Speech by the President of the spanish government J.L. Rodriguez Zapatero at the summit of the League of Arab States

Alger, March 22nd, 2005

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President of the Democratic People’s Republic of Algeria,
Your Majesties,
Heads of State and Government,
Your Excellencies,

Allow me first of all to express my deep satisfaction at having this opportunity to talk to you on the occasion of this important Summit. I should like to thank you for your invitation which is a great honour for me - especially since the Arab League is celebrating its 60th anniversary. I feel at home and among friends with you here; therefore my words are the result of closeness, affection and friendship.

I represent Spain, a country which has always been a cross-roads and a meeting place for different cultures, traditions and religions. We have a multiple and diverse identity, with deep Mediterranean roots, and we cultivate it because we are aware of and appreciate its richness.

Therefore, we aspire, as we did in the renowned Toledo School and have done over the course of our history, to be introducers, translators and facilitators at meetings and dialogues. We believe that in our agitated world which is beset by uncertainties, understanding, mutual comprehension and dialogue are especially necessary in order to meet the serious challenges we face together.

The Spanish thinker and educator Giner de los Ros remarked that Spain was “a country indebted to the world, a country that would need to return to other nations at least a hundredth part of what we have received from them”.

Humbly, we can perhaps at the present time return at least something of the great amount that our country has received from other countries over the course of the centuries and, in particular, from the Arab world. Through the medium of your intellectuals, and in particular Averroes, between us we achieved the recovery of classic philosophy, and our creative sensitivity drew decisive sustenance from your poets and artists.

Secretary-General, Your Excellencies,

We are at this time especially conscious of the threat of terrorism. Only a few days ago we commemorated the first anniversary of the terrible terrorist attacks that shook Madrid on March 11th, 2004. It was in the same city of Madrid, which had faced up with so much composure and fortitude to the tragedy of that terrorist barbarity, that we had an opportunity to pay emotional tribute to the many victims of the atrocious attack in the “Bosque de los Ausentes” (Wood of the Absent). This tribute was honoured by the presence of many distinguished Heads of State and Government and other representatives of our brother Arab countries.

Our heartfelt appreciation goes to those who shared our sorrow, as did all the Moslem leaders and representatives in Spain who have expressed their solidarity with the victims and stressed the incompatibility of their religious principles with the crime of murder.

During the days prior to March 11th, we also held a Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security in Madrid, which brought together numerous world dignitaries and experts and culminated in a draft project, which obtained international consensus, on how to meet the challenge of terrorism jointly and effectively.

The conclusions of the Madrid Summit were unequivocal: there is no justifiable cause whatsoever for terrorism. No idea, however, legitimate, can serve as a pretext for indiscriminate murder. Terror exacerbates conflicts and hampers their solution. Terrorism is the absolute negation of the values that sustain human dignity. Thus there is no room for it in any project of a just society.

Terrorism has been used falsely used throughout history in the name of different ideologies or religious confessions. It is therefore not proper to any of them, and it cannot be linked exclusively to any civilization, culture or tradition.

Islam is a peaceful and tolerant identifying element of many countries and many peoples. The reductionist view that attaches preponderantly radical and fanatical attributes to terrorism is a grave error that places entire societies or collectives under suspicion of complicity. It is an error that prevents comprehension and only leads to lack of understanding between cultures.

The aggravation of differences, of poverty and of discrimination in the present-day world is raising a wall of suspicion and distrust between us. This perverse wall is subtler and wider than was the Berlin Wall because it constitutes a spiritual illness. Extremism is growing and voices are joining together to worship the cult of exacerbation of difference and disregard for other people. Distorted images are constantly disseminated of other cultures and religions.

Secretary-General, Your Excellencies,

The time has come to react and to oppose these trends. Governments - both Western and Arab - are duty-bound not to remain inactive in the presence of the widening of the breach. We must be able to erase prejudice from our minds and eradicate intolerance. Against inciting fiery speeches, bombs, discrimination and violence, we must mobilise our citizens in order to overcome the mental barriers of the past and build a better world.

