[Marxism] Ahmadinejad and the UN summit

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 22 06:59:36 MDT 2009

Ahmadinejad and the UN Summit
by Khodadad Rezakhani

The walk out of the representatives of the France, Great Britain, and 
the previously announced boycott of Ahmadinejad’s talk in the Geneva 
anti-Racism conference on 20 April 2009 has been on top of the news 
during the last two days. Ahmadinejad apparently called Israel a racist 
regime and suggested that by sending European and American immigrants to 
Palestine, the European powers had tried to create a racist power in the 
Near East. This caused the aforementioned walk-out of the 
representatives of European powers and their disgust at Ahmadinejad’s 
words, going as far as M. Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, 
suggesting that Ahmadinejad should be stopped.

I am no fan of Ahmadinejad, nor am I a fan of people who disrupt 
important conferences to advance political agendas. However, it made me 
wonder how it was that only representatives of those powers who have a 
track record of racism were the ones who walked out or boycotted the 
conference. Germany, Italy, Australia, the Netherlands, USA and Canada 
did not even go to the conference, alongside Israel, while France and 
Britain walked out. Now, just think of the countries that come to mind 
when thinking of racism in the past 200 years and see how many of the 
above names you encounter!

It has often been pointed out that racism is an essentially Western 
problem. Numerous works by authors such as Eric Wolf, James Blaut, Andre 
Gunder Frank, Jack Goody, and many others have pointed out that racism 
as we know it, the idea that a group is superior to another simply 
because of their skin colour or national origin, is a problem born out 
of 18th and 19th century European colonialism. The process is quite 
simple: European economy expanded exponentially as result of the age of 
discovery, allowing also for a scientific revolution. These achievements 
drove Europeans, who already lived in quite territorially limited and 
rather isolated western edge of the Eurasian landmass, to contemplate on 
what had made them exceptional (hence the overused term Western 
Exceptionalism). A feeling of superiority, a sense of uniqueness of 
these achievements then became prominent, necessitating “research” into 
why other populations never achieved such success (hence the birth of 
Anthropology as a field). Of course, one of the easiest, and sadly most 
pervasive, conclusions was the idea that Europeans are and have always 
been intellectually superior to others, that there essentially is 
something exceptional and ingenious in the European race. The most 
prominent outcomes of this were American slavery and the Holocaust 

So, at least as we know it, racism is a European phenomenon, limited and 
defined by the context of Europe and its extensions in Americas and 
beyond. However, Europeans have also been excellent in suggesting that 
their concerns are the concerns of the rest of the world as well. Marx 
studied European economic history and then wrote disastrous recipes for 
the rest of the world based on criteria developed from the European 
models. The essentially European wars of 1914-1917 and 1938-1945 are 
called “World” Wars. When one talks about the Ancient or Classical or 
Medieval “World”, one is essentially talking about European phenomena. 
We are so used to this that we even teach a European version of history 
in schools outside Europe. Open any history book even in India and look 
at the amount of space dedicated to Greece and Rome!

So, we get back to my point. Racism is a phenomenon born out of the 
European experience. The rest of the world has suffered many things, 
from religious wars to draughts and starvations. Human rights abuses of 
all kinds have existed, but the closer you look, the less you find these 
to have been based on skin colour and race. Right now, many of my 
readers would tell me that I am being biased, since we have evidence 
that Middle Easterners took black Africans as slaves. True, one easily 
thinks of this as an example of racism and equates it with the Americas 
in the 18th century. But you would be entertained to know that the 
Arabic-Persian word for slave in the medieval Middle East was Saqlāb, 
coming from Slav, since most slaves in the Middle East were imported 
from not Africa, but Russia! So, if we manage to separate slavery from 
racism (which is hard for many people since the American context is so 
prominent in everyone’s mind) we realize that yes, slavery existed, but 
it was not race based!

So, if we accept that this problem is a European one, we should then try 
to see it from a non-European point of view. For whatever reason, I 
promise it is not because non-Europeans were more open minded, many 
Middle Easterners have been quite used to living with people of other 
colours and appearances. When racism comes along, and it is presented 
purely in term of skin colour and “race” per se, the Middle Easterners 
think of their own experiences. The fact is, despite all discrimination 
against Turks in Iran, against Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, against 
Armenians in Turkey, against Berbers in North Africa, or against god 
knows whomever around the Middle East, these discriminated people seldom 
look any different from the discriminators.

However, in Israel, whether we like it or not, the majority of the 
Jewish population is markedly non-Middle Eastern. Whatever you do, 
Shimon Perez and Bibi Natanyahou do not look Middle Eastern. David ben 
Gurion was born David Grün and Golda Meier had blue eyes. They do look 
different, they have European last names, they have made cities that 
look more like Nice and Rome than Baghdad or Damascus. Yes, they are 
progressive and have done an amazing job making the tiny land of Israel 
fertile, but it is undeniable that they are not Middle Eastern. They 
have come to the Middle East, and as a historian I am glad that they 
have, but they are living a European life, naturally, since their 
ancestors were from Prague and Berlin and Vienna and Paris.

Muslims who go to Paris and London and Vienna and create “Muslim 
Ghettos” are often discriminated against because they are changing the 
face of the cities, distorting the Classical characteristics of the 
cities, making it into “Eurabia” as many European intellectuals like 
Oriana Fallaci suggested (without being called racists, amazingly!!). 
They are often told to either become Austrian/German/Swiss/English/ 
French by removing their veils and not acting like Muslims or are told 
to “go home if you don’t want to live like us.” But the European 
immigrants to the Middle East have done the same thing, changing the 
face of Middle Eastern cities and living like Europeans and acting like 
Europeans, making it into Eurisrael. So, from the Middle Eastern point 
of view, they are as alien as Muslims are in Berlin. Of course, since 
they have had the economic upper hand, no one can discriminate against 
them (although Muhammad al-Fayad still does not get the respect that one 
expects the owner of Harrod’s to get, nor is he given the citizenship of 
the land), but they are seen as a foreign population indeed.

This leads me to re-think the whole idea of the Conference on 
Anti-Racism in Geneva. What was there to be discussed? If the agenda was 
dictated by Europeans and based on European issues, then why are all the 
other people there? Why were the rest of the attendants staying put and 
applauding for what Bernard Kutchner [this must be a reference to the 
awful Bernard Kouchner] called “vile”? Why was it that when charges were 
brought against exactly those European powers who have a track record of 
racism that the powers left? On the other hand, we notice that issues 
such as human trafficking and religious discrimination were to be 
discussed in this conference. Neither one really have anything to do 
with racism, rather general forms of discrimination, based on religion 
(as the name suggests) and disregard for human condition (many 
prostitutes in Europe are actually from racially similar eastern 
European countries, so the problem is barely a race issue). So, if one 
is going to make the conference on anti-racism into a conference against 
all sorts of discrimination (in which case Feminist issues and similar 
should have also been present), then a speech about Israeli policies 
against the non-Israeli population of the country is also quite valid. 
This is besides the fact that it is always polite to listen to what 
everyone, including your enemies, say.

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