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MENA: Reflections on Durban II

mahmoud_ahmadinejad

Wikipedia – President Mahmūd Ahmadinejād speaking at Columbia University on 24 September 2007

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s speech, and the way European Union representatives reacted to it at the United Nations Conference on Racism in Geneva (Durban II), has stirred debates among bloggers across the Middle East. Some bloggers accused him of showing off for his next electoral campaign, others accused the world of showing no willingness to work together for a better future, while others rejoiced because what Ahmadinejad said is exactly what they wanted to hear.

Saudi blogger The plucky, who is based in Australia, wrote:

بالأمس استمعت لحديث الرئيس الإيراني أحمدي نجاد في مؤتمر العنصرية في جنيف و التي نظمته الأمم المتحدة. أستغرب حقيقة من دول تدعي الديموقراطية و حرية التعبير تغضب و تثور ثائرتها و تغادر المؤتمر بمجرد انتقاد نجاد لـ عنصرية إسرائيل. لا أستطيع تفهم الأسباب التي تجعل دول مثل إسرائيل و الولايات المتحدة (و حلفائهما) ترفض الحضور ، و لا أتفهم أيضاً ردة فعل الاتحاد الأوروبي حين غادر معترضاً على تصريحات الرئيس الإيراني. أليس من الأجدر مناقشة هذه الانتقادات بشكل حضاري و متمدن باستحضار لغة الأرقام و الحقائق بدلاً من هذا الضجيج المفتعل الذي يدعم حجة نجاد في حديثه ؟
Yesterday I listened to Iranian President Ahmadinejad's speech in the UN Conference on Racism in Geneva. I was surprised by countries, that call for democracy and freedom of expression, yet showed anger and left the conference as soon as Nejad criticized Israel's racism. I can not understand the reasons why countries like Israel and the United States (and their allies) refused to attend the conference, and also I do not understand the reaction of the European Union when its representatives left due their objection to the Iranian president's remarks. Isn't it better to discuss these criticisms in a civilized way, recalling facts and figures instead of the fabricated clamour – which actually supports Ahmadinejad's claims?

From Palestine, Natalie bitterly compared the boycotting of the conference to the time when “people of conscience refused to shake hands with South African whites during the Apartheid regime as an objection to the racist system there.

Another blogger and human rights activist, Marcy Newman, who lives in the West Bank, Palestine, wondered – just like The plucky – on the irony she finds in the situation, saying:

The Zionist entity’s racist in chief is calling ahmadinejad racist. where is the irony? the Zionist entity is plotting a bombing campaign of Iran and the man who regularly calls for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is calling ahmadinejad racist.

From Bahrain, Esra'a, who was invited to be a panelist at the pre-Durban summit, reflected her thoughts after she realized how people were confusing between anti-semitism and the hatred of Israel, and how Iran was condemned for the wrong reasons despite having a lot to be criticized for at the conference.

The Iranian regime was attacked NOT for oppressing their people in this Summit; despite these crimes being mentioned, that was barely the focus. They were attacked for threatening to “destroy Israel,” that was the premise of every criticism against Iran, even though Israel also threatened to nuke it! “Oh, but that was in retaliation.” It’s no different. Both governments are equally dangerous with an absolute disregard for human rights. Israel having a liberal “lifestyle” doesn’t change its corrupt politics that is threatening many of us, just like Iran is threatening us by funding militant organizations and violently oppressing anyone opposing it.

Arab-American blogger Fayyad, who writes at KABOBfest was skeptical in regards to US President Barack Obama's intentions after boycotting the conference and changing the draft text of the conference to omit mentions of the racism inherent to Zionism and the Israeli state.

Fayyad wrote:

With George Bush, we had a clear villain; a murderous abuser of human rights and executor of imperialist policies that many of his actions came under scrutiny, and even though he managed to get away with many crimes, they were not accepted as righteous by the wider population.

Obama, on the other hand, with his liberal movement mandate, gets away with more crimes than Bush, because the liberal who scrutinized Bush’s every action, are sleeping rotten when it comes to Obama, thinking that Change towards an equitable progressive society was achieved on election day.

