Legendary UN Correspondent talks about education, religion and innovation
by La Shawn Pagán
Much has changed at the United Nations since the 1960’s, the most recent is the newly rebuilt Secretariat Building, which houses the International and UN press corps that has seen the faces of dozens of journalists who have come and gone. The few things that never change however, is that Abdelkader Abbadi will be there at the press conferences asking the hardest questions most correspondents usually hesitate to ask.
With smooth confidence Abbadi will sit at the Second row of spokesperson for the Secretary General’s press room, where the daily noon briefing is held, and listen intently. As soon as the Q&A portion is open, his hand is up and all other journalists give him the floor. His soft spoken manner commands respect like no other, a true veteran of journalism, he jots down answers in short hand as he records them.
Abbadi’s 47 year-career at the UN has produced a surplus of articles on diplomacy, religion and its relation to social development, as well as the conflicts in the Middle East. He has also collaborated with several colleagues in writing two books: Vision for a New Civilization, how to prevent conflict and war (2000 – 2001), and Religion in our future Society. The former is a text filled with innovative ideas that suggest that the time for spiritual leaders, regardless of religious denomination is now, and they should all take a stand to lead the world to a unified place that we can all benefit from.
“I made the [proposal] about 30 years ago,” Abbadi said about the idea that was way ahead of its time. “But it was rejected at the United Nations, [now] I see that Pope Francis is doing that, he’s fighting against poverty, war, and fighting for human rights.”
Abbadi, who holds a PhD in Political Science and International Relations, has made it a part of his remarkable career to specialize in global crisis. And it all began when the United Nations, came calling for him to cover the Six-Day War.
“They called me and told me that they needed someone really fast, someone who spoke French and English,” he recalls. “I had an accident in California and I couldn’t come.”
Still, after the phone call, he didn’t let the injury keep him from following his dream. So on July 13, 1967, Abbadi walked through the doors of the Secretariat Building on crutches.
“On July 13, 1967 I walked into this building with a crutch under each hand,” Abbadi quipped of the day he began working at the UN. “I was so eager to commence my job here. I have been always passionate about journalism and international relations. That was my dream, to be able to do come here [to the UN] and practice international relations.”
Abbadi, who also served a two-year term as the as a special delegate to Kurdistan before returning to journalism, has penned a new book Le Maroc Independant 1956 – 1960. The book, which was released last year, takes a look at the early years of Moroccan independence as well being a biography of sorts. Part of what he notes in the book is the early days of his education.
“I remember I was afraid of these men who always had guns,” said Abbadi recollecting the times when he and his friends, who ranged from the ages of five and six, hid from the French military.
“We ran away, and all of us hid into this cave in the ground and we covered it with some bushes,” he remembered. “I think someone told the soldiers because they found us, and told us if we didn’t go to school by the next day our parents would go to jail.”
The next day, Abbadi and a close friend attended school so that their parents wouldn’t be punished.
“It was a very rudimentary experience, we sat on the ground, there was a single chalk board, no tables,” he with a laugh. “[Those years] made me realize the importance of education, and pushed me to go further.”
Much has changed within that once-frightened child. Now, Abbadi is known for confidence in and out of the press room. It is this confidence that has caused a few colleagues to label him as ‘ruthless’.
“It’s not that I intentionally set out on giving them a hard time,” he says about his usual take-no-prisoners style of questioning. “It’s about getting a more in-depth answer than that they’re reporting. I want to go behind the headlines, behind the analysis.”
After four decades at the UN, Abbadi has witnessed drastic changes in the organization – most notably the difference in speech, and diplomacy among delegates, as well as between delegates and the press.
“In the 1960’s early 70’s it was more of a cultural diplomacy, that was based on eloquence, solidarity between groups of state, [and] cultural manifestations,” he notes. “Compared to today’s diplomacy – the heart of which is give and take, purely based on national interest.”
Still, with all the changes he’s witnessed, Abbadi feels that the United Nations can make even more changes so it can become an efficient global organism.
“Each Secretary General that I’ve seen come through the UN has tried to reform – but never innovate,” he stressed. “[The] Security Council and the General Assembly is overdue for innovation.”
Perhaps Abbadi should resume his position as special delegate and suggest where innovation needs to take place? We can only hope.
Photo By Luiz Rampelotto/EuropaNewswire