What's at Stake at Durban II

Resident Fellow
David Frum
To call anything the United Nations does a "new low" does an injustice to all the previous "old lows."

How do you do worse than pass a resolution condemning Zionism as a form of racism on the anniversary of the Nazi Kristallnacht, as the UN did in 1974?

We have already witnessed attempts to put the UN bureaucracy to work as an international enforcer of Islamic definitions of blasphemy.

Still, even by the sordid standards of the UN, the 2001 Durban "antiracism" conference was a record-breaker. Denouncing racism while conference attendees sold copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion--breathtaking.

Now, however, the UN faces a new challenge. Was the 2001 anti-racism conference truly the very worst it could do? Or could it push the boundaries even further, explore new depths? At Durban, the UN had allowed an antiracism conference to be hijacked by anti-Semites. But what if it allowed anti-Semites to organize a conference from the very start? What if it made hatred of Jews and the annihilation of the Jewish state the very organizing principle of the conference? Now that truly would be a record low.

And so it happened. The UN has been at work organizing a "Durban II" to be held sometime in 2009. The organizing committee for the conference is chaired by Libya--with seats offered to Iran and Cuba. Preparatory meetings have been scheduled for Jewish holidays, in an effort to prevent pro-Israel groups from participating.

In December, 41 Western countries voted to shut off funding for Durban II. These countries pay the UN's bills--but the non-paying majority has the votes. This week, Canada gallantly announced it will not attend the Durban II "circus of intolerance," in the scornful words of Jason Kenney, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism.

Let's hope that Canada's example inspires other democracies to follow.

But let's also understand more clearly what is at stake at Durban II.

In the first planning session for Durban II back in August, Pakistan's representative declared: "The defamation of Islam and discrimination against Muslims represent the most conspicuous demonstration of contemporary racism and intolerance ? It is regrettable that the world media has allowed defamation and blasphemy in this form?"

These are more than mere words. We have already witnessed attempts to put the UN bureaucracy to work as an international enforcer of Islamic definitions of blasphemy.

During the Danish cartoon controversy of 2005, the Organization of Islamic Countries demanded that the UN condemn the cartoons as a form of racism. The UN did not quite do that. But UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, a Canadian, did take jurisdiction of the matter and did promise an investigation.

Nor does the UN act alone. Inside Canada too, the Alberta Human Rights Commission has agreed to treat the republication of the cartoons as a possible human rights offense. Former Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant has been called before a tribunal to defend his decision in what stands, in effect, as the first blasphemy prosecution in English-speaking Canada since 1926.

Human rights? No, what we are witnessing here is a power grab, an attempt to seize crucial principles of Western individualism and reshape them as weapons of domination. The investigation of Mark Steyn and Maclean's magazine is not so glaringly sectarian as the attack on Ezra Levant and the now defunct Western Standard, but it too is an attempt to redefine "human rights" as a tool for the destruction of individual liberty.

Walking out of Durban II was a great first step toward rediscovering authentic rights and genuine liberty. But it was only a first step. The corruption of the human rights ideal has to be fought not only at the United Nations, but inside the domestic institutions of Western nations--and within our own minds and consciences.

David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.

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About the Author


  • David Frum is the author of six books, most recently, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again (Doubleday, 2007). While at AEI, he studied recent political, generational, and demographic trends. In 2007, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph named him one of America's fifty most influential conservatives. Mr. Frum is a regular commentator on public radio's Marketplace and a columnist for The Week and Canada's National Post.

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