[...]

So be careful, if Obama looks better than Bush, it means you just don’t know how he’s about to screw you. Careful Cuba and Venezuela. And if you’re looking for a black president to finally make America discuss its history of racism, wait a little longer.

From Syria, Omar who's based in Toronto, expressed his sorrow at how the world missed another opportunity to frankly discuss global injustices for a better future.

Conferences like the one held today are a great idea. They should be an open forum for discussing injustices no matter which side the injustice is incurred by. As soon as you limit what can be said at a conference
like this, you take away all credibility. Sadly, this is exactly what happened today.

Another Syrian blogger Dubai Jazz, who lives in Dubai, echoed a different idea, questioning ‘what after the conference? what are Arabs doing about it?’

Today, he’s (AhmediNejad) the only loud voice in the region. The Europeans will find reasons (hell, they will concoct them if they have to) to walk out of any conference. The Arabs are more or less silent. And the Palestinian people are left in limbo.
That's what's happening today.

Back in Palestine, Mohamed who said that Durban II was a great platform for Israel, also criticized Ahmadinejad's speech:

Of course, that Ahmedinejad went surely didn't help, and that jackass is as much guilty for the failure of the conference as various Israel-lobbies in OECD capitals. If he really cared about the racism that the Palestinians face on a daily basis, he should've stayed at home and let the conference follow its course, rather than beautifully assist those attempting to hijack it into a pro-Israel choir.

Lebanese blogger Antoun, who lives in Australia, blamed the “West” as well as Israel for the Palestinian's suffering. He added that the West didn't storm out of Durban because of Iran, but because it didn't want to hear the truth. Highlighting excerpts from Ahmedinejad's speech, he further comments:

Ahmedinejad didn't deviate from the obvious, didn't descend into anti-Jewish vitriol, nor did he racially attack Jews. So why the furore?

Hundreds of thousands worldwide protested against Israel's racism in Western capitals throughout the Gaza war. Yet, Western governments continue to remain blind and deaf to Israel's racist policies.

And last but not least, Kal, an Algerian blogger and a student of International Relations and Middle Eastern/African Studies, also summed up  his opinion in two lines:

The bottom line at Durban II: Durban is a platform on which despotic majorities and dictators may stand on the backs of those whom they pretend to represent and agitate on behalf of.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

  • http://TheNewJew.wordpress.com Maya Norton

    Dear Eman,

    Thank you for this article that lends another angle to the Durban II conference.

    @Esra’a:
    Israel’s threatened bombing is of Iran’s nuclear facility. Iran’s threatened bombing of Israel is for the explicit purpose of eliminating its entire population. I understand how one could say that both involve weapons with the power of destruction, but the end results bring us to entirely different outcomes.

    If Israel is successful in its attack, a nuclear facility will have been destroyed. If Iran is successful, 6 million people (the Jewish population of Israel today) will be exterminated. Depending on the target, Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens will meet the same fate, as will Gaza’s 1.5 million and the West Bank’s 2.5 million residents (11.5 million people in all).*

    To say that “both governments are equally dangerous with an absolute disregard for human rights,” does not take any scale into effect.

    @Omar:
    From the sources you have quoted, Eman, and what I have read, I interpret this differently than Omar. The content itself was not limited (as evidence by Ahmadinejad’s speech), but attendees decisions about what they wanted to hear were. There’s a distinction there between individual choice– even if those individuals were representing organizations– and institutional censorship, as by the conference organizers, which does not seem to be the case.

    FYI. For reference, commenter Rozita Ghotbi has quoted the text of Ahmadinejad’s speech in English here: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/04/20/iran-diplomats-walk-out-at-ahmadinejads-speech/comment-page-3/#comments.

    * Palestinian demographics sourced from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine#Current_demographics

    ~ Maya
    (GVO, Israel)

    • http://lebanesechess.blogspot.com Antoun Issa

      Maya,

      You are correct when you state that ‘”both governments are equally dangerous with an absolute disregard for human rights,” does not take any scale into effect.’

