On behalf of France, I thank Lebanon for having taken the initiative to bring us together under its presidency of the Security Council to discuss the contribution of intercultural dialogue to peace and security. I would also like to thank the Secretary-General for his statement.
As French President Nicolas Sarkozy stressed on his most recent visit to Beirut, Lebanon is for us, the French, a glorious crossroads of civilizations and religions, a symbol of openness and diversity. Lebanon, a country that unites life and Government in dialogue and the continuing quest for concord for the benefit of all and of different communities, embodies what peace can owe to tolerance, respect for others and the acceptance of differences.
Since 11 September 2001, dialogue among cultures and civilizations has been on the international agenda, for better or for worse. No one can deny the benefits of dialogue between individuals and groups in a globalized world where cultural identity has assumed increasing importance. Intercultural dialogue can be a tool for preventing conflicts, resolving crises and building peace, but it cannot be an end in itself. Cultures are not homogeneous, autonomous or frozen entities that we can bring together around a table. Every individual can legitimately claim several cultural identities, or choose not to have one at all. Intercultural dialogue, then, should not lead to the political instrumentalization of cultures, which belong to no one, are neither fixed nor exclusive, and are bridges rather than fortresses or weapons.
Tolerance and mutual respect are at the heart of the mandate of the United Nations, and we can therefore only welcome the fact that initiatives on intercultural dialogue are developing under its auspices. Since its creation, UNESCO has worked for rapprochement and understanding among peoples, to promote peace and cultural diversity. The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions are essential instruments. UNESCO is therefore by its nature the right place for such matters.
For our part, States members of the Security Council have the responsibility to act to prevent or put an end to conflicts. This requires us to take into account the many factors that can raise tensions between communities, one of which is culture. But the cultural factor is rarely the direct or single cause of conflict; in reality, more often than not it is exploited by radicals of all stripes.
It is in this context that France supports dialogue among cultures, because cultural diversity is at the heart of the French national identity: Atlantic and Mediterranean France; maritime and continental France; Mediterranean and African France. France is made up of a multitude of traditions, customs and beliefs. Our secularism seeks, within the French national community, to organize the peaceful coexistence of all beliefs and non-beliefs, which must remain in the private sphere in order to make public life a place where all can gather around the values of the Republic. We are neither Catholics nor atheists; neither Jews nor Muslims; we are French citizens, sons and daughters of the nation.
Furthermore, diversity, a fact of life today in our towns and cities, is at the heart of the European project. We must recognize that diversity. Old countries with Christian traditions must now allow their Muslim citizens to practice and live their religions, just as
Muslim countries must do for Christians and Jews.
The successful establishment of the Union for the Mediterranean, which France co-chairs with Egypt, illustrates this determination to build a concrete, common future in a world of broad human, religious and cultural diversity.
Our activity in the area of Francophonie, committed to promoting human rights, democracy and peacebuilding, also demonstrates our resolve to pursue our common political objectives through dialogue in respect for cultural diversity.
Finally, France is a member of the Group of Friends of the Alliance of Civilizations, whose projects we welcome as instruments of preventive diplomacy. In that regard, we look forward to the forthcoming ministerial Forum of the Alliance on 28 and 29 May.
Respect for the values and universal principles of human rights is the indispensable foundation on which intercultural dialogue should be built and reinforced.
That dialogue cannot exist outside civil society; it must encourage the participation of women; it must include representatives of every religion and every spiritual, philosophical and humanistic tradition in all their diversity and multiplicity; it must not permit any discrimination, be it on the basis of religion, public opinion, sexual orientation, gender or nationality. In order to have dialogue, one must be able to listen to contrary and critical opinions. The exercise of freedom of expression is a sine qua non for intercultural dialogue.
This freedom of expression is indivisible; it is either there or it is not. To limit it in any way, shape or form would be to deny its very existence. It is in the context of its unshakeable and resolute attachment to liberty that France will continue to be devoted to the dialogue between cultures and civilizations.