Tag Archives: Durban II

Turkey and the Durban II conference: Above all there is silence

By Daniella Kuzmanovic

While my fellow bloggers have called attention to the Iranian and Arab reactions to the Durban II conference in Geneva, I have refrained from writing anything on Turkey. The reason is obvious: The Durban II conference has been bypassed in almost complete silence by the Turkish press at large, by columnists, as well as by Turkish politicians. Apart from reporting on the speech by Iranian president Ahmedinejad and the reactions it caused, the Durban II conference has simply been a non-issue. One column by pro-Islamic writer and thinker Ali Bulaç in Zaman 24.4.09 (http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/yazarDetay.do?haberno=173358) seems to be the exception that proves the rule. Instead, other domestic policy related issues including among other a speech by the Commander in chief, economic crisis, Turkish-Armenian relations, Ergenekon related weapon finds, Northern Cyprus elections, and a possible reshuffle of the cabinet are obviously of more pressing concern.

Considering that Turkish government, including prime minister Erdoğan himself, has put some effort into becoming the new best friend of the Muslim world, the lack of comments on the Durban II conference by Turkish political establishment deserves a few notes, though. One of two issues at the centre of the Durban II conference is the Palestinian question and the possibilities of a critique of Israel. Most probably recall the showdown in Davos earlier this year, where prime minister Erdoğan walked out during a session on the Gaza situation after having called the Israelis ‘killers’, and having complained that he was only allowed a few minutes for comments while the Israeli representative, president Peres, was able to speak for a lot longer. Subsequently Erdoğan was hailed as a hero at home and in a range of Arab countries. Moreover, Erdoğan also articulated the sentiments of a range of Muslim countries when Turkey displayed strong concerns regarding the choice of Mr. Rasmussen as general secretary of NATO.

Turkey, alongside most UN countries apart from Iran, has only been represented by their diplomatic UN staff at the Durban II conference. In addition to this, it has not gone unnoticed in Turkey that the OIC secretary-general, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu (a Turk!), would be attending the Durban II conference. One could suggest several reasons why the Durban II conference is not really given much attention by Turkish policy makers and thus not by the Turkish press either:

-          Turkey, more specifically prime minister Erdoğan, is one of two founders of the UN supported Alliance of Civilizations initiative, and would rather that this is the forum in which issues concerning the Muslim world, freedom of speech and of religion is debated

-          Turkey is at present member of the UN Security Council and see little benefit in creating further tensions by profiling themselves in a forum which is much less significant and boycotted by among other the US. Not least since the new US president is seemingly interested in making Turkey a key ally in a new, dialogue-oriented foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asian regions.

-          If Turkey were to stand out with critical remarks at the Durban II conference they would be associated with the outbursts of president Ahmedinejad, which would damage their image as oriented towards dialogue and building bridges rather than burning them. The grand ole man of Turkish pro-Islamism, and the one who AKP has broken away from, Necmettin Erbakan, actually visited Ahmedinejad only days before the Durban II conference started. The AKP will probably make an effort to avoid this kind of association

More reasons could surely be listed. Feel free to add…

Reactions to Ahmadinejad’s Geneve performance

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

Here is a short summary of the reactions in Iranian media to Ahmadinejad’s show at the Durban II conference yesterday. More headlines (and, if I can find the time, a proper analysis) will be added later today or tomorrow.

KEYHÂN (state-run, close to the Leader):

“With his speech, Ahmadinejad bombarded Israel”

“Ahmadinejad: ‘Despite the wishes of the West, I will attend all global meetings'”

“The support of 210 Majles deputies for the president’s viewpoints in the Geneve conference”

IRNA NEWS AGENCY (state-run):

“United Nations must be the epitome of freedom of speech and democracy”

“The president’s intelligent speech at the Durban conference has aroused global praise”

“By leaving the Durban meeting, the Zionist supporters have increased the importance of Ahmadinejad’s speech”

FÂRS NEWS AGENCY (state-affiliated)

“Ahmadinejad’s braveness cannot be found in any other country’s leader”

RAJÂ NEWS AGENCY (close to Ahmadinejad):

“Ahmadinejad made Israel’s ambassador flee Switzerland”

“Ayatollah Hossein Nuri-Hamadani: ‘Ahmadinejad’s courage is inspired by The Imam’s courage”

MEHR NEWS AGENCY (state-affiliated):

“Insulting actions against Ahmadinejad testifies modern barbarity”

“The way Iran’s message was conveyed at the Geneve conference was a victory for the political system”

“Anti-Zionists are beloved: Ahmadinejad bursted Israel’s blister”

TÂBNÂK (‘moderate’ conservative, Mohsen Reza‘i-affiliated).

“The insulting action of Westerners: Exit from the auditorium during Ahmadinejad’s speech” (carries a picture of empty chairs at the conference, something that state-run news agencies did not bring)

E‘TEMÂD-E MELLI (‘reformist’, Karubi-affiliated)

“The noisy appearance of Ahmadinejad in Switzerland”

ÂFTÂB-E YAZ (‘reformist’, Karubi-affiliated)

“Karubi and Musavi’s criticism of Ahmadinejad’s travel [to Geneve]“

[Karubi:] “When experts deem insults possible why is it necessary to participate in such meetings?”

