By Christine Williams
Support for Israel has never ranked high on the United Nations’ agenda. And the upcoming World Conference Against Racism, scheduled for early 2009 in Geneva, Switzerland, presents a valid case. Many observers are concerned that the UN-sponsored event will simply serve as yet another a platform to launch attacks against Israel — as the previous world anti-racism conference did in Durban, South Africa, seven years ago.
Even by the standards of the organization’s traditional antagonism toward the Jewish State, the U.N.’s 2001 Durban gathering marked a low point. To the extent that “racism” was discussed, it was only to condemn Israeli policies. Little wonder that the conference, known as “Durban I,” is largely remembered as a U.N.-backed assault on Israel.
Now it’s back. And if early evidence is any guide, Durban II, as the Geneva event is already being called, will be a replay of its predecessor. Consider that the chair of the conference’s planning committee is Libya, whose longtime leader, Muammar Kadhafi, claimed during the recent presidential campaign that the Israeli Mossad aimed to assassinate Barack Obama. The vice chair of the conference, meanwhile, is communist Cuba. And the fact that Iran’s president has notoriously called for Israel’s destruction has not, expectedly, prevented it from playing a key leadership role in the upcoming conference.
Nor does it bode well for Durban II that its agenda will be set by the 56-member Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). In particular, the conference will consider responses to “Islamophobia.” In this connection, the OIC’s members will consider what they regard as the problematic Western right to free speech. Referring to the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed published in Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten and to Fitna, Dutch politician Geert Wilders’s documentary about Islam, OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu recently promised to send “a clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed.” He went on to warn Western countries to “look seriously into the question of freedom of expression.”
For their part, Western countries should make clear that they will not allow the OIC to dictate what can and cannot be said about Islam. Instead, they should shift the focus onto the OIC. Instead of concerning themselves with alleged Western prejudices, Islamic states would do well to ponder the rampant racism in the Muslim World. Darfur, where an estimated 300,000 Muslims have been killed by their fellow Muslims, prompting the United Nations to call it the worst human rights disaster in the world, would be a logical starting point. From there, the OIC might consider the continued bloodshed between Shiites and Sunnis, and the fanatical suicide bombers who have claimed the lives of thousands of their co-religionists. One need hardly look to the West to find “Islamophobia” in action.
As for “racism,” the conference’s nominal subject, it is worth bearing in mind that slavery — the most racist of practices — endures in the Islamic world even as it has been abolished in the West. In OIC member states like Sudan and Mauritania, Arabs still keep black African slaves. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted by the World Court for human rights abuses in Darfur, is reputed to have black slaves in his own house. According to NGO reports (non-governmental organizations associated with the United Nations), some 200,000 southern Sudanese have been enslaved during Bashir’s reign, a practice that the UN has charged is “deeply rooted in Arab and Muslim supremacism.” (Such grim statistics did not deter the Sudanese Minister of Justice from demanding, in a stunning act of hypocrisy, reparations for historical slavery during Durban I.) And while Mauritania legally abolished slavery in 1980, it is still practiced secretly. Even Muslims in the West have not accepted its ban on slavery. For example, four Arab princesses were found in July living in Brussels with 17 slaves.
The persistence of slavery in the Muslim world is not, of course, surprising. In August 1990, the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights was affirmed by the 57 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). It stated that Islamic sharia law is the sole source of the Islamic perspective on human rights. And slavery is codified in sharia law. It is doubtful, naturally, that this detail will be much discussed during Durban II.
In light of recent history, it makes sense that Israel has decided to boycott next year’s conference. Canada has also decided to boycott Durban II, and other Western countries should consider following the Canadian example. It’s the height of absurdity for free nations to have to endure lectures on human rights from its preeminent abusers. In 2001, they could have claimed to be unaware of the conference’s sinister agenda. Seven years later, ignorance is no longer an excuse or an option.