IN this space last Sunday I drew attention to an article by the Spanish prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which had appeared in a British newspaper. The article made proposals for a response through the United Nations to the terrorist attacks suffered by Spain last year and very recently by Britain.

At the centre of Sr Zapatero's ideas is a proposal for an Alliance of Civilizations between the Western world and the Arab and Muslim world. This proposal had first been made in a speech delivered to the General Assembly of the United Nations last September in the course of which Sr Zapatero spoke about the need for such an alliance based on conviction, understanding and respect for others, and emphasised the importance of embedding the belief that tolerance is indivisible in all nations. IN Spain, the Opposition Partido Popular dismissed these ideas as unrealistic and mocked the prime minister's view that “It is unrealistic to aspire to peace and stability in a sea of universal injustice.” However, the ideas are being taken seriously elsewhere; at the United Nations this week there was support for an Alliance of Civilizations from some twenty countries and from the Secretary-General Kofi Annan who said that the initiative could be a bridge healing the current division between civilizations. Mr Annan added: “It is the response to the need for an effort from the international community to eliminate and overcome prejudice, misunderstanding and mistaken views which could be a potential threat to world peace.”

The UN will now begin study of the proposal with a view to drawing up recommendations for the implementation of Sr Zapatero's idea; if it gathers more support, as it should, a plan of action could be prepared for discussion and approval at a meeting in Madrid in about one year's time. It is easy to criticise such ideas as impractical dreams which will have little effect in the real world. But Sr Zapatero's proposal is at the very least an imaginative response to the problems which have become so apparent in the past ten days.