Annan, Kofi, Former U.N. Secretary-General

Name: Annan, Kofi
Title: Former U.N. Secretary-General
Company/Organization/University: United Nations

Intolerance Is Taught and Can Be Untaught

"Thank you, Chairman Kaufman, and Dr. Beresford [Ford Foundation]. I am both thrilled and moved to have been introduced by you, Dr. Beresford, since my first experience of studying or indeed living abroad happened thanks to a fellowship from the Ford Foundation, which took me to Macalester College as a young man. Given all that's happened to me since, I guess a start with the Ford Foundation can lead to anything!

This award is indeed an honour. The mission of the Institute for International Education of helping to build a more peaceful world through educational exchange is one that we at the United Nations support wholeheartedly. And as I said at the outset, it is thanks to such programmes that I got my own start in the international arena.

Today, such programmes are more important than ever. Clearly, we need to use education to advance tolerance and understanding. Perhaps more than ever, international understanding is essential to world peace -- understanding between faiths, between nations, between cultures. Today, we know that just as no nation is immune to conflict or suffering, no nation can defend itself alone. We need each other -- as friends, as allies, as partners -- in a struggle for common values and common needs.

Globalization, migration, economic integration, communication and travel are bringing different races, cultures and ethnicities into ever closer contact with each other. More than ever before, people understand that they are being shaped by many cultures and influences, and that combining the familiar with the foreign can be a source of powerful knowledge and insight. People can and should take pride in their particular faith or heritage. But we can cherish what we are, without hating what we are not.

None of us is born intolerant of those who differ from us. Intolerance is taught and can be untaught -- though often with great difficulty. But in this area, as in others, prevention is far preferable to cure. We must work to prevent intolerance from taking hold in the next generation. We must build on the open-mindedness of young people, and ensure that their minds remain open.

The United Nations itself was founded in the belief that dialogue can triumph over discord, that diversity is a gift to be celebrated, and that the world's peoples are united by their common humanity far more than they are divided by their separate identities. Dialogue can prevail over violence, understanding over indifference, knowledge over ignorance and prejudice. Those must be the goals of the United Nations as we work to bridge the divide among peoples and cultures. Indeed, in proclaiming 2001 the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, the General Assembly helped to heighten public awareness of the need to search for understanding and harmony among peoples.

We in the United Nations have learned, from our experience of rebuilding war-torn societies, that the seeds of conflict often lie in uneven and unequal development and opportunity. The work of the Institute for International Education is invaluable in addressing those ills too. It not only builds mutual understanding among cultures at the individual level; it also helps societies achieve progress. Whether in contributing to the training of teachers, scientists and engineers, advancing the role of women in development, or administering the Fulbright Programme, you have understood that in our world, the engine for progress is fuelled by knowledge. You know that it is only by bridging the knowledge gap, that we can combat exclusion and marginalization and bridge the divide among peoples and cultures.

That is why the Institute of International Education is a fine ally of the United Nations, and why I am proud of the honour you have bestowed on me today. I shall treasure it as a symbol of our partnership. Thank you very much."

Annan, Kofi, (November 27, 2001). "Intolerance Is Taught and Can Be Untaught", Institute of International Education.