The Last Word: Ten Years On
Jun 27, 2011 | Jeremy Jones
Ten years ago, I wasn’t in Iran. While there have been many other times when I haven’t been in that country (actually, I have never been there), the 2001 non-visit was significant then and relevant a decade later.
The murderous terrorist outrages of September 11 that year are etched into the public memory, but events the preceding fortnight also have long-term significance.
From late August 2001 through to September 8, the United Nations convened in Durban the “World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance”, preceded by meetings for National Institutions, Youth and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs). Excluding the National Institutions meeting, these events featured disgraceful episodes of intolerance, xenophobia and racism – primarily directed at Jews and/or Israelis.
To prepare for these meetings, regional sessions were convened for formal input into the governmental process, and national meetings took place to build momentum amongst NGOs.
The Asia-Pacific pre-conference meeting was hosted in Iran. It was reported at the time that Australia and New Zealand were excluded via a manipulation of the procedures which seemed designed to stop rational debate.
Further, representatives of international NGOs which have full accreditation at the United Nations and were invited by the UN to participate were none too subtly informed that they would not only be unwelcome but might risk their personal safety by participating.
So Baha’i and Jewish groups had no opportunity for input into the notorious submission to the World Conference from our part of the globe.
While I was unable to visit a country which I would one day very much like to explore, I went to the Durban NGO meeting as a representative of the World Jewish Congress and to the United Nations Inter-governmental Meeting as a member of the Australian Government delegation.
Almost ten years later, the memories of sitting in a large marquee amongst hundreds of people intimidating a fellow participant with heckles of “Jew, Jew, Jew, Jew”; of a workshop on Holocaust denial (at which I was due to speak) cancelled on the advice of security (who said they could not guarantee the safety of participants); of overt antisemitic literature distributed within extra-territorial “United Nations” land (thereby not subject to South African anti-racism law); of a mass demonstration expressing public regret Hitler didn’t succeed in his “final solution” and of the incessant psychological battering of young Jewish delegates remain vivid memories of the NGO Forum.
The Government Forum, which included an overt attempt to sanitise the NGO Forum (as against depicting it accurately as a corrupt power game punctuated with hatefests) stands as tangible evidence of international cynicism, dishonesty and bigotry.
The processes and procedures – abhorrent in and of themselves – were rendered worse when one considers that the motif of the conferences was anti-racism.
Indeed, a large number of heroes of various struggles for human dignity who genuinely wished to contribute to a better world, dedicated and motivated individuals from many countries and societies, honest and decent educators and bureaucrats were all in Durban, and were all frustrated by the pervasive spirit of bullying and bloody mindedness.
Some governments, Australia’s prominent amongst them, worked tirelessly for serious outcomes, but the final documents remained stained with the malicious insertions of those who saw racism as a concept to be abused and misrepresented as a weapon in a propaganda war.
In 2009, the UN hosted a “Review” conference in Geneva, which Australia boycotted as it celebrated an event which any honest review would have recommended be the basis for sober reflection and self-criticism.
The UN has planned another commemoration of the Durban Conference, in New York in September, during the session when the UN traditionally plays host to high-level leadership delegations.
Canada, the USA and Israel have already made it abundantly clear they will not engage in such a farce, and other self-respecting countries must adopt the same stance – unless there is a significant attempt to honestly re-address the problems of the 2001 process and outcomes.