Monday, April 20, 2009

The UN Summit on Racism

I'm currently reading a book called The State of Africa.

I'm in the middle of the second chapter on Rwanda. If things truly unfolded in Rwanda the way this book says they did, then it's shocking how the UN was a counterproductive entity in that conflict.

The UN had the not-so-brilliant idea of holding a second UN summit on racism. As though it might somehow be resolved by bringing racist people together and promoting dialogue.

Few were surprised when the president of Iran's anti-Israel speech caused an uproar. Leaders walked out of the summit. He ruined the little party of people trying to do the right thing, but never quite getting it right.

Every time I hear the words anti-Semitic, I have to read the words for myself. I wonder whether it's a knee-jerk reaction to the slightest criticism of Israel, or genuine lies and hatred spreading anti-Semetic rhetoric. As often as not, it's an overreaction to justified criticism.

So when I heard that diplomats walked out of a UN conference on racism during a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I sought to read it for myself. Here are some key quotes from his address, followed by my thoughts:

The victorious powers [of the world wars] call themselves the conquerors of the world, while ignoring or down-treading the rights of other nations by the imposition of oppressive laws and international arrangements.

So far, controversial, but not untrue.

Following World War Two, they resorted to making an entire nation homeless on the pretext of Jewish suffering. They sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine. In compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive, racist regime in Palestine.

If you changed 'totally racist' to 'racist,' and 'most cruel' to 'cruel,' then this wouldn't be too far of a spin off the truth. Still controversial though. And yes, at this point, if not anti-semetic, then definitely anti-Israeli.

It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments and the United States have committed themselves to defending those racist perpetrators of genocide, whilst the awakened consciences and free-minded people of the world condemn aggression, brutality and the bombardment of civilians of Gaza.

Again, a terrible choice of words. "Genocide," should be, "War crimes." Rwanda was a genocide. Hitler vs the Jews was a genocide. A few hundred dead Palestinians a year is not a genocide. You could argue 'war crimes' and be okay. When you grossly exaggerate or outright lie, your entire speech becomes an irrelevant rant.

[Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were] a clear example of egocentrism, racism, discrimination or infringement upon the dignity and independence of nations.

Afghanistan was attacked because they supported a terrorist organization who attacked a powerful foreign country. Their leaders were asking to get ousted. That said, the words racism and discrimination can relate to issues within the conflicts, while egocentrism is more in line with the poor execution and lingering challenges in both. A valid argument would be how oppressive regimes were replaced by corrupt and incompetent ones, and how security has deteriorated. Again, poor words. While criticism is fine, to simplify a complicated issue into one of racism, as though it explains every mistake committed, is a poor way to get a message across.

Today, the human community is facing a kind of racism which has tarnished the image of humanity. In the beginning of the third millennium, the word Zionism personifies racism, that falsely resorts to religion and abuses religious sentiments to hide hatred.

All racism tarnishes the image of humanity. Israel, Israel, Israel. I reread this passage numerous times and it doesn't really make a lot of sense.
I struggle to find accurate estimates of numbers of Palestinians killed, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to five years in Darfur. Where is the Arab indignation? Muslims are dying after all.

Efforts must be made to put an end to the abuse by Zionists and their supporters of political and international means... Governments must be encouraged and supported in the fight aimed at eradicating this barbaric racism and moving towards reforming the current international mechanisms.

If Ahmadinejad's speech wasn't so overbearing up to this point, then this part might have some merit.

You are all aware of the conspiracy of some powers and Zionist circles against the goals and objectives of this conference... It should be recognised that boycotting such a session is a true indication of supporting the blatant example of racism.

Or they could be boycotting based on the fact that people like Ahmadinejad are there. You just proved it was a waste of time.

In conclusion, Ahmadinejad's comments, as translated and posted by the BBC, were definitely anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist, which by definition are one and the same. Saying that being anti-Zionist is the same as anti-Semetic is different argument. By definition, anti-semitic is discriminating against Jews. While being anti-Israeli can carry such undertones, I think a distinction should be made between the two.

Spreading mistruths and blatant exaggeration of circumstances is racist, and for that the international reaction to this nut is warranted.

But I would hesitate to use the definition anti-Semetic. I consider it no more anti-Semitic than spreading lies about American transgressions is anti-Christian.

So, is a UN summit on racism a good thing?

Definition: racism or racialism
1. hostile or oppressive behaviour towards people because they belong to a different race
2. the belief that some races are innately superior to others because of hereditary characteristics

I find it interesting that an international organization controlled by the will of five Nations, each of which vetoes taking action against 'racist' acts based on their own self interest, is hosting a racism summit.

To conclude, Ahmadinejad had a chance to make real arguments about an increasing mistrust of Muslims throughout the world (which in his particular case is not entirely unwarranted.) He could have shown examples, (Abdelrazik, Guantanimo), of the West putting aside its morals and values when it comes to Muslims who often turn out to be innocent.
He could have eliminated the controversy over Israel's existence from his rant and tied in Muslim frustration into a real concern over the international lack of condemnation when Israel crosses the line between defending itself and committing atrocities.

He could have used the platform to be a model voice for Muslim outrage. Instead, he was an embarrassment not only to his country and his religion, but to the United Nations.

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