A new study says politics -- rather than religion -- is at the heart of a growing divide between the West and the Muslim world. The yearlong study was carried out by the "Alliance of Civilizations", a group made up of leading political and religious figures. The findings are due to be discussed at a high-level summit in Rio de Janeiro next year. The initiative, spearheaded by Spain and Turkey, was launched at the United Nations in 2004, with the aim of countering radical Islam.
The "Alliance of Civilizations" panel includes 20 prominent figures but has one central message. The tensions between the Muslim and Western worlds are broadly political and, therefore, solvable.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
"We can immediately remove from consideration the fact that there is a clash of civilizations. There isn't anything of that kind. It is that people are upset in different parts of the world because of how things have been ordered. And most of the causes for the tensions, for the hostilities, are political and economic, rather than cultural or stemming from civilization."
One of the report's main conclusions is that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is key to bridging the divide between East and West.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who commissioned the study, backs its calls for a regional Mideast conference and a white paper on solving the crisis. "As long as the Palestinians live under occupation exposed to daily frustration and humiliation and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dance halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed."
The report says passions have been inflamed since the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent events in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report says both Muslim and Western extremist groups have tried to further stoke these passions.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says a wide range of steps is needed to tackle the problem. "The Secretary General of the UN was quite clear that he didn't want for this so-called high-level group to be a talk-shop, that we had to make specific recommendations which could be implemented and I think we've done that. It's in areas such as youth, the media, migration, education."
The "Alliance of Civilizations" initiative, set up following riots in Muslim areas of Paris and protests over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, recommends more youth exchange programs between the United States and the Middle East, greater tolerance for immigrants, and respect for religion within the media.
It also calls for a special UN representative to be appointed to help defuse crises.
The group's report was launched in Istanbul, the geographical bridge between Europe and Asia. Brazil will host a summit in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the findings.