After 2003, when relations between the Islamic World and the West had sharply turned for the worse, it became obvious that something must be done. Erdogan and Zapatero worked out a joint initiative aimed to create an alliance of the Islamic and Western world. It had the same goals as Veniamin Popov’s Russia – Islamic world group, but in that case it applied to the West and all the rest world. They looked at such issues as conflict settlement and complex, tense relations between Islam and the rest of the world.
In 2005, the project transformed into the so-called high-level group of 20 persons which was supposed to draft a report to the UN Secretary General. I was a member of the group.
We worked on the report for two years, and it was an interesting experience. Eventually, it was presented. It created momentum which is still there. Konstantin Shuvalov supervises this area at our foreign policy department. There is the High Representative of the UN Secretary General for the Alliance of Civilizations in New York, although currently his efforts are not very much covered by the media. Nevertheless, this is an ongoing process on several main areas including youth.
I think it is possible to make the young club part of the youth movement at the Alliance of Civilizations –they have a budget, opportunities and meetings. We may create a union. I think it is a good idea and I can support it.
I would like to mention a few points.
Indeed, today many people talk about civilizations. In my opinion, there is just one civilization and many cultures that are part of it.
There are several opposite trends, and one of them is the trend towards convergence – it is also called hyper-globalization. Globalization is supposed to ensure the freedom of three flows – the flow of people, money and information. What’s surprising is that there are heavy limits on these flows growing gradually as we move forward.
There are many international factors that undermine the free movement of capital. For example, many countries opt for protectionism, which is becoming more popular, also there are attempts to prohibit the movement of capital. We are all aware of sanctions as an attempt to help one state dominate over others, deprive other states of the opportunity to act freely in world markets. It amounts to unfair competition.
The same is true of the movement of people. Migration is the most acute problem in Europe now.
All those wonderful well-wishing calls to give shelter to victims of persecution have encountered harsh reality, in particular, reluctance of Europeans to host refugees. It brings about what we call cultural differences, which may appear, for example, when you see a woman in a niqab or even burka walking down the street of a European capital past a half-naked girl in a mini-skirt.
These cultural differences often lead to serious conflicts. What is the solution? It can’t be assimilation or adaptation. It is only tolerance.
But tolerance can also be treated in different ways. There are people in our country who considered tolerance to be an inappropriate method. Many of our colleagues say: “We were fighting for our spiritual ideals. What is the point in tolerance? Tolerance is imposed by the West and means such things as same-sex marriages and so on.” Today the British appealed to the UN to replace the term “pregnant woman” with the term “pregnant person” as it violates the rights of transgender people. We may criticize it or accept it since all cultures are different. It is also called cultural diversity. The world is diverse and all religions have the concept as part of its tenets.
I am not going to quote the Quran. I can refer to the Quran numerous times since I studied Islam at Cairo University and several other Egyptian universities which I sincerely love and respect. I have been watching closely the shift that took place as part of Islamisation, despite al-Sisi’s secular policy.
That’s how the trend opposed to intolerance and rejection of other people’s values expands. If you are tolerant, you should be tolerant to all people. We should recognize the right of other people to live their own life differently, we should give them the opportunity, but only if they do not impose their values on us as universal. Surely, the British people have their right to use the term “pregnant person” if they want. However, they shouldn’t impose it on us.
On a personal note, I don’t really like it, but it doesn’t mean that I am going to attack them with an axe for their choice of life. Tolerance should apply to everyone. Unfortunately, many Islamic countries reveal a deficit of tolerance due to a sharp rise in fundamentalism or radical Islamism. So much has been said about it, and I don’t want to talk about it right now. There have been many media reports that ISIS is facing a looming defeat, but I wouldn’t be so sure about it. It is not a victory yet. You see, radicalism do not disappear – it is spreading out. As ISIS is being destroyed we can see how the movement is taking other forms - it will move to other areas through franchises created by radicals. I visit Syria and I see what is happening there, I see how difficult it is to move the settlement process forward. So we will have probably dormant underground cells in Europe or Southeast Asia, Africa, and in other regions.
There have been attempts by terrorists to find a way into our country, many terrorists are moving to Afghanistan. But it is indeed true that in Iraq and Syria terrorist groups are controlling less and less territory.
But despite shrinking presence, it doesn’t mean that they give up their ideas. Certainly, they were encouraged by the idea of the so-called ISIS, which is prohibited in our country. However, even without ISIS there are a lot of people willing to take the path of radicalism. Hopefully, with the defeat of ISIS their numbers will drop.
Behind it all are fundamentalist ideals. I remember a meeting on Islam that once took place in Kazan. It was attended by religious scholars, and I also was invited to this meeting. One of the guests came from Iraq, if I’m not mistaken. He was asked to explain how a Muslim girl who studies somewhere in France or England, should behave towards her classmates who are all Christians with their own rules of behavior. So this man, who considered himself as an opponent of radical ideas, said: “She shouldn’t go anywhere and communicate with anyone except Muslims”. Ironically, this is what a tolerant person thinks.
That’s why the matter of tolerance, of respect for the diversity of the human civilization, which unites many cultures, is extremely relevant. The partnership of civilizations – the club’s ultimate goal – is a very exciting mission of paramount importance. I sincerely wish you all the best on this difficult path.