‘Conflict begins when talking ends’, former UNESCO chief tells Human Fraternity Conference

Former UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. (Supplied photo)
Updated 05 February 2019

‘Conflict begins when talking ends’, former UNESCO chief tells Human Fraternity Conference

  • UNESCO former director general on how to stop children from becoming extremists
  • Saudi Arabia could benefit from implementing knowledge about religions, history in general and other cultures into their curriculums, says Bokova

ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia, like the rest of the world, could benefit from a modified education system, said Irina Bokova, honorary president of the Alliance for Hope International and former director-general of UNESCO.

“Like any other country, I think Saudi Arabia could benefit from implementing knowledge about religions, history in general and other cultures into their curriculums,” she told Arab News. Bokova said that the problem globally was that many educational systems and universities have removed humanities from their curriculums, resulting in a lack of knowledge of ethics and history.

“It all starts on the benches of schools at a very young age, and nobody’s born an extremist or racist — you have to use (this) early age to instill this kind of empathy and respect toward your own civilization and culture and others’ as well,” she said.

“Young people should also educate themselves more about their own religion and culture. There are people who talk on behalf of a religion but they don’t know it nor do they understand it.”

“It’s really important to teach students about different religions and cultures, not just Islam, to combat stereotypes and prejudices.”

“Particularly with Islam, nowadays, with extremists who manipulate Islam, they destroy human life and prosecute minorities, destroying common heritage of humanity in the name of Islam.” 

Bokova recalled the words of the Djingareyber mosque imam in Timbuktu whom she met after a terrorist attack there: “They don’t know Islam, they’re ignorants who pretend to know it,” he said.

“Knowing what Islam has contributed to all of human civilization throughout the centuries is vital to achieve cultural literacy and the continuity of the dialogue between different faiths and cultures,” she said.

She stressed the importance of exchanging culture, and how it is passed through the generations. “Islamic scholars and merchants were passing their knowledge on of algebra, medicine, philosophy, architectural and cultural achievements to the Europeans and this precisely shows that they’ve had a dialogue,” she said.

Bokova met the grand imam in 2016 and again on Monday, and described him as highly spiritual and having deep respect for promoting moderation, tolerance and fraternity.

She told Arab News that the meeting between the two religious figures is “highly important and so symbolic and courageous. It is opening up opportunities for new kinds of relations, fraternity and humanity.” Bokova said that she hopes that the strong message will continue and that the challenge lies in finding ways to deliver it to different communities.

Bokova’s speech at the Human Fraternity Conference in Abu Dhabi focused on protecting humanity against extremism and the role education plays in creating interfaith dialogues and mutual respect. 

In a conference hall with religious figures from around the world, she said: “It is through dialogue and creating connections that we can prove that diversity is our strength. Conflict begins when dialogue ceases.”

The former UNESCO director-general previously visited Saudi Arabia — Effat University in Jeddah — for a conference in 2011. She said that she was proud to have had Historic Jeddah join UNESCO’s World Heritage sites during her time with the educational, scientific and cultural organization.

Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

Updated 27 June 2019

Treasury Secretary: US ‘could not be happier’ with Bahrain outcome

  • Mnuchin confident of raising the first $4 billion soon

MANAMA: Jared Kushner’s “workshop” aimed at securing economic prosperity for Palestine closed with optimistic forecasts from President Donald Trump’s special adviser that it could be the basis for a forthcoming political deal with Israel.

Kushner told journalists at a post-event briefing: “I think that people are all leaving very energized, very pleasantly surprised at how many like-minded people they see. It is a solvable problem economically, and the reason why we thought it was important to lay out the economic vision before we lay out the political vision is because we feel we need people to see what the future can look like.

“The Palestinian people have been promised a lot of things over the years that have not come true. We want to show them that this is the plan, this is what can happen if there is a peace deal.”

The next stage, before a political deal is attempted, will be to get feedback from the event and agree to commitments for the $50 billion package for Palestine and other regional economies.

“I think you need $50 billion to really do this the right way, to get a paradigm shift,” Kushner added.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: “I could not be happier how this has gone,” adding that he was “highly confident we will soon have the first $4 billion. It’s going to be like a hot initial public offering.”

Most of the attendees at the event in Manama, Bahrain, gave Kushner’s economic proposals a serious hearing and agreed it was a useful exercise. Mohammed Al-Shaikh, Saudi minister of state, said: “Can it be done? Yes it can, because it was done before. In the mid-1990s to about the year 2000 there was a global coordinated effort by the US and other countries. I was at the World Bank at the time. I saw it. If we could do it then with significantly less money we can do it again.”

Others warned, however, that there was still a long way to go on the political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Middle East peace envoy, said a political deal was essential.

“This is an economic plan that, if it is implemented, is going to do enormous good for the Palestinian people. But it isn’t a substitute for the politics. There will be no economic peace. There will be a peace that will be a political component and an economic component. The economy can help the politics and the politics is necessary for the economy to flourish.

“The politics has got to be right in this sense as well. The obvious sense people talk about is how do you negotiate the contours of the boundaries of a Palestinian state in a two state solution,” Blair said.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, highlighted the work the fund has done in conflict situations. “We had an exceptional result in Rwanda, and a good economic outcome in Mozambique,” she said. But she contrasted this with disappointing results in other African conflicts.

Lagarde said that the aim of the economic plan should be to create jobs. “The focus should be on job-intensive industries, like agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.”

Willem Buiter, special economic adviser to US banking giant Citi, said there were obstacles to the Kushner plan succeeding. “Necessary conditions for any progress are peace, safety and security. And there must be high-quality governance and the rule of law in Palestine,” he said.


• Jared Kushner believes the conflict is a ‘solvable problem economically.’

• The senior adviser vows to lay out political plans at the right time.

• Expert urges external funding in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans.

He also suggested external funding should be in the form of grants or equity, rather than loans. “We should not burden a country trying to escape from its past with high debts,” he added.

Some attendees warned of the risks to investor funds in the current political situation in the Middle East. 

But Khalid Al-Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, said: “Risk is not new to the region. We’ve tackled it for the past 30 to 40 years, but that has not stopped investment flowing in.

“Investors trade risk for return, and the Middle East has learned to cope with risk and conflict. There are pockets where the risk is high and Palestine is one of them. But I remain positive. The return in the region is higher to compensate for the risk,” he added.

At a session of regional finance ministers, Mohammed Al-Jadaan of Saudi Arabia said: “The region is in desperate need of prosperity and hope. There is a way forward, but you need political commitment.”

UAE Finance Minister Obaid Al-Tayer added: “We are decoupling politics from economics. If it’s the only initiative on the table we should all give it a chance.”