The lively debate over Canada’s refusal to participate in the United Nations Durban 2 anti-racism conference
From The National Post:
Today should be a proud moment for Canada, and Canadians. Canada was the first country to declare it would not attend the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, known as Durban II because it was meant as a follow-up to an earlier version in Durban, South Africa, that collapsed into an anti-Israel hatefest.
From The Globe and Mail:
Although many Western representatives walked out in protest against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech, the decision to attend in the first place showed a lack of foresight on the part of their countries’ leaders…Canada was merely ahead of the curve.
I’m saddened by the lack of real dissenting opinions on this issue, because of a few facts:
- Whether we like or agree with it, there are many vocal “world leaders” who currently believe Israel should be singled out for condemnation because of its treatment of Palestinians.
- Whether we like or agree with it, many of these same world leaders have very different ideas about religious freedom, and feel anxious about blasphemy and the defamation of Islam.
We can walk away from as many conferences as we want without changing those two basic facts. Add a few other facts, like the need for a global effort to fight poverty, meet environmental challenges and, hell, even the threat of terrorism, and the schism between the “West” and the “Muslim world” becomes deeply troubling. And I’m not sure Canada’s decision looks so laudable.
I’m frightened by the anxiety people have about doing anything that might be seen to condone terrorism or extremism. I’ve noticed that the discourse around the Somali pirates is plagued by the same problems as all the post 9-11/war on terror discourse – any suggestion that we should look at root causes immediately gets characterized as justificatory or pro-terrorist/anti-US. This is scary, because it shouldn’t be controversial to say that stopping something requires finding out what truly caused it in the first place – and to say that most political and social phenomena have complex causes at their roots.
It seems to me that the signal we’re sending by walking out of Durban isn’t that we’re anti-extremism, but rather that we’re not willing to engage if we don’t like what’s going to be said, which only deepens the perception that the West needs to control the agenda and exert its hegemony or it won’t participate in the international community. If it was me, and I knew racist and untrue things like those in Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech were going to be said, I would see that as an even better reason to take part, so I could counter his claims and be a force for dialogue and reconciliation – things I still believe are possible in the very long term, but only if we don’t start vacating the venues where they can take place.