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26 / 05 / 2004
Doudou Diène, UNESCO: Identities are living constructions we can’t close the doors on

141 Questions for 141 Nights (18): “Is identity possible without diversity?” Doudou Diène, representative from Senegal to Unesco, stated that “we must reflect on the elements of contact that exist and have existed among different cultures” in order move forward on the path of coexistence. In his opinion, peoples forget the links that have connected them over the course of history.

Doudou Diène, head of intercultural, inter-religious dialogue and peace culture at Unesco warned that a democratic environment is no guarantee for success in issues related to coexistence. He explained that “coexistence is not an active end and that we must be on constant guard” to avoid risky situations. He recalled that in recent history we can find cases in which, after a long period of social exchange, “people who once mixed end up killing one another because someone spread an ethno-centric message.” So that the bases of coexistence are stable, Doudou Diène pointed out that school and the family are fundamental since they transmit essential values and knowledge.

The representative from Senegal to Unesco stressed that “mutual knowledge is key so that different peoples come to understand each other.” He said that Spain could be an example to follow in Europe, “because it is has unique and historical contact with Arab and Muslim countries.” However, after asking why Spain is not closer with North Africa than with Scandinavian countries, he regretted that today the Mediterranean is more of a border than a link, “many North Africans have died trying to cross it,” he concluded.

As regards to xenophobia, Doudou Diène believes it is not an unconscious phenomenon. “They are constructed attitudes and as such they must be closely analyzed individually, because there is always an underlying explanation,” he pointed out. Doudou Diène thinks that the present situation is conducive to xenophobic behavior , while she stated that it would be a mistake to give up on seeking the real cause of the problem. He is opposed to the stereotypes presented by the media, as in the case of Africa, because ”people end up thinking that it is a troubled continent with nothing but permanent conflict”. This perception may lead the viewer to develop a sense of superiority that may result in racism.“ We do not realize the impact of these TV images on our sensitivity”.

The representative of Senegal to UNESCO also quoted a popular saying in defense of diversity: “In the forest, tree branches may collide while the roots are intertwine”. He referred to the different races and religions as the branches of trees …, while roots come to symbolize the shared values that unite and nurture the branches once again. “It is not necessary to cut the branches to be able to coexist in diversity,” he said.