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Posted on on September 21st, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

High Level Debate organized by UNESCO at the International Day of Peace, United Nations Headquarters,

September 21st, 2012

The presentation by H.E. Leonel Fernández, former President of the Dominican Republic
and President of Global Foundation of Democracy and Development, FUNGLODE

Your Excellency Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations;

Your Excellency Vuk Jeremic, President of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly;

Honorable Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO;

Distinguished panelists;

Distinguished ambassadors;

Ladies and Gentlemen:

In celebrating World Peace Day today, we arrived to this High Level Debate organized by UNESCO here, in New York, preceded by a week of violence, threats and dreadful unrest in different parts of the world.

What has mostly caught our attention, however, was the amateur video about the Prophet Muhammad put in circulation by an individual, through the use of modern new media, that sparked a wave of riots, protests and killings in different countries of the Arab world.

Reflecting on the occurrence of these regrettable events, we need to analyze from a fresh perspective the role of the media and its impact in an environment of continuous and accelerated technological change, within an interconnected and culturally diverse planet.

In his classical work, titled, Public Opinion, the great American journalist and political philosopher, Walter Lippman, refers to the fact that in 1914, before the outbreak of World War I a group of French, German, British, Italian and Russian citizens, were living in a friendly and peaceful way, ignoring that what was to become the great war had begun among their respective nations in Europe.

Months later, a ship arrived in the island, bringing newspapers and magazines with the news of the events that had taken place in what traditionally has been called “the cradle of civilization”.

Right there, violence broke out and a war began between those that previous to the spreading of the bleak news, had friendly and peaceful ties.

In the video about the Prophet Muhammad, there are lessons to be drawn of symbolic significance to a culture of peace, tolerance and understanding, in the midst of religious and cultural diversity.

First, it is not only that a conflict of anywhere can spread conflict everywhere, as has been analyzed by a range of influential social thinkers, but that now, because of the information and communications technology revolution, for the first time in history, any individual in any part of the world can become a media content provider.

That means, that from being a passive receiver of information, the individual can now play the active role of a transmitter, making modern communication more interactive.

Furthermore, there is no longer need to wait for the boat to arrive to generate a collective behavioral reaction.

Now, it is instantaneous communication, with news cycles going 24/7.

Third, in relation to the showing of the video, government officials reacted by stating that even though they rejected and disapproved its content, they could not ban its distribution for respect of freedom of expression.

There, of course, seems to be a contradiction in the argument. If something is considered legal, it shouldn’t be the object of moral repudiation.

I think we can all agree that freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas do not necessarily mean that there are no limits to their exercise.

In different national legislations, due to libel, slander, defamation, calumny and character assassination, limits has been drawn, beyond which infringement, misdeed or violation are considered.

If this can be achieved at the national level, why not consider the possibility of drafting an international legal framework, legally binding to member states of the UN, that can prohibit and punish blasphemy as the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence toward something considered sacred?

In this second decade of the 21st century, the world has continued, at an accelerated pace, its transition from an industrial to a knowledge-based society, in which information and communication technology play a distinctive role.

Given the fact that it is in the interest of UNESCO to harness the media and ICTs, to promote peace, non-violence, tolerance and intercultural dialogue, it would be of significant value to consider including in its new Program of Action for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence, a new international legal approach to the use of cyberspace and global digital media.

In addition, supporting and promoting creative new projects, with the active participation of youths around the world, in the areas of filmmaking, theatre, performing arts, sports, radio and television programs, oriented towards peace, non-violence and cultural diversity.

In that way, the media, instead of being perceived as an instrument at the service of hatred and insult to human dignity and cherished religious beliefs, can become the ideal catalyst for peace, knowledge, understanding, solidarity and pluralism in a new world order characterized for being borderless, wireless and interconnected.

It will depend on our ability and commitment to make it either “” or “”.

Thank you!

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