Real issues unlikely topics at U.N. racism conference

September 02, 2001|By Gregory Kane

WILL THEY or won't they?

Will delegates to that tribute to excessive verbiage - the United Nations-sponsored World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which opened in Durban, South Africa, on Friday - take up the gauntlet thrown down by the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights?

There was talk early on about delegates at this conference adopting language that would equate Zionism with racism. That's been toned down after the United States objected. Whether the issue of the West's paying reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade will be addressed had not been resolved by the time the conference started.

Lost in the dispute is the CDHR statement released Wednesday. It challenged the conference delegates to ponder this equation: radical Islamism=racism=genocide.

Keith Roderick, secretary-general of CDHR, made a point to distinguish "radical Islamism" and Islam.

"It's the `ism,'" Roderick said of the distinction. "It [radical Islamism] uses the religion and perverts it."

Mary Elizabeth Hansen, spokeswoman for CDHR, further defined radical Islamism in an open letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and to Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

"Radical Islamism is a totalitarian movement dedicated to imposing its own ideological hegemony," Hansen wrote. "It is rooted in a severe and reactionary interpretation of one of the world's great historical religions. Its promotion of militancy in the form of Jihad, and its segregationist view of society, conceptually known as Dhimmitude, are racist, imperialistic and intolerant." (Non-Muslims in Islamic countries are referred to as "Dhimmis.")

Hansen gave Annan and Robinson a list of the radical Islamist abuses.

1. Persecution of Copts in Egypt.

2. Massacre and enslavement of black African Dinkas in southern Sudan.

3. Terrorizing Christians in Lebanon.

4. Oppressing Christians in Nigeria.

5. Persecuting Christians and Bahais in Iran.

6. Waging a "terrorist war" against Hindus in Kashmir.

7. Terrorizing Catholics and kidnapping foreigners in the southern Philippines.

8. Advocating ethnic cleansing of Christians in East Timor.

9. Assaulting native Christians in Indonesia.

It looks like Hansen handed the mobs that run radical Islamist countries - Sudan and Afghanistan, to name two - a dose of their own medicine. They've been accusing the West in general and the United States in particular of racism, imperialism and intolerance for years. Can you imagine the reaction of conference attendees if Secretary of State Colin L. Powell headed an American delegation that raised CDHR's charges about radical Islamism on the floor of this bash-the-West fest?

Alas, we'll never know. President Bush's administration opted to send a "low-level" delegation to the conference. (I'm not sure I like the phrase "low-level"; if they're representing the United States, they're by definition not low-level.) But Roderick has another take.

"I tend to agree with the Bush administration," he said. "The agenda was well-established and inflexible. Basically, the cards were laid out. They were looking for ratification rather than open discussion. We should keep the dialogue true and open. Let's hear all sides."

For years, CDHR has been hearing the sides of the Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais, Muslims, Copts, Assyrians, Syriacs, southern Sudanese, Maronites, southern Filipinos, West Africans, Ibos, Slavic Christians, Armenians, Arab Christians and Nubians it has represented since the organization was founded in 1993. Some of these groups will be represented at the conference. Roderick hopes they will present the CDHR agenda.

"They will try to call attention to it," Roderick said. "Some of the minority groups we represent will have their own reparations proposals. They may bring up the issue of reparations for Arab slavery."

Don't you just love CDHR already? Those of us who have, for years, been pining away for someone, anyone, to bring up the subject of Arab reparations for the slavery they engaged in on the African continent now have some hope. Arabs enslaved no small number of blacks, and their trade in African flesh continued long after the West had declared slavery illegal. But African-American advocates of reparations have not uttered one word about how much money Arabs should pay for persecuting blacks. Not even a mumble. Not one syllable.

That's why some critics bashed the conference before it even started. As Roderick said, the agenda had been set. The World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Tolerance was designed to be nothing more than a whine-a-thon about the sins of Israel and the West.

If the concerns of CDHR get addressed, we should consider it a minor miracle.

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