      However, once properly analysed, the scale of danger tilts firmly towards Israel.

      To begin with, Iran does not possess nuclear weapons. If at some stage it procures nuclear warheads, its technology and missile deliverance capabilities will still be far inferior to Israel and the US.

      It is extremely unlikely that Iran, even with nuclear weapons, would be able to use it in an offensive attack against countries with larger nuclear capabilities and greater technology. Unless, of course, Iran produces several hundred nuclear missiles and launches them all at once, which is again a highly unlikely scenario.

      Secondly, you discount the fact that Iran, as all states, is rational in forming strategies. The country is well aware that if it were to target Israel, it would be annihilated … as Hillary Clinton so accurately put it.

      Thirdly, the procurement of nuclear weapons has been shown to be for defensive purposes. It is a deterrent against an attack, from say Israel. Never since World War II has a nuclear weapon been used for offensive purposes, and I can’t see it being used in the near future (although the US is currently developing technology that would enable it to use mini-nuclear weapons).

      Iran’s current missile technology also significantly lags behind the technology available to Israel. Iran possesses a number of ballistic missiles that struggle to pinpoint targets, as opposed to Israel’s cruise missiles.

      In comparison, Israel:

      - already possesses several hundred nuclear warheads, with the missile deliverance capability at its disposal

      - has access to hi-tech military technology only matched by the United States

      - has already shown complete disregard for human life through its oppression and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, and its targeting of civilians in wars against Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.

      - has not only threatened Iran, but has the capacity and the determination to carry out such threats. Iran might threaten to destroy Israel, but as demonstrated above, certainly lacks the military power and regional support to do so.

      Iran, despite its posturing, has not attacked or engaged in a war with any of its neighbours bar Iraq, and that was a defensive war. Israel, on the other hand, has a bloody reputation of bullying and invading its neighbours.

      Please, don’t fall for Israeli and Western media and government attempts to stoke fear. Fear is a common tactic used as a cloud, a justification for governments to pursue militaristic agendas. Iraq is a perfect example of that.

      Ahmedinejad uses Israel to improve his local standing, and the Israelis use Ahmedinejad to further their military objectives.

      There is no way Iran could (even if it wanted to) annihilate Israel. Israel is by far the regional power and is more than capable of defending itself (even without US intervention). Israel on the other hand, has the capability to destroy every Arab capital in a 48-hour turnaround.

      Considering its history and current policies, as well as the military hardware available to it and the tacit backing of Western governments, Israel looms as a greater dangerous threat to regional stability than Iran.

      • http://giladlotan.com Gilad Lotan

        Eman – I strongly oppose your estimation of the political standoff. And am realizing as I read the posts you chose to highlight and your long reaction to Maya’s comment, the sheer distance between our perspectives.

        I agree with Maya – Israel has never threatened to destroy Iran. It has absolutely no intention to do that. Its only worry is regarding its nuclear program. I’d argue with you that Shihab III is a missile which should be taken seriously. Iran has been making such an effort to develop this missile (which can both carry a nuclear warhead -and- reach Tel-Aviv). True, the regime’s intentions are not published, but Iran attaining nuclear capabilities will be yet another action that will take the Middle East into further turmoil (and not only with regards to Israel, but the other regional military powers such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt).
        But placing the nuclear issue aside, you write:

        “Iran, despite its posturing, has not attacked or engaged in a war with any of its neighbours bar Iraq, and that was a defensive war. Israel, on the other hand, has a bloody reputation of bullying and invading its neighbours.”
        –> Iran attacks Israel indirectly, through the reaches of Hizbollah and Hamas. Iran funds the militants training, their weapons along with their suicide bomb operations. Iran supports this militia which acts intently against civilians.
        You write that Israel performs “…ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, and its targeting of civilians in wars against Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories…” – this is the type of rhetoric you’d like to believe because it would justify and support your hate. But the truth is that Israeli IDF performs military operations against vicious militia forces that use civilians as human shields. There is so much literature about this. Hamas leverages the unfortunate Gazans in order to create these civilian casualties, so as to highlight their conflict and defame IDF. There is no ethnic cleansing, and there is no genocide.

