IHEU Geneva seminar on racism “a storming success”

  • Date / 1 May 2009

On Tuesday 21 April 2009, IHEU chaired a seminar at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva on “Racism – the Road to Genocide”, co-hosted with the Association for World Education and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. A panel of six speakers from North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia discussed the role of the media and governments in creating the climate for genocide. What the seminar graphically illustrated, however – and in ways hardly intended by the organizers – was that, once aroused, racist passions become almost impossible to control. Our speakers managed to upset participants from Rwanda, Iran and Sri Lanka, Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus, and two of our speakers had to be escorted from the room by security guards. One, a speaker from Rwanda, declined to speak after being challenged by a group of Tutsis.

Amir Taheri an Iranian writer now living in London needed protection from a dozen or more shouting supporters of Ahmadinejad who attempted to hustle him away, while Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress who was told by one Irate Iranian to “go back to Pakistan” was offered special security cover for the remainder of his stay in Geneva. Nevertheless the seminar was voted an outstanding success by the vast majority of the 120-plus participants.

The first speaker was Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre who exposed the rapid growth of Internet hate sites, now numbering over 10,000. SWC will be publishing a report on this phenomenon next month. Amir Taheri spoke eloquently of the systematic abuse of human rights by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the way in which the genocidal rhetoric of its president is inflaming passions across the Muslim world. He was challenged by an Iranian who claimed that there was no discrimination against Bahais in Iran and that those arrested and imprisoned had actually been spying for Israel. It took some time for the laughter to die down.

Before the seminar we had been approached by a group of Rwandans who told us that our Rwandan speaker, Ms Nsekalije, could not claim to be a genocide survivor and was actually “one of the enemy’. When I advised Ms Nsekalije of the opposition to her speaking, she decided to withdraw from the seminar. In her absence I explained the circumstances of her non-appearance and then gave the floor to one of eight Rwandans in the audience who spoke of the role that the radio station Mille Collines had played in the promotion of the genocide. I thanked the speaker and pointed out that the role of Mille Collines had been a central theme of Ms Nsekalije’s text which had concluded with a warning: “Please never underestimate the power of propaganda, and the media, to turn nice people into mass murderers.” I concluded that it was a great pity that the Rwandan Tutsis do not recognize that Hutus and many people of mixed blood were also victims of the genocide. You can read Ms Nsekalije’s prepared text at: www.iheu.org/node/3564

During the question period, David Littman of AWE spoke of the display of blatantly anti-Semitic books by ISESCO (the Islamic partner organization of UNESCO) at the Palais des Nations during the celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights last December.

The second part of the seminar opened with Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, speaking about two “forgotten” genocides: in Bangladesh and Darfur. In both, beliefs in racial superiority led to genocide. In both, it was Muslims killing Muslims; in both the international community turned its back on the problem, and the Islamic states have been successful in brushing both under the carpet. Yet in Bangladesh one million Bengalis were massacred by the Punjabi-officered army from West Pakistan. In Darfur, the Arab and African States continue to thumb their noses at the international community by offering hospitality and immunity to President Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for mass murder. An edited version of Tarek Fatah’s speech can be found at www.iheu.org/node/3565

Alberto Nissman, special prosecutor on terrorism from Argentina presented irrefutable evidence, including personal testimonies from some of those involved, that two major terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires against the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Centre, killing nearly 100 people, had been instigated and directly funded by the Iranian authorities including the then president Rafsanjani.

The last speaker was Professor Charles Small of Yale University, an expert on apartheid who now heads a study group on anti-Semitism. Since it was Holocaust Memorial Day he asked all participants in the conference to stand for a brief moment. Everyone rose to their feet except three Iranians and a white-bearded Rabbi from a fringe, ultra-orthodox, anti-Zionist movement who object to the memory of the Holocaust being used to support the existence of the state of Israel. Professor Small described the growing influence of Nazi propaganda that is now being recycled and proliferating as Islamist propaganda throughout the Middle East.

During the question period, a speaker for the Sri-Lankan Tamils described the plight of the tens of thousands of Tamils under siege in the north-east of the country. The exchange became heated when Tarek Fatah argued that the Tamils had rejected a peace deal proposed by the Norwegians.

In his concluding remarks, Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre put us all on our guard against accepting any manifestations of racism, which have so easily led to genocide in the past, and could do so again.

At the conclusion of the seminar heated discussions broke out in several parts of the room and the security guards had to intervene to clear the room and escort Amir Taheri to safety.

What can we conclude from a meeting intended to expose the role of the media in the promotion of genocide, held in conjunction with a world conference against racism, where racist sentiments can be so openly expressed? What I learned was that once aroused, genocidal passions can take more than a generation to subside. In the words of Tarek Fatah (and Robert Frost): We have “miles to go before we sleep”.

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