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Last Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006, 14:38 GMT
Call to bridge West-Muslim divide
Muslim protesters in London
The group says mutual fear and suspicion is fuelling tensions
A cross-cultural group of 20 prominent world figures has called for urgent efforts to heal the growing divide between Muslim and Western societies.

The chief causes of the rift are not religion or history, they say, but recent political developments, notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Their findings were presented to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at a ceremony in Istanbul on Monday.

No other dispute had such a symbolic or emotional impact on people, he said.

"We may wish to think of the Arab -Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict among many. But it is not," Mr Annan said.

"As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dances halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed."

Peoples who feel that they face persistent discrimination, humiliation, or marginalisation are reacting by asserting their identity more aggressively
Alliance of Civilisations report

The Alliance of Civilisations, which includes Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, dismisses the notion that a clash of civilisations is inevitable, but says that swift action is needed.

The group argues that the need to build bridges between Muslim and Western societies has never been greater.

They say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with Western military interventions in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, contributes significantly to the growing sense of resentment and mistrust that mars relations among communities.

Globalisation's downside

READ THE FINDINGS

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The experts call for renewed effort from the international community to resolve the Middle East crisis.

In a separate development, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is in Washington for talks with President George W Bush on the conflict.

The Alliance of Civilisations report also proposes appointing a high-level representative to work to defuse tensions at times of crisis.

Anti-Pope protest in Pakistan
The inflammatory language used by some leaders is criticised
It warns that globalisation is contributing to the discord, with many communities experiencing it as "an assault".

"For them, the prospect of greater well-being has come at a high price, which includes cultural homogenisation, family dislocation, challenges to traditional lifestyles, and environmental degradation," the report said.

People who feel they face discrimination, humiliation, or marginalisation are reacting by asserting their identity more aggressively, the report says.

The report also suggests that the repression of non-violent political opposition and the slow pace of reforms in some Muslim countries is a key factor in the rise of extremism.

It calls for ruling parties in these countries to allow the full participation of peaceful political groups, whether religious or secular in nature.

Youth education

It criticises the inflammatory language sometimes used by political and religious leaders and the effect such language can have when amplified by the media, urging leaders and shapers of public opinion to promote understanding among cultures and mutual respect of religious belief and traditions.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The only way to bridge the gap is to respect other peoples' beliefs and customs
Steve Hughes, UK

The report's authors argue that ignorance is the root cause of a good deal of hostility, so they also propose long-term media and youth education programmes and a focus on cultural ties.

But the group makes it clear such schemes will have limited impact if the immediate political causes of tension are not addressed.

The Alliance of Civilisations report was written by prominent international figures from a variety of religions who have been meeting over the past year.

It was created by Mr Annan with the mandate to propose a concrete plan of action to bridge the gap between increasingly polarised Muslim and Western societies and overcome mutual feelings of fear and suspicion.

The UN initiative was co-sponsored by the prime ministers of predominantly Roman Catholic Spain and Muslim Turkey.




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