Thursday, 23 April 2009

Don't Let Your Eyes Deceive You

... continued from last posting ...

It is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us

My concern with the whole Geneva Conference on racism is how many countries boycotted the event - Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and the United States. It's perhaps naive to think that there aren't occasions where people are forced into a boycott, but to not participate raises a concern about commitment to the premise of human equality. If we are divided because racism exists, then other struggles for equality - gender, cultural identity, religion and class will never happen. As someone anonymous once remarked: "There is only one race - the human race". The boycotting countries have a certain something in common - politically they are perceived as "white" and most yield influences that could have been exercised positively in the fight against racism.

I don't know of any society where there isn't some guilt or that hasn't had to deal with some kind of internal issues with race and racism, but there are historical examples of where entire social systems have been built on racial exploitation and legal division. These have tended to be in places where Europeans have held power, either as colonialists or in the post-colonial world. You'll find many European expats here in the Gulf enjoying a very privileged lifestyle, not accessible to the poor South Asian labour force.

Here from where I sit in the Arab world, there is a political perception of the Iran which is unique to the Arabs - reactions to Iran coming from Europe and the West are different. The subtleties of this are often not understood, but exploited into a "them and us" situation which is essentially anti-Iran, anti-Ahmedinejad and ultimately anti-Muslim. Isn't it precisely this very attitude that leads us towards the racism that we should be challenging? Iran - whilst not perfect, is what the West-leaning Gulf isn't; it's actually a multi-party system where universal suffrage exists for all people over 15. According to my last check, the current Leader of Britain, Mr Gordon Brown, was not elected by the populace and governments in the Gulf are almost completely made up of ruling families.

The conference may have been a sham, but that was due to other forces of distrust. Many may conclude that much of the non-participation was about a cynical desire to preserve the global racial inequality status quo and not just because Iran was there.

“In complete darkness we are all the same, it is only our knowledge and wisdom that separates us, don't let your eyes deceive you.” Janet Jackson, Rythmn Nation 1814


  1. I find quite interesting what you say about Ahmedinejad. I can hardly see him as an object of subtle racism, rather the opposite, so I really would be interested in talking about him with you, since we can show each other different pespectives.
    It is certainly true that the current UK Prime Minister was not elected. But this makes its actions automatically not democratic? Conversely, being Ahmedinejad elected makes him automatically an expression of democracy? Also Hitler, and Mussolini in my country, entered the Parliament democratically...Sadly, I don't thin elections are anymore a garancy of democracy. Still, maybe it is the lesser of evils.

    You are perfectly right, the West doesn't like him, but I think we should discriminate between two different orders of reasons.
    I think Western governments don't like him because of economic and political interests and reasons, not because of racism.
    My reasons are different: I find difficult to respect a leader who sayed that the Holocaust has never happened, as an example. I don't like the Israeli politics, but this is not a good reason, in my opinion, to make a statement like that.
    Who is the racist, in that case?
    Having said that, I agree with you that boycotting the Geneva conference is an irresponsable act from countries who define themselves "fighters for human rights".
    And I also agree that this choice reinforces the "them and us" paradigm...
    Hope this is not too confused.
    Another "maverick" I don't know how to "evaluate" is Chavez. I tend to consider him with sympathy since he took a stance towards the US economic policy in South America, but on the other hand I am not completely convinced about the genuinity of his motivations. Reading different sources of news, I often find myself in an embarassing changing attitude towards him...Does this happen also to you?

  2. Hi Veronica,

    Thank you for your comments.

    My posting wasn't about Ahmedinejad per se. It was more around the responsibility I feel that all countries have to make a show at a UN conference on racism. Sometimes you can't take part in events on points of principle, but for me the wider principle of fighting racism here was supposed to be the key issue here. To sidestep as happened only allows people like Ahmedinejad to take centre stage - see what I mean?

    Certain racist human behaviours will forever haunt us - the African Slave Trade - Nazism - Apartheid etc. To downplay the damage of the holocaust is something that few are comfortable with but here in the Muslim world, Israel has not been able to build bridges largely because of the continuing political and human rights issues in Palestine.

    There will, without doubt, be many Iranians who will have issues with their current leadership. In due time Ahmedinejad can be voted out. My point about comparing the elected mandates of Gordon Brown and Ahmedinejad was not about comparing their individual actions or their speeches. It was a subtle hint at pointing to the fact that democracy should be about people power.

    Do I have changing attitudes towards world leaders? We're all accountable, so I guess my answer would be yes because one has to consider the overall good/bad that a leader is capable of doing.


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