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So what was the result after the UN boycott and walkout?

By Elizabeth White
Created 08/05/2009 - 19:03

So what was the result after the UN boycott and walkout?
by Elizabeth White

We’ve all been there. You’re having a blue with your partner; your opportunity to retort opens so you throw in a ‘home truth’ and… your partner walks out.

Us – 1; Them – 0. Cue: Your Smug Smirk.

In retrospect though, you both ‘lose’. The ‘home truth’ was a de-constructive criticism only used to incite the predictable response, which inadvertently hands a point to the opponent.

And this was exactly what happened on the 20th April this year at ‘Durban 2’ [1], the UN Review Conference of ‘Durban 1’ [2], which was a UN conference about racism and xenophobia held in 2001. However, now the players were the international community of UN delegates and the president of the most influential Islamic country in the Middle East.

Durban 1 was widely regarded as a disaster and a hate-fest that was ‘hijacked’ by Iran and other anti-Israel countries. Many Western countries like the US, and their shadow, Australia, chose to boycott Durban 2, for fear of a repeat. However, when asked about the efficacy of the boycott, Antony Lowenstein [3] said it was a “grave error” and a “fundamental mistake” as it “endorsed the view that the conference was all about Israel”, thus detracting from the issues being addressed.

As for the remaining countries that chose to go, an exit plan was obviously deemed necessary in order to save face if the predicted occurred; all they needed was President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to say the code word. And then he did. A mere eight minutes into Ahmadinejad’s half hour long speech, the planned spontaneity that was the staged walkout by 23 European states [4] occurred. A clear error of judgment though, as it only served to, “put Ahmadinejad on a far higher platform than he deserved” and “played directly into [Iran’s] hands”, Lowenstein explained.

Us – 0; Them – 1. Cue: Smug Ahmadinejad Smirk [5].

The walkout was prompted when Ahmadinejad referred to Israel as being a racist government [6] and that a nation was created for one displaced group, by displacing another. The idea that Israel could be racist is legitimate, but, as Lowenstein points out, something, “the West is fundamentally opposed to talking about”, clinging to the notion that, “Israel should be insulated from all criticism [after all they have been through]”.

The counter argument that hate speech must not be given a platform is obvious, but what Ahmadinejad said should not be classed as hate speech, it was just the sting of a ‘home truth’. As Richard Broinowski [7] explained, “The Israeli government has policies that actively discriminate against Israeli Arabs. And this indeed is racist.” Ouch.

As a group of nations trying desperately to promote freedom around the world - ergo the right to free speech - the West certainly didn’t do a very good job of practising what it preaches. Surely the West must be open to the expression of all ideas, not just the ones they agree with? Wouldn’t it have been better to show they were willing to listen to all views, instead of cherry picking? It was Barack Obama who said to the Muslim community: “We will listen carefully… We will be respectful, even when we do not agree [8]” (except on this occasion hey?).

In the end, Iran scored a moral point against the West, only to achieve continued demonisation by them. While the West mimicked a child throwing a tantrum, stomping around with their hands covering their ears, thus effectively making a mockery of the UN conference and ignoring other groups represented.

So what was the end result after the boycott and walkout? A zero sum.

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