Abu Dhabi: Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero espoused the ideas of bringing different cultures and peoples together during a talk held in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Organised by the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, the lecture by Zapatero highlighted the need for countries to engage in effective public diplomacy in order to achieve peace and to avoid conflict.
“Each time we speak out against violence, and instead speak in favour of peace and cooperation, we are building a more peaceful world … The principle must always be dialogue, to build a world against violence and against intolerance,” he said.
Zapatero also spoke from his own experience as prime minister on how he dealt with the 2004 Madrid bombings, which was to not use the attacks as an excuse to create divisions and more conflict.
“Spain suffered a very serious terrorist attack on March 11, 2004. I won the elections three days after this event, and my reaction towards this was to withdraw [the Spanish] troops from Iraq, and to propose the Alliance of Civilisations,” he said. “This was a response for the desire of peace, and to distinguish very clearly that terrorism has nothing to with Islam as a religion,” he added.
“In Spain there are 1.8 Muslims, they are living integrated in society … As Spaniards, our culture takes from the Celtics, Iberians, Latinos, and the Arabs. It is a global heritage that belongs to everyone,” he said.
Zapatero spoke positively on the Alliance of Civiliisations initiative, which he called an example of cultural diplomacy.
“The Alliance of Civilisations works on four fronts, the first is the youth, [followed by] immigration, education, and the media. These are the four main pillars for a culture of integration and peace … [All] play a role towards respect and understanding [between different cultures],” he said.
The former prime minister also called for a united religious front against violence, saying that members of different faith groups must all stand together in the fight against extremism.
“We must demand an effort of historic proportions for [different] religious denominations to work and cooperate together in combating violence … We need to take this step forward in the name of religion,” he said.
“If religions can coexist and collaborate with each other, it will make it much more difficult for society to fight each other in the name of religion.”