Today I appear humbly before you for the purpose of presenting the proposal for an Alliance of Civilisations that I submitted to the United Nations General Assembly in the autumn of last year, and in connection with which we have continued to think and work together with the United Nations General Secretariat and a good number of countries interested in participating in this initiative.

The sense of our proposal is not in itself entirely new. The need to build bridges of understanding between the different cultures of our planet has already been reflected in a number of initiatives that, as against the dangerous prophecies of an inevitable “clash of civilisations”, advocate - in one way or another - constructive dialogue between civilisations, peoples, cultures and religions.

We are aware that the causes underlying the new threats are sustained by two types of phenomena - on the one hand by the aggravation of manifestly unjust economic and political situations; and on the other (frequently supported and enhanced by the foregoing), by the radicalisation and distortion of their own culture, which turns its back on itself and sets itself up as the exclusive instrument of its own salvation.

This manner of seeing ourselves betrays the values of all cultures. We are convinced that every culture is an absolutely legitimate way of approaching reality and the ideals of human society. Therefore we can aspire to identifying the common foundation of our ideas and feelings, and of upholding it against the spectres of intolerance, incomprehension and exclusion.

We want, in short, to open up channels of communication and practical ways of co-operation between the peoples of the world, so that diversity may not be perceived as a threat but rather as an immensely enriching potential.

We are convinced that the best way to implement this proposal would be within the universal framework of the United Nations, which has already taken important steps in this direction and which has the necessary legitimacy. We intend to focus on achieving a broad international consensus on a project consisting of specific action. Our approach is pragmatic and aims to include the results of previous initiatives.

We are open to any contributions that other countries and friends might wish to make and, for our part, we suggest that we concentrate on two areas of special significance: the political and security sphere, and that of culture and education.

Efforts in the political and security field must pursue the consolidation of a more just and peaceful international order, since without justice and peace there can be no progress and stability and it would be difficult to meet the threats to our security. We must work to attain an effective multilateral system, based on respect for the rule of law, the promotion of democratic values and the strengthening of our common institutions.

In the cultural and educational ambit there is also a great deal that we can do in order to foster concord, promote dialogue and prevent discrimination and violence. We must pay special attention to the media and to the crucial work of our schools.

We hope that the proposal for an Alliance of Civilisations that we support will not be restricted to a concrete problem or to specific territorial areas. It is vital that all the different schools of thought should be represented together with us in this common endeavour.

We are pursuing a shared objective: that of overcoming the misunderstandings between the Western and the Islamic worlds, taking the initiative for that purpose and incorporating representatives of other civilizations into this undertaking. These issues are being dealt with in other fora, but there the global dimension that only the United Nations can offer is missing.

We are working intensively with the United Nations Secretary-General with a view to the setting up of a high-level group with a clear and precise mandate. It is a matter of bringing together a number of world figures who will study in detail the factors that have generated the international schism, for the purpose of formulating specific political measures that will enable the United Nations to offer effective solutions for the situation created.

The process is already under way. I would now like to ask the Arab League Member States, whose contribution is essential, to collaborate actively to this endeavour, in order that it may become a specific plan of action within the framework of the United Nations.

The Alliance of Civilisations is a long-term project that must necessarily be complemented by immediate efforts in order to provide a solution to the conflicts that are tearing our peoples apart.

Secretary-General, Your Excellencies,

We cannot allow yet another generation of Palestinians to be plunged into desperation because they are unable to carve out a decent future for themselves in an independent state, free of occupation.

Now more than ever we have to support - tirelessly and all together - the efforts by the new Palestinian leadership to achieve a just peace with Israel. The risks facing President Mahmoud Abbas are enormous and he will need our help in over to prevail over the obstacles in his path.

If we talk about peace, we are morally obliged to demand the total renunciation of violence, since its continuation will bring no more than suffering, harm and delays to the legitimate cause of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people are tired of violence and of the desperation that it provokes. They, like all peoples, want peace, but a just and viable peace, which recognises their rights and their legitimate aspirations for an independent state.

