Introductory speech to the "Challenges in a Shared World" Conference

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I would like to begin my statement with expressing my appreciation for the very valuable efforts spent since many years by Abdul Aziz Saud Al-Babtain Cultural Foundation in promoting cultural dialogue and a culture of peace which we need more than ever in these days.

I am delighted to see that the Babtain Foundation is cooperating with the Middle East Centre at St. Anthony’s College at the University of Oxford.

As we all know, Oxford has a centuries old experience and background setting the intellectual basis of cultural dialogue at global level, including with its the studies on Islamic culture.

I am sure that today’s cooperation between these two prominent institutions will help us in understanding better and finding ways out of global problems we are faced today.

The fourteen previous Conferences organised by the Foundation in recent years have tackled various aspects of dialogue in different forums.

The theme of the current conference is: "Challenges of a Shared World".

At the similar debates all around the World, "challenges" are frequently mentioned.

But the fact that we are "sharing" a World, which means that we must also share the burdens and the benefits, is usually ignored.

Therefore, I congratulate the organisers for the emphasis they have made on "a shared World".

Such a sincere and precise acknowledgment is I think is very important and I am sure, it will energize our dialogue.

The topics of the five panels of the Fifteenth Conference that we shall listen today and tomorrow provide for us an excellent outline of the major challenges humanity is faced today: Refugees issue, environment and human development, new media and social networks, youth and urban issues ….

Indeed, these five different items are very pertinent questions of our time and they are all related to each other in different ways.

For example youth and social media, refugees and human development, urban issues and environment are all cross-cutting and matching issues which shows the complexity of the World affairs.

The panels of the conference will discuss these issues in detail.

So, I will refrain from deliberating on these issues to evade repetition.

Instead, I will restrain myself to mentioning some systemic, overarching issues which I think are underlying reasons of current problems of the world.


- inequality in economy and other fields,

- lack of transparency in governance, and

- a need of credibility for institutions.

I believe that a better consciousness of the importance of these issues is crucial in bringing solutions to the problems of our time.

However, coming from a country hosting more than 2 million Syrian refugees and others, I would ask you to allow me to make a short comment on the tragedy of refugees:

I cannot hide my frustration from the inability of the major actors to help feasible solutions to the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere, which produced the refugee problem.

I am also frustrated because of the lack of enough attention in terms of humanitarian assistance to the refugees.

As a result, the living conditions of the refugees and displaced people now constitute a socio-economic disaster for Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria, as well as neighbouring countries including my country Turkey.

I want to bring to your attention a recent report by UNICEF.

This reports warns all of us on the long-term destructive consequences of violent conflicts in the region. More important, the emphasis of the report is on ‘’lost generations’’ of children and youth without schooling.

The possibility that many of these children may be prey to extremists, armed groups and underground industries should be of great concern for all.

Let us not forget that, attacks of Da’esh and Al Qaide against cultural heritage and education infrastructure, targets also the cultural dialogue and diversity which Abdul Aziz Saud el Babtain Foundation values so much.

I believe that, UN agencies, such as UNHCR, UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and Islamic Development Bank should be given stronger support in their efforts against this scourge.

International community should begin planning now how to compensate the socio-economic and cultural damage caused by the armed conflicts and terrorism in the region.

At this point, The European Union should not refrain from playing its role properly as a global actor.

Among my general comments, the first issue I would like to mention is the long-term trend towards increasing inequality in the world economy.

It is not a coincidence that the richest researches, literature, and debates of the recent years has been on the ‘’economics of inequality’’: inequality at global, regional and national levels.

The new Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the United Nations refers to inequality not only as a major source of the ongoing poverty in the World.

Neither only as a phenomenon among economies of the countries.

But at a wider scale, as an issue to be addressed in different fields from education and employment to gender issues.

We must add to this, the political and ideological consequences of inequality and its undermining effect on dialogue among peoples of the world in general.

Second issue I would like to bring to your attention is ‘’transparency’’: Transparency of the governments, of the international organisations and of the financial and industrial corporations.

It is now a confessed fact that the financial-economic crisis the globe has been experiencing in the last decade has been a result of lack of transparency in the system.

