Sunday, April 19, 2009

U.S. will boycott U.N. conference on racism

U.S. will boycott U.N. conference on racism

GENEVA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will boycott a United Nations conference on racism next week, the U.S. State Department said on Saturday, citing objectionable language in the meeting's draft declaration.

The United Nations organized the forum in Geneva to help heal the wounds from the last such meeting, in Durban, South Africa. The United States and Israel walked out of that 2001 conference when Arab states tried to define Zionism as racist. (...)

Juliette de Rivero of Human Rights Watch said the meeting in Geneva would lack needed diplomatic gravitas without Washington's presence.

"For us it's extremely disappointing and it's a missed opportunity, really, for the United States," she said.

A draft declaration prepared for the conference removed all references to Israel, the Middle East conflict and a call to bar "defamation of religion" -- an Arab-backed response to a 2006 controversy over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that Western states see as a way to quash free expression.

Wood conceded there had been improvements to the document, but he said it was not enough.

"The United States will work with all people and nations to build greater resolve and enduring political will to halt racism and discrimination wherever it occurs," he said.

Diplomats said the high-profile presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the forum made it probable that touchy subjects would still dominate the proceedings.


I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, we obviously can't allow one nation to define all interest in their rival as "racist," because allowing nations to redefine actual jargon from social critique in order to serve their own interests is a huge pain in the ass. (At one point some nations were invoking "cultural relativism" as a shield against criticism instead of the analytical tool that it is, which is why I'm annoyed that "racism" is now also getting co-opted.)

On the other hand, I'm getting kinda sick of allowing so much of our foreign policy decisions be determined by what Israel thinks we ought to do. There are other nations in the world, and maybe we should also be giving them some consideration. Like, oh say... all the nations that would benefit from having us there. Including our own.

So I'm ambivalent. I'll grant that the way Israel was discussed at the earlier meeting does sound out of line. But is this really wise?

I think what pisses me off most is the hesitation to talk to Iran's president lest uncomfortable topics come up. Hello, guys. You've put together a gorramn conference on racism. If somebody isn't uncomfortable by the time you're done, you're fucking doing it wrong. This isn't useful at all if it's just a way for everybody to get together and congratulate each other on how anti-racist they all are. Unless the nasty racialized barriers between members countries aren't brought up and hashed over... then what the hell are they doing all this for?

I realize there would and must be diplomatic consequences to a conversation of racism any deeper than superficial "we don't like racism, give us a cookie for how great we are" crap. However, I feel that until the uncomfortable stuff with diplomatic consequences is brought up, they're not really even talking. Maybe it's more diplomatically sound to waste so much time and money on an anti-racism circle jerk, but it's hard for me to imagine them actually accomplishing much if this is their approach.

But this is why I'm not a diplomat. I just want to drag shit out and get it over with, because as a rule people aren't actually going to examine themselves and their behavior any more deeply than they absolutely have to. This doesn't really work with people who aren't rational, and I suppose if any of those people I talked to had high-powered weapons of war just waiting to be used in a self-righteous temper tantrum, I might be inclined to be a little less honest, too.

It's just frustrating, that's all.

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