by Alicia Fraerman
(IPS) MADRID -- Only an alliance of civilizations, religions and cultures can bring peace to the world. This belief is shared by a range of public figures in Spain who represent different positions and nationalities, yet concur in their support for the proposal to this effect put forward in the United Nations by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Addressing the 59th session of the UN General Assembly, which began Tuesday, Zapatero called for the creation of a UN-sponsored 'alliance of civilizations between the Western world and the Arab and Muslim world' that could lead to a deepening of political, economic, cultural and educational ties, he said.
While the socialist leader was making his proposal at the UN headquarters in New York, his right-wing predecessor, Jose Maria Aznar, voiced an altogether different stance at a university lecture in Washington, where he declared that the world is in a state of 'total war.'
These diametrically opposed views immediately sparked a reaction back in Spain, where there has been an ongoing debate over Spain's participation in the war in Iraq. Many analysts believe that it was Aznar's decision to send Spanish troops to Iraq despite broad public opposition to the war that led to his electoral defeat by Zapatero in March.
Zapatero's proposal to the UN was viewed favorably by many at home, including the chairman of the International Institute of Sephardic Studies, Isaac Siboni; the Palestinian ambassador to Spain, Nabil Maarouf; and the director of the Islamic Centre in Madrid, Mohamed Afifi, all of whom expressed their support for the idea in conversations with IPS.
Afifi said there is no 'total war', as Aznar claims, but rather a mutual lack of knowledge and understanding between some religions and cultures, which must be overcome by promoting more than mere dialogue, such as 'an alliance for peace and human rights.'
When asked by IPS whether he believes such a thing to be possible in today's world, Afifi replied that it is not only possible, but is in fact 'the only path that can lead to saving human society, which is a unified whole.'
Siboni, a strong supporter of interaction among the three main religions in the Euro-Mediterranean region (Christians, Jews and Muslims), felt Zapatero's position was an extremely positive one, because it fosters much needed dialogue.
This viewpoint was shared by the Palestinian ambassador, who said there must be greater understanding between the two cultures -- Western and Muslim -- in order to bring an end to conflicts and hatreds.
'If dialogue is not resumed, including Palestinian-Israeli dialogue, there can be no solution to the current conflicts. And in everything there must be respect for international law and human rights,' Maarouf added.
However, according to Socialist European Parliament Deputy Francisca Sauquillo, the president of the Spanish Movement for Peace, Disarmament and Freedom (MPDL), violence and wars are not a product of conflict between civilisations or religions.
In her opinion, the root causes of wars and terrorism are poverty, injustice, and a lack of freedoms.
The powerful groups that currently control the U.S. government, she commented to IPS, claim to be at war against what they consider to be another civilisation, when their real goal is access to the wealth of countries they do not yet control.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly, Zapatero also pledged to continue fighting terrorism, which 'has no justification.'
Nevertheless, he added, 'as is the case with any disease, we can and should know its root causes, and we can and should think rationally about how it is produced, and how it grows, in order to fight it rationally.'
He likened terrorism to a seed that will not grow 'if it falls upon the rock of justice, well-being, freedom and hope, but can take root when it falls on the fertile soil of injustice, poverty, humiliation and despair.'
For this reason, he ended by emphasizing that 'the more people there are in the world living in dignified conditions, the safer we will all be.' His words were clearly welcomed by the majority of the countries represented at the General Assembly, including France and Germany.
His opinions are not shared, however, by Aznar, who is now the honorary president of the main opposition force in Spain, the Popular Party (PP). He is also a friend of U.S. President George W. Bush, to whom he wholeheartedly offered his support -- and troops -- for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, back when he still governed Spain.
Aznar was in the United States at the same time as Zapatero, giving a series of lectures at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. In his first, he declared that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden 'has declared war on us, because we are democratic, prosperous, free and essentially secular countries.'
He declared that because of the 'total war' being waged today, a policy of containment, like the one used against the defunct Soviet Union, will no longer work. Back then, he said, 'we were fighting against an ideology.'
For this reason he believes that the only way to combat the causes of terrorism is to 'foster Western values and democracy in the Arab world.'
He believes this can be achieved by winning the hearts and minds of Muslims and supporting Bush's 'Greater Middle East Initiative', largely aimed at the creation of a free trade area in the region. According to Aznar, only economic liberalisation and free trade can provide long-term solutions for the crisis.
To attain these goals, 'we must evolve from a community of values into a community of actions,' he said, calling for closer solidarity between the European Union, of which Spain is a member, and the United States.
Analyst Baltazar Porcel commented on Aznar's remarks in his column on Wednesday in the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia. He refuted the former prime minister's theory that the so-called Western world is under attack, or has been in other eras, and emphasised that since the 16th century, it is the West that has sought to dominate the rest of the world, 'with its technology, armies and ideology.'
It was the Greco-Roman world that attacked all of its neighbours, he said, and the West that invaded the rest of the planet, first with the Spanish and Portuguese explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries, then the missionaries who set out to convert Africa, the Far East, the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the aborigines in Australia, and finally the traders who invaded everywhere.
The columnist concluded by quoting British writer Arnold Toynbee, who said, 'It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit -- and hit hard -- by the West.'
For his part, Gaspar Llamazares, the head of the United Left (IU) -- a Spanish coalition of left-wing forces, including the Communist Party -- had high praise for Zapatero's statements at the UN He said the prime minister's speech was like 'a breath of fresh air -- although it could be labelled utopian.'
Speaking to the press, Llamazares described the Spanish leader's remarks as 'necessary and thought-provoking', as opposed to the 'overheated and unacceptable' declarations made by Bush.
Aznar had both supporters and detractors. He was defended by Popular Party congressional spokesman Eduardo Zaplana, but criticised by retired colonel Alberto Piris, founder of the Association of Military Officers for Peace -- a group forced underground during the Franco dictatorship (1936-1975) -- and currently an advisor to the International Peace Centre.
Zaplana praised Aznar's lecture, saying that the former prime minister enjoys the respect and consideration of the entire world. As for Zapatero's UN speech, he said it was full of empty rhetoric and demeaning to Spain's international image.
Piris, on the other hand, told IPS that current conflicts should be defused, instead of being exacerbated, as Bush and Aznar tend to do.
In addition to reappraising his positions, Aznar should watch his words, Piris added, alluding to his use of the term 'Moors' to refer to Arabs. The word is considered pejorative, and was totally inappropriate in a setting like the university lecture in Washington, he said.
September 23, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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