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The Islamic World
Address by Kofi Annan

THE ISLAMIC WORLD is indeed a mosaic, not a monolith. It stretches from Indonesia to Morocco, and from central Europe to southern Africa. It reaches into Western Europe, the Americas and Australasia. It comprises men and women often divided by race, culture or language, yet united by the powerful bond of Islam.

Over a thousand years, Islam spread from the land of the Prophet Muhammad into large parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. Islamic scholars produced a dazzling array of achievements - in theology, philosophy, history, literature, architecture, art, astronomy, mathematics, medicine and other sciences. This rich history proves that there is nothing natural or inevitable about the sad state in which so much of the Islamic world finds itself today. The Muslim peoples are capable of much greater things - and they know it.

I am not a Muslim. But, like you all, I am a child of Abraham. I believe in and worship the same almighty God that you do. I care deeply about the fate of the Muslim people. I wish to speak to you with great respect, but directly, and from the heart - as I do to others, not least my fellow Africans.

Excellencies, as leaders it is our duty to face reality. And the reality is - I say it with the deepest humility and sadness - that in this rapidly changing world, most Islamic societies have fallen far behind. Most of my Muslim friends - indeed, most of you - complain to me that the state systems of the Islamic world are weak, as is its influence in shaping world events for the better. Many Muslims also complain that, far too often, they cannot participate as they should in shaping the direction of their countries, and that many of them, particularly women, are denied the fundamental human rights which are not only enshrined in the United Nations Charter but also clearly entailed by the Islamic principle of the equality of all human beings under God.

Extremist dogmas are gaining ground, impeding the progress of the entire Umma and threatening the security of people all over the world. These contemporary maladies, along with many other factors - including the legacy of colonialism and the unfair world trading system - are holding Islamic societies back. And the Islamic world has been traumatized, particularly in recent years, by the suffering of Muslims in many places.

Nowhere is that suffering more acute than in Palestine, where thousands have been killed. Muslims - and their Christian brothers and sisters too - suffer under a harsh and prolonged occupation, replete with collective punishment, use of disproportionate military force, destruction of houses and crops, unjust expropriation and closures, illegal settlements, and a fence being built on land that does not belong to the builders. No one can be surprised at their feelings of humiliation, anger and despair - feelings that are shared by Muslims everywhere. However, suicide bombings, in which hundreds of Israeli civilians have been indiscriminately killed, are not acceptable. These acts of terrorism, abhorred and rejected by all of you, defile and damage even the most legitimate cause. They must be condemned, and must be stopped. Acts of terrorism only push back the day when Palestinians will live in peace in their own state. In the same way, when Israel takes extreme and unjustified actions, including its recent deplorable strike against Syria, it only pushes back the day when Israelis will live in true security.

At present, only the Road Map devised by the Quartet holds any promise of freedom for Palestinians, or of security for Israelis. It is the only route leading to the goal of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, within secure and recognized borders. The Road Map is facing huge obstacles. It needs the support of the whole international community - including those of you with direct influence in the region. If it fails, I fear the region will recede even further into violence and misery.

I have similar fears should the transition fail in Iraq. The situation there is disturbing for all of us. But whatever view we took about the war, it is our common interest that the outcome should be a stable and democratic Iraq, at peace with itself and its neighbours - and we have a common duty to help Iraq's people achieve that. United Nations staff have laid down their lives for that cause. And despite the continuing threat to our staff - both national and international - a core UN team remains in Iraq to help meet the Iraqi people's urgent humanitarian needs. I believe Iraqis need an inclusive political process that enjoys the widest possible support and commitment both at home and abroad - from neighbours, from the Arab and Islamic world, and from the entire international community.

Excellencies, the path of political reform, education and development is the only one that offers real hope of a more prosperous present and a glorious future. Only you can lead your peoples on that path. And you must. As the Holy Quran says: "Verily, never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves." [11: 13]

1 Excerpted from the Secretary-General's statement to the Tenth Summit of the Organization of the Islamic conference at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 16 October 2003. Delivered by Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan. For the full text, see Reply Slip.

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