticising prejudices and “imaginart fear” about his religion.
As usual Iran’s representative, Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee, in addition to the standards attacks against Israel, lambasted what he called “systematic and negative stereotypes of Islam.”
Of note Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faysal defended his country against its critics who in his opinion believe that “from the beginning you have to transform yourself into something which you aren’t now or nothing else can be achieved."