Muslims at the United Nations: Ethical and Political Issues
Keywords:the West, Muslims, extremism, 9/11, United Nations Alliance of Civilisations
The United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) was established in 2005 by the then United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to try to improve inter-cultural and inter-religious relations after 9/11. Creating UNAOC stimulated wider interest in examining how and in what ways improving inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue might lead to better relations between the West and Muslims, making incidents like 9/11 less likely. Between 2015 and 2018, I researched into the UNAOC, mainly at UN headquarters in New York. The research involved, inter alia, interviewing over 80 knowledgeable people. As time went on, during repeated research trips to New York, it became clear that the issue of improving relations between the West and Muslims was far from straightforward, as it involved profound ethical and political considerations. The first was that at the UN, Muslims had a relatively understated position and did not enjoy equality with secular or Christian entities. I interviewed many Muslims from representative organisations at the UN. All were unwilling to conform to the UN’s understanding that key problems of inter-cultural and inter-religious conflict were a consequence of Islamist extremism and terrorism. Muslims I interviewed saw the issue differently. They pointed to long periods of Western domination of international relations to explain the lowly position of Muslims. As a consequence, the UNAOC was seen to try to address the problem with unsound understanding of where the problem lay. Muslims believed that the modus operandi and aims of the UNAOC would divide not unite the very constituencies – that is, the West and Muslims – that the UNAOC was created to assist. The conclusion is that even well-meaning initiatives such as the UNAOC are bound to fail if they consider only one set of views and excludes others.
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