By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
Director, Human and Civil Rights Division
MAS Freedom (Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation)
A Note for the Serious: Anti-Racism is Not “Theater”
Comments on the “Ahmadinejad Show” at the Durban II Conference in Geneva
Three years ago, I wrote an essay with critical comments about a gathering in Tehran that focused, in my opinion, on strong revisionist sentiments concerning the European Holocaust (Shoa) of the 1930’s and 1940’s. I noted that the genocide that engulfed European Jewry was truly a monstrous crime against humanity, and attempts by modern anti-Zionists (and also anti-Semites and racists of other stripes) must not be conflated into the legitimate criticism of the modern Jewish state of the support for Palestinian self-determination and freedom from Israeli occupation. I believed then, as I do now, that Muslims, and all people of morality, must never deny the reality of the historical suffering and oppression of any people.
My essay was widely distributed throughout the world (and it led to my interview on CBS network television). Most people supported my assertions, although interestingly, a few Muslims wrote to call me practically an agent of the Mossad and disparage me as me everything but a child of Allah.
But on Monday, April 20th, the President of Iran managed to practically trump his previous show by vehemently attacking Israel in his speech at the Durban ll gathering in Geneva, prompting a walk-out by a number of European delegates (presumably from nation that had not already boycotted the event) and a vociferous response from Western media.
I am not challenging the right of the President of Iran to exercise free speech. But I profoundly question both the timing and the wisdom of his remarks, especially in the context of the larger issue of anti-racism and the construction of a serious global response to this issue.
Why am I critical of President Ahmadinejad’s comments? Not because of any retreat on my part from the issue of Palestinian human rights, or from support for the human rights of any oppressed peoples (including the Baha’i’ religious minority in Iran).
But I firmly believe that Ahmadinejad’s linking of the Holocaust with the current events on the Middle East will only create a made-for-television spectacle that panders to the forces of racial animus and hatred, while deflecting attention to the real task of building a genuine, and fearless, anti-oppression movement that must, in the final analysis, take on the issue of racial and group oppression in every nation-including his own. This conference is not about the European Holocaust; it should be about the suffering of people today.
Let’s be clear: the issue of Palestinian human rights and freedom is very high on the global anti-oppression agenda, as it should be. But criticism of Israel should not be joined at the hip with the distorted notion that the Holocaust is simply Zionist fiction designed to justify occupation of Palestinian land.
Moreover, this bombastic side show will do little to support the building of a true multi-faith platform that calls for an end to Palestinian occupation, let alone to address the multitude of other anti-racist and anti-oppression issues that Durban ii must continue to engage.
Beating his personal Holocaust- revision drum may please some people, but it will only hamper any focus in Geneva on the real plight of the Dalits of India, indigenous peoples of the Americas, African descendents, and the host of other human communities who struggle to bring their legitimate concerns, and struggles, to the world stage. Moreover, his remarks will be taken as grist for the numerous political forces that want to create, unfortunately a virtual political quarantine of Iran from the rest of the world.
Durban ll is about the serious business of assessing where we are in the 10 years since the World Conference Against Racism in 2001. The world media should recognize this. And they, and we, must not allow our attention to be diverted by remarks from the President of Iran.