        And it always boils down to this, every time I have this conversation with a “foe”. Not sure why I make an effort to post here.

        • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

          Psst – don’t you mean Antoun?

          • http://giladlotan.com Gilad Lotan

            oops.
            yr right.

      • Jason Paz

        Around here, some people understand Pharsi and many are fluent in Arabic. Ahmadinejad threatened to annihilate Israel so many times the world believes he intends to do it at first opportunity.
        Why does he project his evil intent onto Israel? If Israelis had a “complete disregard for human life,” the 300 millions Arabs and 52 millions Iranians would be dead. If Israel wanted ethnic cleansing, one neutron bomb would suffice for Gaza leaving property values intact. Iran “stokes fear” by regularly rocketing ordinary Israelis from her proxies in Lebanon and Gaza.
        Does any sane person desire 61 more years of broken children and weeping widows?

    • http://anasqtiesh.wordpress.com Anas Qtiesh

      Maya, just a little factual error, Ahmadinejad didn’t say he wants wants to destroy “Israel”. that is an often misquoted speech. He was talking about: ” the regime occupying Jerusalem.”

      There’s a big difference between talking about an entire country and talking about the regime governing it.

      I agree that it’s a stupid thing to say in either case, but blowing what he said our of proportion is no help to anyone.

      • http://TheNewJew.wordpress.com Maya Norton

        Hi Anas,

        I was referring to Esra’a's comment.

        Also, even if it had been a misquote, it doesn’t mean that I was intentionally blowing something out of proportion. I agree that we have to be careful about our language, but I sometimes feel like to comment anywhere in the MENA section of GV, you need to be armed with an arsenal links to quotes and sources (or an advanced degree).

        Sometimes you just want to contribute and do the best you can to express your opinion and add another perspective without devoting hours to collecting sources before you write each comment.

        … Such is the nature of delicate communication in our part of the world.

        ~ Maya

        • http://anasqtiesh.wordpress.com Anas Qtiesh

          Maya,

          When I said “blowing it out of proportion,” I didn’t mean you. I meant that the Main Stream Media was quick to jump the case and totally distort what Ahmadinejad had said back then.

  • Nathan

    Antoun Issa very accurate. Can Israel have a year without bombing anyone? When has Iran done anything? Never. Keep putting debt on my generation and others to come in the US thanks to our country paying for it. Message to US government don’t pay for it or you will in the next election.

  • Nathan

    Amazing Israel bombs everyone that disagrees with them. Sound like a dictator? Yes. If a world war starts it’s all Israel’s fault. They have too many weapons and can’t stop using them. If they do it in the next 2 months that’s 2 wars in 1/2 year.

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  • Jason Paz

    The hatred for Israel has clouded many minds. When the revenue from fossil fuels dries up, whom will they blame? What will the children eat? Hatred?

    The Anti Israel Faction could not Resist Propagandizing Before the Start of the Conference

    “We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation.”

    “The 2001 declaration prejudges key issues that can only be resolved in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
    Hamas makes negotiations difficult by never talking to Israel or recognizing her right to exist.

    Legitimate forums have “been contaminated by sweeping statements condemning the state of Israel itself, and portraying some of the most racist and chauvinistic aspects of Zionism as representative of Jewish nationalism as a whole. However, these kinds of discriminatory resolutions have been declining in recent years.”
    There has been no let-up recently in the Arab Smear Campaign.

    “Furthermore, other governments that have as bad or even more racist policies than Israel have not been subjected to as much attention at such conferences.”
    In fairness, Zunes might provide a list of nations that have a higher regard for human rights than Israel.

  • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

    I just wanted to chime in to say well done, Eman – I think you’ve presented the best possible selection of timely posts from the region. This is exactly the kind of article that makes me love GV so much!

