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His Excellency Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser President of the General Assembly

“The United Nations General Assembly and the Business of Universality”

New York University, 13 February 2012

President John Sexton,
Professor Mustapha Tlili, Director of the NYU Center for Dialogues, and my friend and Special Advisor,
Mr. James Hoge,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to join you at this evening’s public event at New York University, to share with you a few thoughts on “The United Nations and the Business of Universality.”

This event is organized with the support of the New York University Centre for Dialogues and the NYU—SCPS Center for Global Affairs. I wish to thank both Centers for giving me this opportunity.

Thank you Professor Tlili for your kind words. The NYU Centre for Dialogues that you founded almost 10 years ago, and that you continue to lead today, is playing a significant role in building bridges between the Muslim world and the West, and promoting mutual respect and understanding. Your action deserves the support of us all.

This most impressive university, to which the NYU Centre for Dialogues belongs, would not be today what it is without your leadership, President Sexton — dear John, if I may. Let me then thank you for your kind invitation to address this remarkable audience.

Since first meeting you, John, I have been impressed by your creativity and your drive for innovation in higher education.

In addition to being one of the nation’s leading experts on the US Supreme Court’s jurisprudence concerning the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, you are a teacher. I deeply admire that you also conduct courses while maintaining your full responsibilities as President of NYU. This is evidence of your true dedication to education and knowledge.

You are also widely known in academia and beyond for having developed the groundbreaking “global university” concept, building NYU campuses worldwide. You have a vision for this world, and you are carrying it through with sincerity and great efficiency. NYU under your leadership is making its mark worldwide, fostering a new generation of men and women attuned to the global nature of today’s life, aware of its challenges, and keen to engage globally and achieve change locally.

International education is close to my heart. What can better prepare young people for life in the global village? I am sure, Ladies and Gentlemen, you will agree with me that the best answer is: exposure to different cultures and ways of thinking. Through dialogue and knowing each other.

This is one of the central tasks of the United Nations. To build peace through dialogue. To address the concerns of the people of the world — the concerns of us all.

The United Nations may, at times, appear to be considering issues that seem unrelated to our daily lives.

In fact, we are tackling those matters that define the lives of all of us. More often than not, the UN is at the forefront of developing a vision for the future.

Take terrorism — just one example. The General Assembly started addressing the issue of terrorism forty years ago. At a time when an attack on the World Trade Centre in New York was far from the public’s mind. Look where we are today!

Take another issue: the environment. Former UN Secretary—General U Thant famously gave a speech in 1970 at Harvard University 7mdash; am I allowed to mention Harvard’s name here?! In any case, he spoke on the environment as a pressing issue, at a time when, frankly, no one cared much about it. Look where we are today!

This is the UN’s job: to bring nations to the table. To find common solutions to issues that might not be the topic du jour, but which we know will affect our lives in the years to come.

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