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The United Nations General Assembly and the Business of Universality

An Address by H.E. President Nassir Abdulaziz Al–Nasser, President of the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
New York University’s School of Law
Monday, February 13, 2012, 6:00 pm — 7:00 pm

On February 13, 2012, His Excellency Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, delivered an address on “The United Nations General Assembly and the Business of Universality” at New York University Law School’s Vanderbilt Hall. This event was hosted by the Office of President John Sexton in association with the NYU Center for Dialogues: Islamic World — U.S. — The West and the NYU Center for Global Affairs at the School for Continuing and Professional Studies. President Sexton and Professor Mustapha Tlili, Founder and Director of the NYU Center for Dialogues, delivered opening remarks. After his address, President Al—Nasser engaged in a conversation with James F. Hoge, Jr. (Counselor for the Council on Foreign Relations and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Human Rights Watch).

President Sexton began the evening by calling attention to the similarities between New York University and the United Nations. Although they employ different means, at heart, both institutions embody an international community that seeks to bring together diverse perspectives to address and solve global issues. As an international organization, the U.N. achieves this objective by bringing together representatives of 193 states for the purpose of maintaining peace and security throughout the world. Similarly, New York University has fostered an international community through its diverse student and faculty populations, and its campuses that span the globe.

Following President Sexton, Mustapha Tlili formally introduced President Al—Nasser, describing him as an upstanding diplomat who has worked diligently over many years to build constructive consensus on pressing issues facing the international community.

In his address, President Al-Nasser illuminated the fundamental mission of the U.N. General Assembly, by shedding light on what he termed the “Business of Universality.” Referencing the teachings of Ibn Rushd, Ibn Khaldoun, Ibn Sina, and Immanuel Kant, President Al–Nasserr defined “universality” as humanity’s search for universal values, and in particular the universal yearning for peace shared among all nations and peoples. He explained that the process of building consensus, which is difficult and not always guaranteed in an assembly of 193 member states, is the most successful democratic method of achieving peace. The "business of universality" is therefore the process, built through trial and error, of encouraging and constructing consensus among states in order to achieve and maintain peace and security for all. According to President Al—Nasser, the "business of universality" finds its most concrete manifestation in the United Nations General Assembly, which places all 193 member states on an equal plane through its "one state, one vote" policy. Likening the General Assembly to a parliament for the international community, President Al—Nasser explained that the assembly’s member states are compelled to work together to set concrete agendas, broker firm commitments, and establish a global voice in order to forge a peaceful nexus among all nations and peoples.

Following his address, President Al—Nasser engaged in a lively conversation with James Hoge Jr. The discussion focused on a wide array of topics spanning from Syria and the Arab Spring, to the 2011—2012 global agenda of the U.N. General Assembly and the question of Palestinian statehood.

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