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16/06/2008

Boycott Durban II

At the 2001 UN Conference against Racism in Durban, anti-colonialism bared its anti-Semitic face. Democracies should stay away from a repeat performance in Geneva, 2009. By Pascal Bruckner

In September 2001 the South African city of Durban played host to the third United Nations World Conference against Racism, which was aimed at achieving recognition for crimes related to slavery and colonialism. The event's organisers hoped that the whole of mankind would use this ceremonious occasion to face up to its history and chronicle events with equanimity.

These good intentions rapidly degenerated into one-upmanship among victims and bloodlust directed at Israeli organisations and anyone else suspected of being Jewish. The original intent, which was to heal the wounds of the past through a sort of collective therapy and arrive at new standards for human rights, twisted into an outburst of hatred which, in the wake of the September 11 attacks that followed only days later, disappeared from the public eye.

It's time we had another look. Against the wishes of the organisers, Durban became an arena where people screamed and hurled insults at each other in a re-enactment of the comedy of damned, in the face of the white exploiter. "The pain and anger are still felt. The dead, through their descendants, cry out for justice", Kofi Annan said on August 31 of the same year – an astounding choice of words for a UN secretary general and more a call for revenge than reconciliation. The delegates at the conference, particularly those from the Arab-Muslim states, also understood it as such and, together with the African group, they transformed the conference into a stage for anti-colonialist revenge. The West, which is genocidal by nature, should recognise its crimes, beg for forgiveness and pay symbolic and financial reparations to the victims of its oppression. Emotions ran high and anger was brought to the boil by coverage of the second antifada which was being violently quashed by the Israeli army.

Zionism was condemned outright as the contemporary form of Nazism and apartheid, but so was "white viciousness", which had caused "one Holocaust after the other in Africa" through human trafficking, slavery and colonialism. Israel should disappear, its politicians should be brought before an international tribunal similar to the one in Nuremberg. Anti-Semitic cartoons were circulated, copies of "Mein Kampf" and the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" were handed out. Beneath a photo of Hitler were the words that Israel would never have existed and the Palestinians would never have had to spill their blood if he had been victorious. A number of delegates were physically threatened, there were calls of "Death to Jews". This farce came to a head when the Sudanese Minister of Justice, Ali Mohamed Osman Yasin, demanded reparations for historical slavery, while in his own country, people were being shamelessly thrown into slavery as he spoke. It was like a cannibal suddenly calling for vegetarianism.

One might think that this sinister comedy would give the UN second thoughts about repeating its mistake. But there is no underestimating the extraordinary determination of dictators and fundamentalists, who have transformed the UN Human Rights Commission into a platform for their demands. A Durban II (The Durban Review Conference) is due to take place in Geneva 20 to 24 April 2009, and it promises to be a repeat of Durban 1 (more information here).

The reports and projects which have been mounting up over the past six years reports do not encourage optimism. On September 14, 2007, Doudou Diene, UN Special Rapporteur for racism, xenophobia and discrimination held a speech in front of the United Nations in Geneva (available on this site under the nummer A/HRC/6/6 as pdf). ) In it he repeatedly blames Western countries for using September 11 to encourage the most perfidious forms of Islamophobia. He defines this Islamophobia as a form of racism which has its roots in the first contact between Islam and Christianity, notably the Crusades and the Spanish Reconquista. He does make mention of anti-Semitism, anti-Christian sentiment and other forms of religious suppression, but his main focus is "anti-Muslim racism". Throughout Europe and the United States intellectuals and politicians of all stripes are guilty of a wide array of offences against the religion of the prophet.

These include the principle of laicism, as championed by the French, the "ban on religious symbols in public schools", the "threatened ban on the burqa in England's public buildings" and stigmatisation of the veil and the headscarf: all signs of a resurgence of intolerance. Diene regrets that laicism has lead "to a general suspicion of religious belief" and he believes that "dogmatic secularism" is being used to "manipulate the freedom of religion". So it comes as no surprise to him that the West, as a "pillar of slavery and colonialism", is leading the way in a "systematic denigration of Muslim intellectuals" (here he is thinking particularly of Tariq Ramadan) and the idea of a "clash of civilisations" a la Samuel Huntington.

By contrast, as he sees it, the persecution of Christian minorities in the Middle East, Africa and India is the unfortunate consequence of the missionary work of Evangelical groups from North America, who are letting their religious brothers suffer for their own bigotry. All criticism of dogma, every questioning of religious belief is, Diene says, a form of racist insult and should be punished. Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius have become untouchable icons, who must be protected against criminal attacks. Should we reintroduce blasphemy as a criminal offence like the fundamentalists of the three monotheistic religions are suggesting – in a return to the Ancien Regime?

Unsurprisingly, Diene's report has the ardent support of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the majority of the Non-Aligned Movement where you can count the democracies on one hand. Because Doudou Diene makes it his policy to refrain from all criticism of authoritarian regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America and reserves his munition for the States of Europe and North America, whom he accuses of fomenting pogroms against their minorities. It will also come as no surprise that in April 2007 Iran was nominated as vice president and Syria as rapporteur for the Disarmament Commission. This might be hilarious if it weren't so tragic!

In a nutshell: Anti-racism in the UN has become the ideology of totalitarian regimes who use it in their own interests. Dictatorships or notorious half-dictatorships (Libya, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Cuba etc.) co-opt democratic language and instrumentalise legal standards, to position themselves against democracies without ever putting turning the questions on themselves. A new Inquisition is establishing itself, which brandishes "defamation of religion" to quash any impulses of doubt, particularly in Islamic countries. And this at a time when millions of Muslims, particularly in Europe, want to distance themselves from bigotry and fundamentalism. In a reversal of values, anti-racism is being propagated by despots in the service of obscurantism and the suppression of women! It is being used to justify precisely the things which it was formulated to fight: suppression, prejudice, inequality.

In the hands of these powerful and organised lobbies, the UN is becoming an instrument of retrogression in the world, when it was created to promote justice, peace, and human dignity.

Europe must take a firm stand against this buffoonery: boycott it, plain and simple. Just as Canada has done. Perhaps we should also think about dissolving the Human Rights Commission or only letting truly democratic countries in. It is intolerable that in the year 2008 - like in the thirties - nations which recognise justice, the multi-party state and freedom of expression are being brought before the tribunal of history by the lobbies of fanatics and tyrants.


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Pascal Bruckner, born in 1948, is one of the best known French "nouveaux philosophes". He studied philosophy at the Sorbonne under Roland Barthes. His works include The Temptation of Innocence - Living in the Age of Entitlement (Algora Publishing, 2000), The Tears of the White Man: Compassion As Contempt (The Free Press, 1986) The Divine Child: A Novel of Prenatal Rebellion (Little Brown & Co, 1994) Evil Angels (Grove Press, 1987)
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