    I also would be remiss if I didn’t say I agreed with Esra’a on this one. While the issues are different, and while Israel admittedly offers (most of) its citizens better civil and human rights than Iran affords its people, I don’t think that that point is relevant, nor do I think it needs to be raised over and over again. The fact of the matter is, the West has conditioned the world to think of Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders as somehow off their rockers, while we’re supposed to assume that all Israeli leaders (even a total extremist like Avigdor Lieberman) are sane, balanced, and fair; when really, both countries suffer from poor leadership and both countries mistreat (some of) their citizens.

  • Jason Paz

    Jillian,
    Civil and human rights make all the difference for the citizen. He can stand and be counted. The people of Darfur have no rights 430,000 of them slaughtered by the Sudanese. Ahmadinejad speaks of annihilating Israel and no ordinary citizen dares to contradict him. Indeed, most Iranians admire him for boasting openly of his ambitions. There is no one to caution him. If he vaporizes Israel, 52,000,000 ordinary Iranians may also die. If they had a say in the matter, how many of them would opt for martyrdom?

  • gzuckier

    First off, let me say that i’m glad for a forum where divergent opinions can be aired and maybe som progress made in progressing to a solution, even if i may disagree with some of the opinions.

    Anyway: countries act like countries, typically with a certain bias towards perceived ‘self-defense’ rather than benevolence towards their neighbours. This is just as true for Middle Eastern regimes as it is for the First World. And, as the US has demonstrated recently, stress and fear can make a country act irrationally just as it does an individual. That said, I can’t bring myself to paint either Iran or Israel as the embodiment of Evil on Earth which needs to be eradicated.

    However, I do see a wider spread of views publicly expressed in Israel, particularly towards the benign side of the scale. (Iran is not, of course, the “best” counterexample here, having more open and active dissent than a lot of the neighboring Arabic countries). The political pendulum in Israel swings; the majority of the public seems to want and end to the endless hostilities and is willing to go in either direction, but the lack of quick results following movement in one direction drives a change to the other. Such is the nature of a democracy.

    Iran’s elections are coming up, however, and we shall see where the tilt goes. In Iran, however, the most powerful person is not the President, but Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader; Iran’s highest authority in religious and political matters and the commander-in-chief of its armed forces. Not only does this put some limits on the ability of a progresive candidate who might win the election, it makes the election of such a candidate less likely. And, without doubt, even Khamenei is constrained by the usual murky web of politics, obligations, and favoritism which is inherent in all human affairs.

    On another topic, the problem of nuclear arms is not so much with their use as an offensive weapon but as a defensive “doomsday” device. As most people realize, Israel is not going to go nuking their neighbors no matter how annoyed they get; the weapons are there just to dissuade their enemies from assembling their much greater conventionally armed militaries into a coherent and focused attack which might overwhelm Israel’s highly competent but tiny military. Thus, although a certain degree of trust could be put in the sanity of the Iranian regime to refrain from a nuclear strike, it’s not at all unlikely that possession of nuclear weapons would encourage Iran to pursue more conventional military incursions versus Israel, perhaps via Hezbollah and/or Hamas, with a determination not previously seen; being now able to say to the Israelis “What are you going to do about it? Nuke us?”

    Of course, the foregoing applies to Shiite/Persian Iran’s relations with the surrounding Sunni/Arab states as well, which is why they find themselves pondering whether the time may be right for a thaw in relations with Israel; unfortunately (or maybe not coincidentally) at the same time that Israel decides that a concerted attack on Gaza is worth the loss of international goodwill it entails.

    Of course, in any case, it’s always necessary to remember that inflaming xenophobic paranoia is always worth quite a few votes when an election is coming, whether in Israel, Iran, or (again, as we’ve seen) the United States, as well as numerous “progressive” European countries, and a politician’s first and overwhelming duty is to get elected.

    Anyway, for anybody who read this far in the expectation that I have a solution or even a conclusion, I apologize for disappointing you.

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