KHORDÂD (‘reformist’-affiliated):

“Ahmadinejad attacked by protestors”

AFTÂB (‘centrist’, allegedly Rafsanjani-affiliated)

“[Mir-Hossein] Musavi: ‘Insults against other countries cannot be hidden by sentences of epic poetry'” [see below]

“Zibakalam’s analysis of the throwing of things against Ahmadinejad in Geneve”

NOTES

I haven’t had time to read all the news items, but it seems clear that only the ‘reformist’-affiliated media outlets’ description of the events fits that of major international media.

State-run and pro-Ahmadinejad media interprets the speech as a historic victory for the Islamic Revolution that shows that Iran is now a superpower and a leader of the Muslim world community. These portrayals reduce the protests against Ahmadinejad’s speech to isolated provocative acts financed by some states who are against Iran.

In the meantime, Ahmadinejad has promised to show up at every international gathering from now on; that ‘the divine promise and shining day for humanity’ is near; and that if the European countries would allow a ‘referendum’, it would show that ‘70% of the people’ in Europe ‘supports the Iranian nation since the speeches of the Iranian nation arises from God’s inner nature’. Last but not least he promised to hold a similar referendum in Iran, which he promised would show that ‘100% of the Iranian people is against your [i.e., the West's] policies in the world’.

Allegedly, the people who came out to greet the returning president answered with the slogan ‘O, you, the hope of the dispossessed; you turned Geneve into Tehran; welcome to Iran’.

Zibakalam, professor at Tehran University, argued that Ahmadinejad’s speech might not benefit Iran in the way his supporters believe.

Zibakalam stated that apart from Ahmadinejad’s own entourage, “only a number of diplomats from Arab countries (Sudan)” clapped for the president. Not only was the topic of his speech not that important or necessary right now, argued Zibakalam, the speech itself could have been formulated better. “The important issue is that we will have to decide whether Iran’s foreign policy strategy should be aimed at national interests or ideological [goals]“, stated Zibakalam, referring to the national(ist)/ international(ist) dichotomy, which is as old as the Islamic Republic itself.

ZIbakalam concluded that Iranians could ask themselves which was more important: “the Sudanese’s encouragement and applause or the exit of diplomats from many influential countries of the world during Iran’s president’s speech?”.

(By the way, Sudan’s ‘Justice Minister’ stated today in Tehran that the international arrest order for Sudan’s president is due to the fact that Khartoum does not recognize Israel).

In today’s Âftâb-e yazd, the chief editor wrote that the insult against Ahmadinejad was also an insult against Iran, but that the president’s trip to Geneve was completely unnecessary when only three presidents of insignificant countries attended the conference. Furthermore, the editor stated that Ahmadinejad had nothing new to say at the conference and that, apart from the UN general secretary and the Swiss president, Ahmadinejad did not meet any world leaders, as promised. Indeed, the editor concluded, Ahmadinejad’s Geneve performance was not the ‘epic’ act that his supporters have named it.

So far, the most notable criticism from within the system has come from Musavi. While he stated that the provocative act against Ahmadinejad (the clowns? the exodus?) was deplorable and an insult against Iran, he also blamed the president’s advisors for not warning Ahmadinejad of the possible ‘scenes’ he could encounter at the conference. He then implied that when uttering ‘words of epic poetry’ (kalamât-e hamâsi) one should know the outcome – in other words, that Ahmadinejad should have worded his views differently to prevent the embarrassing scene. By using the word ‘hamâsi‘, Musavi might also be playing with the words: could we maybe even translate it as ‘Hamas wording’? Anyhow, Musavi then said:

“The repetition of such an event will threaten our reputation and the reputation of the Islamic Republic and  that of Iranians abroad. This event should not be repeated. After all, for what purpose have we established such a magnificent diplomatic institution? I think there is a problem.”

This might not seem as harsh criticism compared to the international outcry. Nonetheless, in my interpretation – and I welcome alternative readings – this is quite harsh for a figure so high up in the political system as Musavi: he is stating that Ahmadinejad’s actions were wrong and that the diplomatic institution is not working correctly despite all its ‘splendor’ (sarcastic?). Also note the way Âftâb has distorted Musavi’s words in the headline. As far as I can see, there is no mention of ‘insults’ against ‘countries’ in the text itself. Nonetheless, an editor must have ‘read’ this between Musavi’s lines. Furthermore, Musavi is quoted slightly differently on other sites (see for example Entekhâb)

Finally, by mentioning ‘Iranians abroad’, Musavi reflects the feeling I have gotten from browsing the internet today: that many Iranians, in particular those in the West, are simply embarrassed with their president.

