Winning the Human Race

Regionally and globally, we are coming to the end of a significant year. Manifold “awakenings” have altered the strategic, social and political context of North African and Fertile Crescent countries - the very lands in which, after all, “civilisation” itself was born.

Today, the narrative is no longer solely one of “extremism” and “fundamentalism” even if, in the short term, it is just such narratives that appear to be making a return. That appearances count for very little in our region can at times be a blessing. The real transitions have yet to begin.

On a global level, profound stresses in the world economy, which are not solely confined to Western countries, have exposed a hyper-globalised age in which opportunity, equality, fairness and social mobility today appear compromised to an unacceptable degree. The global budget deficit has created and accentuated a trust deficit, as well as a human dignity deficit. A shared sense of grievance now connects communities across borders, languages and traditions.

What we may be seeing is the birth of a new global rhetoric, born in the West Asia North Africa region. If that is so, then it will need articulating. The demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Wall Street or elsewhere have not been intellectually or politically codified.

The concept of “human security” has instead been vindicated by events on the ground: a critical mass, made up of a once-silenced majority, has surfaced. But tweeting is no substitute for thought, and passion no substitute for discipline. We have become a region of a million accents but not one voice. Others do the talking for us.

On January 1, 2011, 21 people were killed in an attack on the Coptic Church in Alexandria. The psychology of that attack was suggestive of a region beyond redemption. Twenty five days later, Muslims and Christians prayed alongside each other in Tahrir Square. How many more times must we stand on the brink of oblivion over the coming years and decades?

The idea of a shared human civilisation made up of countless belief systems, cultures, values and creeds is something I intend to support at the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations in Qatar this weekend. It is time for an alliance not of nations, corporations and militaries but of peoples.

It strikes me that fighting for something is of more benefit to posterity than fighting against absolutely everything.

To begin with, we need a regional bill of rights that prohibits all forms of discrimination, but also outlines responsibilities. We need to engage what I refer to as “third-sphere” communities - made up of civic organisations, government and the private sector - so as to engender meaningful models of social cohesion and social inclusion.

We need to invest in research and development, and incubate not just businesses but educated human beings. Finally, it is time for culture, creativity and the imagination to become recognised alongside business, politics and academia as viable development models.

In 1987, I was proud to submit to the General Assembly of the United Nations a report which called for a new international humanitarian order. The report argued that economic growth and national security were overwhelmingly dependent on individual and community well-being. The report was titled “Winning the Human Race”. Until the aspirations of human beings within West Asia North Africa are met, any and all change will prove illusory.