Monday, April 20, 2009

U.N. Conference on Racism -- Good or Bad?

It would seem that a worldwide conference dedicated to the eradication of racism and xenophobia would be a good thing. And yet, the United Nations Conference, which opened today in Geneva is being boycotted by the United States, Israel, Canada and some European countries including Italy and Holland.

I am not sure I fully understand why the United States is boycotting, although the official response from the Obama administration is because of "objectionable language in the meeting's draft declaration," according to Reuters. The back story is that during the first UN Conference on Racism, held in South Africa in 2001, the US and Israel walked out of the meeting when conference attendees tried to define Zionism as a form of racism. What's more, it appeared that there was a generally anti-Semitic tone at the last conference and that this conference would only offer more of the same. The fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the opening speaker, reinforced those beliefs.

And in fact, according to the New York Times, in his speech, President Ahmadinejad called Israel a "racist government," among other evil things, prompting all of the EU delegates to walk out in protest. So, I think it's pretty safe to say the conference is off to a pretty rocky start.

So my question is, despite the fact that there are some obvious spoilers at the party, what kind of message is the U.S. sending by not showing up to a conference that is addressing what I think is our most pressing human issue? Isn't that like throwing out the baby with the bath water? Why is this issue the issue that makes it impossible for us to participate in a conference that could potentially draft proposals to heal the rifts and violence between Israel and its Muslim neighbors?

What do you think? Should the U.S. be participating? Doesn't it seem strange that the year we elect a Black man to lead our country we don't attend the biggest conference on racism? Was there another choice for the Obama administration? Do these conferences make any difference anyway?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas. For another opinion about why the Obama administration should have sent a delegate, check out today's headline at The Root.

Peace!

5 comments:

currentsbetweenshores said...

I agree. I think it was wrong for the US to boycott this conference. I understand that America wants to defend Israel as a strong ally but simply not attending is lame and cuts off any chance at a dialogue. This is not the Obama who said he wanted to "talk" to Iran? Thanks to all those countries that boycotted, Ahmanijad essentially had the last word.

LT said...

RA,

That's what I think. But I don't speak fluent politics so I'm still holding out to see what happens...

KB said...

I wrote a column about this in my Uni's paper. http://oudaily.com/news/2009/apr/21/column-us-was-right-miss-racism-conference/ While anti-Semitism was a huge concern, for America, so to was religious defamation language used to suppress dissent against religions instead of protecting individuals of faith or no faith...In a better world, the U.S. could attend a conference without being viewed as subtly condoning racism and religious intolerance.In an ideal world this conference wouldn't be necessary...

LT said...

KB,
True that. In a perfect world this conference wouldn't be necessary. When will that day come? And will this conference, as it is, get us any closer?

Alexandra Zealand said...

I too am frustrated that our country refuses to partake in this discussion - if we don't participate, how can we actually make any changes? We don't have to agree in order to have a conversation.