Battle lines are beginning to harden over the forthcoming “World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” in Durban, South Africa, from August 31 to September 7. To be held under the auspices of the United Nations, the agenda for the conference has not been allowed to be set or influenced by the perpetrators of racism and racial discrimination, but by the victims themselves. This is causing jitters in many western capitals, where diplomats, politicians and bureaucrats are averse to allowing any discussion of their misdeeds, past or present.
The hysterical western response was best summed up by the Toronto Star in an editorial on March 18 when it said that “a motley collection of anti-Semites, anti-Americans and groups nursing all manner of grievances is threatening to hijack the World Conference on Racism in South Africa”. The Canadian daily went on to argue that “Americans cannot and should not be held liable for every crime committed by their ancestors.” Why not? The Germans have been paying reparations to Israel for crimes perpetrated by the Nazis. Present-day Germans do not subscribe to Nazi ideology; besides, whatever the Nazis did or did not do, the Zionist state of Israel could not conceivably have been harmed as it did not exist at the time, yet it continues to receive money from Germany, and now from Switzerland as well.
The Toronto Star even finds excuses for zionist crimes against the Palestinians, saying that the “world drove them to it [to Palestine].” Had the paper been a little more honest, it should have said, western politicians drove the Jews out of Europe. Muslims in general and the Palestinians in particular played no role in the discomfiture of the Jews, and should not be called upon to atone for the sins of others, nor indeed be subjected to the same crimes at the zionists’ hands as the Nazis are condemned for.
The racism conference, first proposed by Cuba, plans to present globalization as a race issue, demand reparations for the slave-trade and colonialism, and present the Brahman-imposed caste-system in India as a religiously-sanctioned apartheid. Naturally, countries directly affected by these proposals are trying furiously to undermine them. Journalists in the US have been churning out acres of newspint trying to shoot down the reparations idea. “It is unworkable”, “the cost is too high”, and so on are some of the arguments advanced to deflect discussion of the issue, which is likely to dominate much of the conference agenda.
Both African Americans and others have tried to put a dollar figure on unpaid wages to slaves, ranging from US$1.4 trillion to $10 trillion. The Ghana-based African World Reparations and Repatriation Truth Commission has recommended reparations totalling $777 trillion from “Western Europe, the Americas and institutions who participated and benefited from the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism.” While nothing near these sums may ever be realised, what the advocates of reparation hope to do is to generate debate and focus attention on an issue that has been skirted for far too long.
Two other issues — zionism as racism and the Indian caste-system — are also being pushed to the forefront. In the run-up to Durban, four regional meetings have already been held in France, Senegal, Iran and Chile. In Tehran, although the word zionism was not used, official delegations urged the Durban conference to demand an end to “foreign occupation” of al-Quds (Jerusalem), and characterised Israeli occupation and domination of Palestinian areas as a “new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity, a form of genocide, and a serious threat to international peace and security.”
It is, however, the attention turned on the caste-system that is frightening India. For decades it has presented itself as the “largest democracy” in the world, and its leaders have been quick to harangue others about their abuses of ‘human rights’, yet in India the worst kind of religiously-sanctioned apartheid is enforced with excruciating brutality. Smita Narula, senior researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on March 21 that Dalits in India should be acknowledged as a group subject to “perennial and persistent forms of abuse.” She pointed out that “for Asia, caste has become conterminus with race inasmuch as it defines the exclusion of people based on their descent.”
Human Rights Watch has called on India to end the “hidden apartheid” which exposes lower-caste Hindu “untouchables” or Dalits to caste-based discrimination. “Although South Africa’s apartheid was challenged by the international community, South Asia’s hidden apartheid continues to condemn Dalits or untouchables to a lifetime of slavery, exploitation and violence,” said Narula. “This conference is a significant opportunity for the international community to address the situation of South Asia’s 240 million Dalits,” she said. “The situation of Dalits stands alone as the only issue to have been systematically cut out of the conference’s inter-govermental process so far,” Narula added.
While Dalits and others opposed to racism and racial discrimination can take comfort from the fact that the oppressive and discriminatory caste-system is at last being debated, the Brahmin-dominated Indian government is struggling to prevent any discussion of the issue. At the Tehran conference (February 19-21), for instance, Indian representatives successfully prevented descent-based discrimination from being placed on the agenda of the conference. Narula, who attended th Tehran conference, pointed out: “We find it odd that the largest democracy in the world should try to stop discussion of a serious human rights abuse that affects 240 million people in Asia.”
Ten days later a similar regional conference, held in Delhi (March 1-4) by about 20 human-rights organisations, forced the issue of caste onto the agenda. The conference title was “Global Conference against Racism and Caste-based Discrimination.” Although caste may not make it to the Durban conference agenda, this was still progress.
Those concerned about human rights issues, especially Muslims, since descent-based discrimination runs completely counter to the spirit and ideals of Islam, should make a determined effort to expose the caste-system as a religiously-sanctioned crime against a large part of humanity in India. The 240 million Dalits deserve to live in dignity and respect, and Muslims must take the lead in presenting their case. This is our religious as well as moral duty. The Durban conference is an excellent opportunity for us to do so.