Within the European Union, Spain is determined to take advantage of the fresh opportunity for peace by supporting the Israeli Government’s plan for disengagement from Gaza, under the conditions stipulated by the EU and within the framework of the Road Map, which continues to be the basic referent.

Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries are also working very specifically to resolve, once and for all, the Palestinian issue, which constitutes a focus of instability and violence for the entire region. The League of Arab States can likewise contribute outstandingly to achieving a just and lasting peace, specifically by relaunching the Arab initiative adopted at the Beirut Summit at the urgings of Saudi Arabia, which offered peace and the normalisation of relations with Israel.

Secretary-General, Your Excellencies,

Nobody is braver than he who risks his life for peace. So let us be brave in order to achieve it now.

Unfortunately other nations also suffer from violence and conflict at this time.

The Iraqui people deserve a future of stability, prosperity and freedom. Collaboration here must be undivided (especially among all the Iraqui communities and political groups) aimed at building a state governed by law in which international law is respected, a state in which there is a place for all (including the important Sunni community), independently of their origin or religious beliefs.

We must likewise back the decision by President Bashir al- Assad to withdraw Syrian troops from Lebanon, thereby complying with the Taif Agreements and Security Council Resolution 1559. It is crucial that we should respect international law and contribute to ensuring the implementation of all the United Nations resolutions.

North Africa is the Arab region nearest to Spain, close in geography, in vital roots and in shared history. The Western Sahara conflict is one of the main obstacles to the process of regional integration of the Maghreb and to the full development of the Maghreb Arab Union.

My government has been intent from the outset on addressing this issue with a large measure of political responsibility, wishing to contribute actively to the search for a just and definitive solution to a problem that has already lasted for 30 years and has become the main impediment in the way of full regional stability and development.

The Spanish Government aims to avail itself of its interlocutory skills with the parties, the neighbouring states, and with other countries with a legitimate interest in achieving a peaceful and agreed solution to the conflict, in order to bring about a rapprochement of positions and reach the longed-for agreement between the Parties, within full respect for international legality and the framework of the United Nations.

Secretary-General, Your Excellencies,

Let us say it loud and clear: there is no incompatibility between democracy and the Arab world, as shown by the elections held recently in Iraq and Palestine notwithstanding all the difficulties, and as attested to by the encouraging progress in freedom of the press and the political reforms under way in many Arab countries.

These are democratic responses, which have arisen from Arab society itself; they are changes perceived as necessary by the Arab peoples and their leaders. There is no place here for imposition. On the contrary, we must create common dynamics based on shared ideals. Through dialogue, debate and mutual respect, we must attain objectives that are beneficial to all of us, without excluding anybody, and which offer advantages that can be seen by all.

This is also the spirit that inspires the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership/Barcelona Process, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary.

The Mediterranean is very important for Europe, just as much as Europe is for the Arab countries of the Mediterranean.

In order to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Partnership between Europe and the Mediterranean, the city of Barcelona will during the next month of November host a summit constituting a point of departure for new ideas and initiatives, on the basis of the still very valid message of collaboration, solidarity and respect that the Barcelona Process inspires.

We will have a good opportunity to make a critical evaluation of its activities and results over the course of these ten years which will serve to resolutely relaunch it, with renewed contents adjusted to the new times and new challenges.

Secretary-General, President, Your Excellencies,

Let me also mention another commemoration - in this case the sexcentenary of the death of the great Andalusian Ibn Jaldun - by recalling some of his words that seem to me absolutely pertinent for this occasion: “He who makes history must know the rules of politics, the nature of existing things, the differences between nations, the places, the epochs, human behaviour, the characters, the customs, beliefs, doctrines, and everything that surrounds the life of men. He must establish all these things in order that the present may highlight the concurrences and the contrasts with the past, while explaining the similarities and the differences.”.

I wish to conclude by once more calling upon you to join forces in order to add and not to subtract; to build instead of to demolish; to collaborate instead of to confront; to respect and not show intolerance; to engage in dialogue and not practise imposition. Let us make a great effort to acquire mutual knowledge that will enable us to build a better present and a better future - but, above all, a common future.

Thank you very much.

12th March 2005


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