Tag Archives: United Nations

Ahmadinejad’s speech: Why it was a disaster.

I was at Ahmadinejād’s speech yesterday, and I have the crappy photos from the media area to prove it. It was dramatic, to say the least. Counter-protesters yelled (and were removed) throughout; applause lines invariably left half the room silent; there was obviously over exuberant applause from the Iranian delegates which made you wonder, and at a dramatic but expected moment at the beginning, the European delegates walked out.

I’ll quote from Human Rights Watch’s statement and the NYT, because, with one major exception regarding the Times, they roughly match my response to the speech. But I’ll add that somewhere in the middle of his talk, I suddenly felt anxiety coursing through my body and actually thought, “I wonder if this is how wars get started?” It was just a feeling, and may have no basis in reality, but it should be absolutely clear that- at times soaring rhetoric aside- this man has absolutely no interest in authentic peace and justice. And I do not trust either my own government or Israel to not start bombing.

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The Forward has no sense of irony.

The Forward recently editorialized on the ill-conceived efforts of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an association of Muslim nations in the United Nations, to call “for a ban on published material that defames or promotes disrespect for religion.” As the Forward points out, “The measure purports to defend all religions, but the only one cited by name is Islam.”

The Forward rightly condemns this effort which enables the silencing of critics of human rights violations done in the name of Islam. But they do so- amazingly- without once acknowledging the extent to which across the board anti-Islamic demonization has reached toxic levels and near total acceptance in the American political discourse. Clearly, leadership on this is badly needed, but passing such a resolution in the UN General Assembly, especially one pushed by countries with terrible human rights records, is not the answer:

Supporters of this initiative tout it as a defense of religious freedom. What it entails, however, is actually the opposite of freedom as understood in the West. It does not seek to defend the rights of individuals to believe and practice as they choose. Rather, it safeguards a faith community’s right to avoid insult or criticism by limiting other people’s’ rights of free expression. It is, in fact, a direct assault on a fundamental Western value, in defense of a different value: namely, protecting an existing doctrine from free inquiry and debate — the sort of thing that the West long ago rejected.

The Forward goes on, without the slightest sense of irony:

Sponsors say their overall goal is to ban speech that mocks or criticizes Islam. It is meant to counter what many Muslims see as a wave of anti-Islamic prejudice in the West in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. But clear-eyed Westerners see something more subtle and sinister. In the first instance, it is an effort to suppress criticism of Islam, making it more difficult for Western societies to conduct public debate on the challenges posed by radical, fundamentalist Islam. In that sense, it is a counter-thrust against those who call for an Islamic soul-searching or reformation, and those who demand that Islam confront its violent radicals.

Indeed. Here is a terrific object lesson on the evils of religious extremism, of all kinds.

While Israel is not a theocracy per se, but rather an ethnic-preferential state with some theocratic elements, it is precisely this same form of cloaking human rights violations in some kind of sacred veil that makes, to quote the Forward, “free inquiry and debate” as well as “soul-searching or reformation” about Israeli human rights violations nearly impossible in this country.

Neither Muslim states nor the Jewish state are above being held accountable for violating fundamental human rights standards.