ISSUE - UN Chamber of Human Rights & Alliance of Civilizations










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Issue: United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in the new UN Chamber of Human Rights & Alliance of Civilizations.


For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society


Review: The eleventh session of the U.N. Human Rights Council is meeting in new UN. Chamber of Human Rights & Alliance of Civilizations. The proceeding of the 2-18 June 2009 sessions can be viewed on the U.N. Human Rights Council web cast at:


The Alliance of Civilizations was established in 2005, at the initiative of the Governments of Spain and Turkey, under the auspices of the United Nations. The Alliance of Civilizations has a global scope underpinned by a universal perspective, while placing a priority on addressing relations between Western and Muslim societies.


One key objective of the Alliance of Civilizations Implementation Plan for 2007-2009 is; “develop, support and highlight projects that promote understanding and reconciliation among cultures globally and, in particular, between Muslim and Western societies. These projects are related to four main fields of action of the Alliance: youth, education, media and migration.


In pursuing these objectives, the Alliance of Civilizations maintains a universal perspective. “A priority emphasis on relations between Muslim and Western societies is warranted given that cross-cultural polarization and mutual fear are most acute within and between these communities and represent a threat to international stability and security.”


The Alliance of Civilizations in part is named as a reaction to The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, written by the late Professor Samuel P. Huntington at Harvard University, in 1997.


Here is an excerpt from his book. If his opinions have validity twelve years later they may be reflected in the eleventh session of the U.N. Human Rights Council and Islam & the Right to Change Religion or Belief a report on the extended sixth session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in December 2007. (See attached Word Document). 


The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

By Samuel P. Huntington, Harvard University, 1996




Some readers may wonder why “Resurgence” in “Islamic Resurgence” is capitalized. The reason is that it refers to an extremely important historical event affecting one-fifth or more of humanity, that it is at least as significant as the American Revolution, French Revolution, or Russian Revolution, whose “r” is usually capitalized, and that it is similar to and comparable to the Protestant Reformation in Western society, whose “R” is almost invariably capitalized.


While Asians became increasingly assertive as a result of economic development, Muslims in massive numbers were simultaneously turning toward Islam as a source of identity, meaning, stability, legitimacy, development, power and hope, hope is epitomized in the slogan “Islam is the solution.” This Islamic Resurgence in its extent and profundity is the latest phase in the adjustment of Islamic civilization to the West, an effort to find a “solution” not in Western ideologies but in Islam. It embodies acceptance of modernity, rejection of Western culture, and recommitment to Islam as the guide to life in the modern world. As a top Saudi official explained in 1994, “Foreign imports’ are nice as shiny or high-tech ‘things.’ But intangible social and political institutions imported from elsewhere can be deadly – ask the Shah of Iran…Islam for us is not just a religion but a way of life. We Saudis want to modernize, but not necessarily Westernize.”


The Islamic Resurgence is the effort by Muslims to achieve this goal. It is a broad intellectual, cultural, social, and political movement prevalent throughout the Islamic world. Islamic “fundamentalism,” commonly conceived as political Islam, is only one component in the much more extensive revival of populations. The Resurgence is mainstream not extremist, pervasive not isolated.


In similar terms, a distinguished scholar of Islam, Ali E. Hillal Desouki, sees the Resurgence as involving efforts to reinstitute Islamic law in place of Western law, the increased use of religious language and symbolism, expansion of Islamic education (manifested in the multiplication of Islamic schools and Islamization of the curricula in regular state schools), increased adherence to Islamic codes of social behavior (e.g., female covering, abstinence from alcohol), and increased participation in religious observances, domination of the opposition to secular governments in Muslim societies by Islamic groups, and expanding efforts to develop international solidarity among Islamic states and societies. La revanche de Dieu is a global phenomenon, but God , or rather Allah, has made His revenge most pervasive and fulfilling in the ummah, the community of Islam. In 1995 every country with a predominantly Muslim population, except Iran, was more Islamic and Islamist culturally, socially, and politically than it was fifteen years earlier.


Economic development in Asia will leave a legacy of wealthier, more complex economies, with substantial international involvements, prosperous and well-off middle classes. These are likely to lead towards more pluralistic and possibly more democratic politics, which will not necessarily, however, be more pro-Western. Enhanced power will instead promote continued Asian assertiveness in international affairs and efforts to direct global trends in ways uncongenial to the West and to reshape international institutions away from Western models and norms.


The causes of the renewed conflict between Islam and the West thus lie in fundamental questions of power and culture. So long as Islam remains Islam (which it will) and the West remains the West (which is more dubious), this fundamental conflict between two great civilizations and ways of life will continue to define their relations in the future even as it has defined them for the past fourteen centuries.


Conflicts between the West and Islam will focus less on territory than on broader inter-civilization issues such as weapons proliferation, human rights, democracy, and control of oil, migration, Islamist terrorism, and Western intervention.


