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Opening of the 4th Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations

Bundespräsident Christian Wulff und seine Frau Bettina im Gespräch mit Scheicha Mozah bint Nasser, Frau des Emirs von Katar Doha, Katar, 11. Dezember 2011 Offizieller Besuch in Katar - Eröffnung des 4. Forums der Allianz der Zivilisationen, im Gespräch mit Scheicha Mozah bint Nasser, Ehefrau des Scheichs von Katar © Jesco Denzel

As-salâmu alaykum!

I’m very glad to be here with you today. I would like to thank our hosts in Qatar, especially Sheikha Moza. I would also like to thank the partners who have been actively promoting a culture of peace and dialogue through the Alliance of Civilizations and hope to further this aim here in Doha. For an “alliance of civilizations” to be effective, successful and conducive to peace, plurality is essential, as is a commitment to diversity, to those from different backgrounds and to the unknown. This also entails ensuring that everyone has fair opportunities in life and that power is not concentrated in the hands of the few. Every individual needs and deserves access to education and opportunities to participate. Furthermore, guaranteed freedom of the press and opinion is vital for an open competition of ideas. No-one has the right to prohibit others from thinking freely.

It makes a difference if you are seriously interested in the person you are talking to. If you respect them in their otherness and try to see and understand the world from their point of view, you can – with all due respect – also discuss controversial issues.

However this dialogue has its limits: it is impossible to enter into such a dialogue with those who disregard human dignity and commit serious human rights violations.

That is why I advocate the recognition of Islam at home, because the religion has now become part of life in our country – although this is far from universally accepted.

And in Muslim-majority countries, I call for Christians and other religious minorities to be given protection and the right to realize their potential. State and church must be separate.

Religious pluralism is a key prerequisite for peaceful coexistence. Many people consider their faith to be an inseparable part of their identity. However, we must not define people by their religion alone.

All monotheistic world religions believe that humankind was created by the Creator. For this reason, religious leaders in particular should treat members of other religions with respect and speak out loud and clear when religion is used as a pretext for conflict.

They should try to focus on the common cornerstones of their faiths: the belief in a Creator, the duty to look after Creation and preserve the dignity of all human beings.

If they were to do this, the world religions could cease to be a cause of conflict and become a medium of understanding, providing a foundation for a shared humanity, a global ethos. The dignity of the individual must be the link.

The sweeping changes in the Arab world and the courage and dedication displayed by many people, above all young people, are but one illustration of the universal nature of the yearning for self-fulfilment, for justice, for dignity and recognition, for political, social and economic participation.
In our diverse world, we now have a great opportunity to seek and find new paths of under-standing and cooperation – between our countries and within our societies, between people from different cultural or religious backgrounds. But this can only succeed if we do not make a taboo of undesirable developments and intolerance, if we question prejudices, look at things more closely and draw distinctions where they are due.

Is “the West” really only seeking hegemony? And what is our distrust of “Islamist forces” really based on? I am sure that Europe will change its attitude towards Muslim countries. In my capacity as Federal President, I seek to engage in dialogue with the Organization of the Islamic Conference and with many countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Tunisia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Turkey and Qatar. Qatar is a stunning example of a dynamic process which has benefited many.

Conversely, our readiness to support peaceful forces in the countries undergoing dramatic change can hopefully effect the same.

Many Europeans have for too long stood by authoritarian rulers – although we should have known from our own experience that in the long run the diversity of an open society is the best guarantor of peace, stability and development.

Everywhere it is vital to promote institutions, to limit the use of force by the rule of law and to prevent abuse of power by introducing checks and balances. It is vital to create the conditions for civil society to flourish, to protect diversity of opinion and minorities, and to ensure political participation for all – in particular for women.

Young people in many countries and cities – in New York, in Chile, in Madrid or Berlin – are concerned that debts are being run up at the expense of their generation.

But creating dignified livelihoods for everybody is more than ever a shared responsibility across all cultural borders. In our networked world, this can only be done through fair trade, through access to resources, environmental and climate protection, and with the readiness of other states to mediate in conflicts, to ostracize tyrants and fight tyranny.

The Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council – not least at the initiative of Qatar – have demonstrated a great awareness of this responsibility during the last few months and have taken courageous decisions on Libya, Syria and Yemen. This development deserves great recognition and respect. Qatar has done much to help us understand one another, to approach each other and to learn from one another.

I would like to express my thanks to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The United Nations has never been in demand in so many places nor has it ever been so successful. I am thinking here, for example, of events in Côte d’Ivoire or the establishment of the new state South Sudan.

The various parts of our world are connected more than ever by the media, by markets and migratory flows. This has its good side. Videos of violence in some Arab countries, for example, have shocked and outraged the world and given rise to a wave of global solidarity. On the other hand, these new communication tools can be used to fuel and spread prejudice, for example the reservations and fears concerning Islam.

That is why the existence of independent media that report objectively and fairly, which are based in the region and thus have credibility, cannot be rated highly enough. But I am working to promote the idea that we are a world community, a community with a common destiny. A community, in which we have to understand the feelings and interests of others in order to find common solutions.

The tasks ahead of us are colossal: peacekeeping, the fight against terrorism, a financial order, climate change. They could divide us or unite us. We should do what we can to make that which unites us stronger than all the forces that seek to tear us apart.

I am counting on the Alliance of Civilizations as a force for good in this endeavour. I am counting on cooperation in place of confrontation: on people wanting to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. If so many – just like those here at the Alliance of Civilizations conference – want to be part of the solution, then those who are part of the problem will not stand a chance.