Durban the Sequel: Send Out the Clowns

Thane Rosenbaum in Huffington Post, April 25, 2009

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All Hollywood sequels demand a good story--not the same as the original, repackaged and rehashed with a tired script and identical cast, but one with a new plot. There should be good and bad guys, although it's best when they're not so easily distinguishable. And while audiences may long for their hero, a good sequel needs a new villain--more irredeemably evil than the one before.

That's one of the reasons why Durban II was destined to be a dud. Same characters, same plot, same ending--all that was different was a change in scenery. That, and the introduction of a few clowns (not the ones with the rainbow hair and red noses who protested the proceedings, but the governmental representatives who wore business suits and turbans--the only circus act playing in Geneva last week.)

There were no heroes at the 2001 Durban United Nations World Conference Against Racism, which resumed in Geneva this past week--except for the delegations from Canada, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and the United States, which refused to attend.

Yet, there was virtue in the European delegations that walked out immediately upon hearing President Ahmadinejad's paradoxically anti-Zionist, racist speech. One wonders, however, what soundtrack these diplomats had expected to hear, and why they had decided to make the trip to Geneva in the first instance.

As for the villains, from the outset the producers of this global sham leaked their storyline and let it be known that in the eight years since the Durban I debacle, they weren't able to come up with anything more original than to blame Israel for the world's racist problems.

Yes, you heard it right: Israel, yet again--the tiny country that is always cast as the heavy in a world dominated by hypocrites, scoundrels and thugs. The villain du jour: the lone liberal democracy in the Middle East; cosmopolitan and pluralistic, respectful of women's and gay rights; where citizens enjoy free speech and religious freedom; and where the judiciary functions independently and in accordance with the rule of law.

It's comforting that no matter what happens in the world--the genocides taking place in Congo and Sudan; the persecution of homosexuals in Iran; the crimes against women committed all throughout the Middle East; the human rights abuses against the people of Cuba and Tibet--we can all rest assured that global racism is localized and contained in only one country: Israel.

All too predictably, the move from South Africa to Switzerland left little to the imagination. The rhetoric was identical and equally ridiculous. Even worse, by reconvening a farce, the United Nations trivialized the seriousness of the very problem it had hoped to address. The moral message that racism is a menace was, ultimately, never delivered. And surely no persecuted, discriminated citizen of the world is any safer today as a result of Durban II. Instead, Geneva was the setting not for peace, but for the cynical grandstanding of world leaders unfit and unworthy to lead.

Granting President Ahmandinejad the honor of the introductory remarks at an international conference dedicated to abolishing racism is like asking Hitler to serve as the keynote speaker for Holocaust Remembrance Day--which coincidentally, was the day after Ahmandinejad's speech.

The Iranian president, of course, did not disappoint his co-conspirators in moral hypocrisy. Rather than acknowledge his own contribution to global racism and the misery he has caused the Iranian people, he inflamed the anti-Israeli rhetoric as if it was not already awash in Jew-hating lighter fluid.

The United Nations waited eight years for this: a repeat performance of Durban, which was a disgrace even at its premiere, a bad sequel that should never have been given a second chance? Instead of starting all over, the United Nations simply picked up from where it had left off, keeping everything intact--farce and falsehoods in all.

Given the seriousness of global suffering and the assault on human dignity, if the very best the United Nations could do as an antidote to bigotry was recycle the slogan Zionism = Racism, then we are all in far worse shape than we had always feared.

These nations were united not in the spirit of eradicating racism, but in playing to the cheap seats, using the pretense of anti-racism as a human shield in the furtherance of anti-Zionism. This Geneva convention had more in common with a rowdy corporate junket than anything having to do with human betterment. The purpose of the conference was meant to entertain, not transform. That's why the delegates kicked out the protestors dressed as clowns: These nations were playing for their own laughs. The real clowns in the room had already been revealed, and it was them.