On the other hand, tax heavens and secret bank accounts undermine the efforts of the governments in collecting taxes thus cutting short the resources for better public use.

Drug traffickers, illegal arms traders and terrorists are also benefitting from lack of transparency which makes it a security issue as well.

Transparency is also needed in international fora: For example, the resistance to a reform of the United Nations Security Council continues.

Whereas, such a reform would have meant making the Security Council more democratic and representative, thus more transparent.

Especially the five permanent members need to be warned that this delay creates a serious risk for the future of international peace and security.

Another systemic issue is that of ‘’loss of credibility’’ of the systems and institutions, again at national or international levels, including governments, companies, political parties, parliaments and international organisations.

We cannot ignore the fact that people have now a greater access to realities and expect their governments to be accountable on the basis of these realities.

Therefore a culture of governance, where problems are not concealed but openly discussed is needed.

The gap between the attitudes of the governments or organisations and the expectations of the peoples is creating serious credibility and accountability issues.

Two very recent examples are the graft investigations in the international sports organisations and the gas emission scandal in the automotive industry.

You can imagine how disappointed millions of youth interested in soccer or millions of consumers attached to their favourite car brand must be feeling against this scandals.

The same goes for domestic politics : marginal, populist or extremist trends are increasingly gaining ground as traditional mainstream parties or long serving governments are losing in credibility.

In international fora, United Nation’s inability to help the settlement of the decades old Palestine issue, which is a core issue for the World peace, or its insufficiency in preventing the civil war in Syria and other conflicts, gradually undermines the credibility of the international system in the eyes of the masses.

These three issues, that is, lack of equality, transparency and credibility altogether, indicate to a universal issue which is the need for a better governance.

At this point, I would like to point to an emerging phenomenon : The peoples of the World are more and more vocal in expressing their frustrations with the working of the system.

In the past, political demonstrations were organized on hard core political issues with purely ideological or economical themes.

Now we see that, to the targets of the popular reactions are now added governance issues effecting peoples’ dignity, environment, daily lives or future .

I find it useful to have a look at the pretexts of the popular demonstrations held only in recent months in different countries of the World: In Moldova, Malaisia and Brasil against corruption cases, in Moscow for the independence of the judiciary, in Lebanon for collecting of the garbage, in Iraq to protest the power cuts, in Chile against the malfunctioning of the university system…

My own country is not an exception to this: As a result of strengthening of the civil society in Turkey, our youth have reacted to cutting of trees for the sake of urban development, peasants have demonstrated against industrial activity polluting their land, thousands have walked to protest violence against women.

I think the public expressions of popular demands for better protection of cultural and natural heritage and environment, for improvement of services like education, health and traffic circulation, for transparent and rational use of public resources will continue to grow.

The governments should be aware that civil society with its instruments of better communication, will be an important part of our lives in the 21st Century.

The Middle East is a geography where all the defects I mentioned above are felt strongly.

In spite of its rich cultural heritage inspired by the sublimity of Islam, human power and resources, the peoples of this region have not been restored to the place they deserve yet.

I hope that the current chaotic situation in the Middle East will help the leaders of the region to leave aside infightings based on narrow interests.

I hope that they will approach the issues from a wider angle and with a large-scale vision instead of empty rhetoric.

I hope they will come together and create a synergy in order to seek solutions for the good of their people.

Otherwise, solutions to be found and imposed from outside might not satisfy the people and might create further problems.

Otherwise, extremists and radicals will continue to benefit from the current unhealthy atmosphere to exploit the religious or ethnic differences.

I strongly believe that essentials of Islam fully conform with the modern concepts of democracy, state of law and good governance.

Based on this belief, leaders and intellectuals of the Middle East have much to give to their people and thus contribute to dialogue and peace in the world.

At this point, I would like to pay a special tribute to Esteemed Abdul Aziz Saud Al- Babtain for the immense efforts he has been spending to promote cultural dialogue in the world, with a focus on literature and education. Indeed, his contributions to world culture is as rich and deep as the monumental tradition of Arab poetry which is he represents.

Thank you for your attention.

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