In the wake of the Cold War, the increasing intensity of this historical antagonism has been widely recognized by members of both communities. In 1991, for instance, Barry Buzan saw many reasons why a societal cold war was emerging “between the West and Islam, in which Europe would be on the front line: “ This development is partly to do with secular versus religious values, partly to do with the historical rivalry between Christendom and Islam, partly to do with jealousy of Western power, partly to do with resentments over Western domination of the postcolonial political structuring of the Middle East, and partly to do with the bitterness and humiliation of the invidious comparison between the accomplishments of Islamic and Western civilizations in the last two centuries.”


In addition, he noted a “societal Cold War with Islam would serve to strengthen the European identity all round at a crucial time for the process of European Union.” Hence, “there may well be a substantial community in the West prepared not only to support a societal Cold War with Islam, but to adopt policies that encourage it.” In 1990 Bernard Lewis, a leading Western scholar of Islam, analyzed “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” and concluded: It should now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations – that perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction to an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. It is crucially important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but also equally irrational reaction against that rival.”


Similar observations came from the Islamic community. “There are unmistakable signs,” argued a leading Egyptian journalist , Mohammed Sid-Ahmed, in 1994, “of a growing clash between the Judeo-Christian Western ethic and the Islamic revival movement, which is now stretching from the Atlantic in the west to China in the east.” A prominent Indian Muslim predicted in 1992 that the West’s next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for the new world order will begin.” For a leading Tunisian lawyer, the struggle was already underway: “Colonialism tried to deform all cultural traditions of Islam. I am not an Islamist. I don’t think there is a conflict between religions. There is a conflict between civilizations.”


In the 1980s and 1990s the overall trend in Islam has been in an anti-Western direction. In part, this is the natural consequence of the Islamic Resurgence and the reaction against the perceived “Gharbzadegi” or Westoxication of Muslim societies. The “reaffirmation of Islam, whatever its specific sectarian form, mean the repudiation of European and American influence upon local society, politics, and morals.”


On occasion in the past, Muslim leaders did tell their people: “We must Westernize.” If any Muslim has said that in the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, he is a lonely figure. Indeed, it is hard to find statements by any Muslims, whether politicians, officials, academics, businesspersons, or journalists, praising Western values and institutions. They instead stress the differences between their civilization and Western civilization, the superiority of their culture, and the need to maintain the integrity of that culture against Western onslaught. Muslims fear and resent Western power and the threat which this poses to their society and beliefs. They see Western culture as materialistic, corrupt, decadent, and immoral. They also see it as seductive, and hence stress all the more the need to resist its impact on their way of life.”




United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum said; “never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.”


Genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief calls for respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs. Inclusive dialogue includes people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The warning signs are clear, unless there is genuine dialogue ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism; conflicts in the future will probably be even more deadly.


In 1968 the UN deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance because of its complexity and sensitivity. In forty years violence, suffering and discrimination based on religion or belief has dramatically increased. It is time for a UN Working Group to draft what they deferred in 1968, a comprehensive core international human rights treaty-a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief. See History.


The challenge to religions or beliefs at all levels is awareness, understanding and acceptance of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. Leaders, teachers and followers of all religions or beliefs, with governments, are keys to test the viability of inclusive and genuine dialogue in response to the UN Secretary General’s urgent call for constructive and committed dialogue.  


The Tandem Project title, Separation of Religion or Belief and State (SOROBAS), reflects the far-reaching scope of UN General Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4). The General Comment on Article 18 interprets this international rule of law as a guide for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts. See below: General Comment 22 on Article 18, CCPR.  


Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.


We welcome ideas on how this can be accomplished;





Proposals for constructive, long-term solutions to conflicts based on religion or belief:  


(1) Develop a model local-national-international integrated approach to human rights and freedom of religion or belief, appropriate to the cultures of each country, as follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review. See USA Example. 1 (2) Use International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief as a rule of law for inclusive and genuine dialogue on core values within and among nations, all religions and other beliefs, and for protection against discrimination. (3) Use the standards on freedom of religion or belief in education curricula and places of worship, “teaching children, from the very beginning, that their own religion is one out of many and that it is a personal choice for everyone to adhere to the religion or belief by which he or she feels most inspired, or to adhere to no religion or belief at all.” 2



Documents Attached:


UN Chamber of Human Rights & Alliance of Civilizations

Islam & the Right to Change Religion or Belief




HISTORY:  United Nations History – Freedom of Religion or Belief




1: USA Example: Universal Periodic Review & Freedom of Religion or Belief


2: Note: By Mr. Piet de Klerk, Ambassador At-Large of the Netherlands on Human Rights, 25 year Anniversary of 1981 UN Declaration on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Prague, Czech Republic.


The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.


The Tandem Project:


The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the

Economic and Social Council of the United Nations