U.S. Joins Alliance of Civilizations

Posted by Esther Brimmer
May 20, 2010
Muslim Leaders Watch President Obama's Cairo Speech at InterChurch Center in New York

About the Author: Dr. Esther Brimmer serves as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.

Last week, the United States announced that we were joining the Alliance of Civilizations, an initiative led by Spain and Turkey under the auspices of the United Nations. Headed by its High Representative former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio, the Alliance works to improve understanding and help counter the forces that fuel polarization and extremism. We joined the Alliance's 120-member Group of Friends in recognition of the Alliance's innovative and inclusive approach to improving relations between diverse cultural groups around the world.

We support the Alliance in its work promoting policies and initiatives aimed at improving relations between diverse cultural groups by serving as a clearing-house of ideas and information among governments, international organizations, NGOs, corporations, and universities. And although we joined the Alliance's Group of Friends only last week, the United States has been quite active within the Alliance at many levels since its creation. The U.S. government has participated as an observer at Alliance-related events for several years, including major conferences in Madrid, New York, and Astana; and we sponsored one of the Alliance's early projects, a 2007 successful Citizen Dialogue in Spain.

American universities and NGOs also have worked with the Alliance for several years on efforts and initiatives to promote intercultural understanding. For example, the German Marshall Fund of the United States conducted earlier this year an International Fellows program for the Alliance, bringing a group of North American and European emerging leaders to visit several Muslim communities in North Africa and the Middle East, and a group of Northern African and Middle East emerging leaders to visit the United States and Europe -- all in the spirit of improved and mutual understanding. The Alliance also will sign soon a Memorandum of Understanding with UNESCO, to cement the working relationship between those two bodies.

Many U.S. government programs and initiatives that the Department of State already conducts dovetail nicely with the goals of the Alliance. Whether it is cross-cultural exchanges, arranging media tours for foreign press, or youth outreach, the United States has a vast array of programs and projects that seek to further intercultural understanding. The Alliance is an excellent venue and vehicle for us to gather, share, and implement some of our ideas and best practices with other governments and institutions that share those goals.

I am looking forward to such exchanges next week, when I will lead a small U.S. government delegation to the Alliance's Group of Friends Forum in Rio de Janeiro. This will be our first meeting as an official member, and since we are so new to the Alliance of Civilizations, we will spend much of our time working to develop further areas for cooperation on the Alliances four main program areas of youth, education, media, and migration.

There was no entry fee for the U.S. to join this initiative, nor are there any fees for us to participate in its upcoming meetings. Contributions to its operating trust fund are entirely voluntary, and we can participate in only the programs we choose. The Alliance's administrative overhead also is quite small compared to other major organizations and initiatives -- its budget this year is projected to be only about $3 million, and it is led by an efficient staff of 13 in New York.

So we are pleased to be formally joining this exciting and relatively new initiative. While we may not agree with every program or paper that is produced under the umbrella of the Alliance, the important point is that the Alliance is a means to promote dialogue, something the United States has always supported. As the President said in his , ”[I]n order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground."

Comments

Comments

OysteCracker
|
United States
May 20, 2010

O.C. in U.S.A. writes:

I really wish there was a whole scale integration of social services and education. Schools are well placed and are the first witnesses to societal breakdown which helps and feeds polarization. A good teacher can recognize stress in a child and a difficult home life. The marriage of school and social services would benefit all children. Bringing dentists,doctors, psychological treatment, tutoring down to the school level for young children would be more effective and strategic as an early intervention program. Parents needing drug treatment, abuse counseling could also be better treated at this level. A sort of comprehensive, strategic community model is sorely needed to counteract extremism. Families need help when they need it. Students need academic support when they need it not 5 years later when it's turned into a crisis. Helping children and families at critical stages of development can be costly but perhaps cheaper than a military option later when its already too late.

Flavius
|
Virginia, USA
May 21, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

Everyone ought to click on the link above to our new "Group of Friends." We have some very interesting new friends, don't we?

Please pass the sweet and sour shrimp!

OysterCracker
|
United States
May 22, 2010

O.C. in U.S.A. writes:

Disneyland is an American icon that children all over the world want to experience. Using Disneyland centered cultural programs as a base for introducing American culture can be very powerful. Getting a massive number of underserved, marginalized children from Yemen, Afghanistan can have a lifelong impact on a growing child to get them used to American democracy and the American way of life. Furthermore, Disneyland has all of the available facilities to accomodate large gatherings of students. Countering polarization and extremism starts at a young age. It's difficult to brainwash someone at 14 who spent every summer visiting an American school, playing at Waterworld, riding the Matterhorn. When students think of America the pleasure centers of their brains only recall non stop Disneyland like fun and learning. A summer to beat all summers full of warm, sandy beaches, dripping ice cream cones, Saturday night barbecues. What extremist philosophy could counter those powerful images?

OysterCracker
|
United States
May 22, 2010

O.C. in U.S.A. writes:

I wish the State Department would hire me so that I can get platinum health care and wipe out extremism around the world, the Disneyland way.

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