20 April, 2009

Italian editorial on Durban II

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has published a blistering critique of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Racism. I suspect that Magdi Allam had a hand in writing it. (Not an Italian name, that. Follow the link!) I translate some excerpts here; the entire essay is here. I'll make a few remarks after the editorial.

Those who appear this time are wrong

The United Nations Conference on racism opens today in Geneva under the worst of auspices. Western nations are now divided. The United States, Israel, Canada, Australia, and Italy have confirmed that they will not participate, inasmuch as there are no guarantees that the Conference, whose preparatory labors were dominated by Islamic nations, even this time will not conclude in an act of accusation against Israel and aginst the West, as occurred at the previous Durban conference in 2001. Holland and Germandy also turned away at the last minute. Great Britan and France, instead, have decided to show up. Likewise the Vatican. The Iranian president Ahmadinejad has already arrived in Geneva, and has been received with full honors by the highest Swedish authorities—which prompted a strong protest from Israel—and will be among the first to deliver words from the platform the UN has placed at his disposal.

Clearly, many things have gone awry, if at a conference on racism which ought to express the United Nations' task to defend human rights, can take with impunity the word of a man who calls the Holocaust an "invention" and presides over a regime whose typical operation is the assassination of hundreds of political opponents.

However the conference concludes, we can already draw three conclusions from this turn of events. The first is that if the West splits, those who aim to use international institutions as an anti-Western tool have an easy game. …

The second lesson is that human rights cannot be separated easily from the Western cultural background that generated them. … Indeed, it is in the name of "human rights" that the Islamic nations, according to the definition that they give these words, today try impose on the whole West a drastic limitation of freedom of speech and of the press, raising legal barriers that render it impossible to criticize Islam. They tried to do it with Resolution 62/154 in the United Nations Assembly. They returned to this battle during the preparatory labors of the document that should be approved by the Geneva conference, retreating only before Western protests. Whoever imagines that human rights are "transcultural", rather than understood culturally, that they are therefore a minimal common denominator that everyone shares, ought to reflect, for example, on what compatibility there can ever be between human rights in the way that Westerners understand them and the way that Sharia, the traditional Islamic law, understands them.

The third lesson that we can draw from the mess of the Geneva Conference regards the impossibility of separating human rights from politics. … In particular, the presence of Ahmadinejad in Geneva bears attention. Obviously, no sane person expects from his speech a contribution to the "war against racism". Instead they will try to read between the lines and understand whether he gives some signal of flexibility on the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program and on other Middle Eastern issues apart from the regime that Ahmadinejad represents, or if his reply to the overtures of the American president Obama have already been expressed in their entirety in the eight year sentence inflicted on the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi. Naturally, knowing that Ahmadinejad is in any case a president running out of time, and that he must face the electorate's judgement next June.

Paradoxically, the conference on racism has however already obtained one result: it has offered the president of a regime that has little respect for human rights—however one defines them—an international platform from which to begin his personal electoral campaign.

My remarks:

1. The former president was commonly reviled for spurning international institutions, but as the editorial makes clear, these institutions were showing systematic problems before Bush invaded Iraq, and even before he began his "war on terror". Aside from its charity work, the United Nations has become, for all intents and purposes, an unreformable joke. That was my opinion back during the 80s, when I was an idiotic teenager, and since then I have seen no reason to believe otherwise.

2. Why is Roxana Saberi not receiving more attention in the American press? Elian Gonzalez received more attention in the American press than Roxana Saberi. Saberi is, at the least, a good example of why we need to care about what goes on in the world: we travel into the world, and some of those crazy people we'd rather avoid happen to live out there, much as those crazy people we'd rather avoid live in neighborhoods we have to drive through. She was born in the United States, and so is a "natural" US citizen, but
Saberi holds both Iranian and US citizenship, although the Iranian authorities do not recognise dual nationality and were believed to be treating her as one of their own nationals.
They might as well, since our press doesn't seem to care about them.

3. The current administration has made a show of "pressing the reset button" with all manner of distasteful regimes, even to the point of presenting a "reset" button to the Foreign Minister of Russia—although the button actually read "overcharged", not "reset". Maybe Obama should have retained Condoleeza Rice at State: for all her supposed faults, at least she is fluent in Russian, which seems to be more than we can say for the people in charge there now.

3. We were told for eight years that the ideological incompetents were only among the neocons in the Bush administration, and that the Democrats would restore sanity in foreign relations. Writing in the Washington Post, Jackson Diehl suggests otherwise. This particular fact is troubling—and like Roxana Saberi, the Western media is largely ignoring it:
Obama offered the Kremlin a new arms control agreement while putting missile defense and NATO expansion on a back burner. Yet in recent weeks Russia has deployed thousands of additional troops as well as tanks and warplanes to the two breakaway Georgian republics it has recognized, in blatant violation of the cease-fire agreement that ended last year's war. The threat of another Russian attack on Georgia seems to be going up rather than down.

Obama sent a conciliatory public message to Iranians, and the United States joined in a multilateral proposal for new negotiations on its nuclear program. The regime responded by announcing another expansion of its uranium enrichment facility and placing an American journalist on trial for espionage. Obama told Iraqis that he would, as long promised, use troop withdrawals to pressure the government to take over responsibility for the country. Since he made that announcement, violence in Iraq has steadily increased.
But hey, chins up over at the post! I'd think you guys would be elated that Sarah Palin isn't President. —er, Vice-President. Who was the presidential nominee on her ticket again? Some old dude with lots of experience in foreign relations? Thank God we don't have that dinosaur in office now, eh?

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