Talking about racism

The combination of Israel’s consummate paranoia and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s pursuit of some grubby nationalistic agenda has done the world a great disservice, from what I can tell. If Ahmadinejad knew that his anti-Israel rant would turn the UN’s Durban Review into a circus – and surely we can credit him with a modicum of intelligence – he certainly didn’t care. But what can we do? He is, after all, the head of government of a UN member country (a founding member, no less). The UN is a forum for intergovernmental co-operation, so we can’t just shut him out of it.

Israel and the West are not absolved of blame, though. Israel, the US, Australia, and the other absentees could have chosen to make something of the forum, ignoring or condemning Ahmadinejad’s comments as appropriate, and even using them as evidence for the need to act against racism. Adhmadinejad may have destroyed the conference’s credibility, but only because Israel and the West let him have the stage to himself. The Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – who probably feels betrayed by just about everyone – tried to point out the futility of boycotts and walk-outs. They say a lot about the nature of the problem that the forum was intended to address. Racism and other forms of intolerance thrive on different groups setting themselves apart from one another. They continue to exist because these groups fail to communicate, and instead of developing an understanding of each other they make silly assumptions and generalisations. The solution at every level, from individuals to nations, is dialogue. (Putting conditions on dialogue is just an excuse for not having dialogue.)

To achieve meaningful dialogue, everyone needs to be just a little less sensitive. Israel needs to stop being quite so paranoid about its existence, the West needs to accept that Israel is not above criticism, and Iran and the Arab world need to be much more pragmatic. If the world’s leaders can’t bring themselves to discuss racism in a civilised fashion, what example does that set?

It’s interesting to note that the Pope did actually endorse the conference (while condemning Ahmadinejad, of course), which is something.

Iran, Pakistan and the nuclear threat

The world’s major powers have expressed great consternation over the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, US intelligence agencies have found no evidence that Iran has any intention of arming itself with nukes, let alone that it has an active nuclear weapons program, but the issue seems to have its own momentum. I’m no expert on geopolitics, but I can’t bring myself to imagine that Iran would actually want to nuke anyone, even if it could. In general, I’m sure there are people sufficiently insane or cold-blooded to press the button, given the opportunity. For instance, I don’t think Osama bin Laden or likeminded individuals would show a great deal of restraint. However, for all its faults, I find it very hard to place Iran in that category.

(Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s possibly mistranslated bluster over the end of Israel is really not all that convincing, in my opinion, and it only ever seems to be him doing the blustering. He’s an elected politician, after all, and he’s always struck me as a spin doctor looking to for a political reaction than a man who passionately believes what he’s saying.)

The real consequence of allowing Iran to create nuclear weapons, I think, is that Iran would become a more powerful player on the world stage, perhaps resulting in an arms race. This may not be desirable (depending on who you talk to), but it’s hardly catastrophic. And that’s assuming that the apparently baseless speculation over its nuclear ambitions is borne out.

Meanwhile, over the border, Pakistan already has operational nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Moreover, the current government seems to be fighting for its existence against the Taliban, who I certainly would not put above the use (or at least reckless distribution) of nukes. This is a group that rules by AK47 and is violently opposed to education for girls, having already destroyed a large numbers of schools. They make the Iranian regime look like a clique of humanists.

I’ll happily defer to the consensus of the world’s varied diplomats, foreign affairs advisors and miscellaneous geopolitical experts. However, on the face of it I have to wonder whether we have our priorities straight.