Arab reactions to Durban II: the ghost of colonialism

by Sune Haugbolle

 

The images of EU representatives walking out during Ahmedinejad’s speech in Genève yesterday, amidst the cheers of Arab and other representatives, are haunting. They speak of a chasm in cross-cultural understanding, and that sense will probably remain as a big ugly stain on our collective global consciousness from this event even if the diplomats manage to avoid further walk-outs and a final document is agreed upon. It is a chasm worth dwelling on for a bit. How can the world’s leaders, in 2009, disagree fundamentally on such a universally deplorable phenomenon as racism?

 

We can begin to grasp this chasm by looking at the Arab press’ reactions to Durban II. The views on racism presented here differ dramatically both from the Western press and from the universalising UN discourse that forms the basis of the conference. As columnist Mahmoud Mubarak wrote in al-Hayat on 20 April, “the seven years that have passed since Durban I have been some of the most racist in recent history.” From an Arab perspective, the US is to blame for much of this: the war on terror, Iraq, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, Quran-pissing in Guantanamo, have all been products of a resurgent neo-colonialist US under President Bush. Add to that the Muhammad cartoons, Israel’s incriminate wars on Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, the continued occupation of Palestinian territories, and the racist ideology that underpins it. One then wonders, according to Mubarak, why none of these issues will be on the agenda at Durban.

 

He answers the question himself. The reason is that the Western countries have other priorities, and perhaps other views of what racism means. Mubarak wryly ends his piece by noting that the Dutch call for a sentence on protecting “sexual freedoms” (ie. homosexuality) in the final document of Durban II “reflects the difference in thinking between the Islamic countries and Western countries on the priorities of this conference!”  

 

The op-ed on 21 April in another of the pan-Arab London dailies, al-Quds al-Arabi, follows suit. Why did the European delegates walk out, when Ahmedinejad, deplorable as he may be, “only spoke the truth”? This only underscores that the West is not fully committed to freedom of speech. In a conference on racism, critique of Israel, “the most racist regime since the dawn of time,” should be a natural given. At the very least, the critique should be listened to in full details. By walking out the EU delegates “consented to Israel’s position.”       

 

The feeling of victimization is well rehearsed and nothing new, and not without a certain sense of self-rightousness, as racism is also a fact and a problem in Arab societies and Arab politics. But the important part here is the totally different optic through which the issue of Palestine is viewed.

 

One should recall that the weeks leading up to the conference have seen an arduous diplomatic work to refine the final document – a piece of work not condoned by all nations, and certainly not by all populations either. Judging from the Danish debate surrounding “Durban II”, the usual cohort of Islam critics in Europe sees this conference basically as a venue for the display of Islamic power on the global scene. There is no understanding for the points of view put forth, least of all given that they come from less than democratic governments.

 

The points of contention are principally the questions of Palestine question critique of religions. The first was alluded to in the declaration from Durban I in 2001, which said: “We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation.” That caused an uproar back then in the US and Israel in particular by people who objected to the singling out of Israel, the only country mentioned in the declaration, even though there was other language that respected the “rights to security for all states in the region, including Israel”.

 

The explicit mention of Israel and the Palestinians has been removed from the new document. But at the same time the text reaffirms the 2001 declaration, which is why the US and Israel have strongly condemned the 2009 text also. Furthermore, an echo of the old formulation has survived in that the text emphasises the need to protect “all those under foreign occupation”. Again, despite its seemingly universal message, a troubling line to Israel, the US and other of its supporters.

 

The second question, regarding critique of religions, of course follows directly on from the Muhammad cartoons debate. During the negotiations leading up to the meeting, some Islamic countries attempted to introduce the concept of “defamation of religion.” This would have had the effect, so western and other critics argued, of restraining free speech.

 

The final document deplores the “derogatory stereotyping and stigmatization of persons based on their religion” without singling Islam out as the document deplores all religious intolerance including “Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christian phobia and anti-Arabism”. To some, not least in Denmark, the freedom of speech is so holy that anything that suggests an Islamic temperance of it by recourse to “racism” was seen as reason enough for the Danish government to stay away. As we know, the Danish Foreign Minister, quite boldly, chose to let Denmark participate, as did 22 other of his EU colleagues.

 

We have here the conflation of several contested issues, racism, islamophobia, freedom of speech and colonialism. Why colonialism? I believe that this is the basic explanation of the chasm that manifested itself in the walk-out yesterday. Colonialism was supported and justified by racist ideas and executed in a spirit of Caucasian and Christian supremacy. It is not the only history of racism. Racist ideas of other peoples have existed in many other parts of the word and in different historical periods. But it is one that has shaped our modern world decisively, and its effects persist in territorial conflicts such as that over Palestine.

 

The post-colonial states live with this historical experience in a whole other way that any of us in the West. Racism exists anywhere, but we are not equally subjected to it, and have not been equally subjected to it in history. At the UN we are all expected to agree on a formulation regarding this subject. We imagine a universality that is, frankly, illusory. To think that the world’s populations share in a common view on a discourse that has been instrumental in determining the power relations of modern history in way that subjugated large parts of the world to Western control is naïve and ahistorical.

 

Yes, but…, many would say, colonialism is over. Get on with it.

 

And this is why some walked out while others cheered.