West and Islamic World Together


OXFORD, England, June 28 (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed on Monday for Moslem and Western nations to adopt a new ``world ethic'' embracing cultural diversity and bridging fault lines between them.

Praising Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's ``farsighted'' call for a dialogue between Islamic and Western civilisations, Annan said contacts between the two cultures should be ``a dialogue of mutual respect.''

``We must accept -- even cultivate -- the presence of different traditions within each region of the world, and indeed within each society,'' Annan said in a speech to Oxford's Centre of Islamic Studies.

He said the Moslem-Western divide was one of the most prominent cultural rifts between nations, fuelled by bitterness among many Moslems at perceived overbearing Western power.

``Today colonialism has ended, but many Moslems still resent their manifest inequality with the West in power politics. Many of them have a sense of defeat and disadvantage,'' Annan said.

``Their resentment has been fed by the unjust treatment of the Palestinians and, more recently, by atrocities committed against Moslems in the former Yugoslavia,'' he added.

The world should heed Moslem wishes for their religion and culture to be respected, but respect could not be earned by military power, Annan said.

``Modern societies are too closely linked with each other, and modern weapons are too terrifyingly destructive, for interaction between modern civilisations to take the form of armed conflict,'' he said.

``Today's dialogue must be a peaceful one.''

But Annan said Moslem and Western nations should also embrace their own cultural diversities, pointing to millions of Moslems living in the West today and the vibrant mix of cultures which contributed to early Islamic civilisation.

Societies both in the West and Moslem world could not survive as closed blocs of monolithic cultures, he said.

``I do think it is vital that we preserve and cherish diversity wherever we can. But not...by identifying 'civilisations' with geographically distinct blocs,'' Annan said.

``Most of us feel that America's openness and diversity are its best qualities, and that if it tried to impose cultural conformity it would be embarking, like other great powers before it, on the road of decline, '' Annan added.

``The dialogue among civilisations must be a dialogue within societies as well as between them,'' he said. ``And it must be a dialogue of mutual respect.''