Apr 28, 2009

U.N. conference becomes a circus

by Madison Brooks

An international conference on racism at first glance seems like a worthy goal. Nations come from all over to civilly discuss the numerous problems they experience internally with the various groups that inhabit their countries. The plan was for each nation’s respective leaders to express their feelings and ideas on racial issues and discrimination to an international audience.

It would be a “shining example of international unity against discrimination,” according to the United Nations secretary general from South Korea, Ban-Ki Moon. But this conference would become a lesson in the meaning of irony.

What the world witnessed will probably go down as one of the worst public relations nightmares in United Nations history. The first speaker of the conference was a man who likes to refer to the Holocaust as a myth and wants to “wipe off the map” a certain nation filled with Jews. That’s right, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the first speaker at the United Nations conference on racism.

And people seriously wondered why Germany, Canada, Israel, Italy, New Zealand and the United States boycotted the conference.

The day’s proceedings would unfold like the events of a circus act.

First, President Ahmadinejad took the center stage, and within seconds, a few thrown items and chants of “you’re a racist” began to rain down on him from a British-accented man wearing a clown wig. Seconds later, another wigged British man appeared, echoing his first countryman clown’s charge against the speaker. Then more Brits on the balcony began to shout “racist!”

The circus then entered its second act, as Ahmadinejad proceeded to bless the day’s events with a short opening prayer. While security dragged the protesting Brits out into the halls, the Iranian president uttered “Allah be praised,” as the word “racist!” echoed from the hallway.

An awkward smile smudged Ahmadinejad’s face and his speech began.

The President proceeded to single out the nation of Israel as a racist state, a “regime most cruel” who has “made an entire nation homeless.” One by one, the French, British and representatives from almost every other self-respecting Western nation rose out of their chairs and marched quietly out the doors. The unfazed president continued his anti-Semitic diatribe as several Arab and African nations began to cheer and clap. Cue curtains, end scene.

It is worth asking, what exactly just happened there. More importantly, who is the genius that thought it would be good to let a Holocaust denier on stage to discuss racism, on the week of the 64th anniversary of the Holocaust? The planners did not even try to schedule him for a later speaking engagement. He was the first speaker of the entire conference. That is like launching a space ship backwards — it could only go down from there.

Not only does the United Nations look foolish but it also looks divided. To put any weight behind the notion that a racism conference would unite countries is naive at best and negligent at worst. I’ve seen geographical fault lines more unified than those in attendance at the U.N. conference.

This demonstrates what the western world has known all along: the West will not tolerate racism, but apparently the Arabs and half of Africa will. According to Amnesty International, the world’s worst abusers of human rights for the past four years have come from African nations, and the lowest success in human freedoms and women’s rights come from nations such as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So is there anyone who is really shocked at the event’s outcome?

From the beginning, this conference was doomed to fail. With little or no western support, what can probably be expected to happen is nothing more than glorified grandstanding and anti-Semitic lectures from the four angry corners of the world. All the while, western countries will have their fingers in their ears, sitting in the corner, drowning out the noise with their incessant muttering about piracy, terrorism or whatever happens to be the greatest threat to life that week.

The effects of this international conference are clear. Whatever credibility the United Nations had, just went up in the smoking barrel aimed precariously at its own feet.


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