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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, April 20, 2009

Australia to boycott Durban II

I'm not sure what to make of this. Arguably, we shouldn't be boycotting even the most unprepossessing UN forums, since each one is a chance to engage in the development of international norms.

On balance, though, I think we've probably made the correct decision - it shows us taking a strong stance on freedom of speech. Even though the proposed communique, or position statement, from the conference was getting watered down in negotiations, there was still a real prospect that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and its allies would have toughened it up again at the conference itself, since they have the numbers, and that Durban II would have issued wording which condemns "defamation of religion". That may well happen, now, but whatever comes out of Durban II will have severely-damaged credibility, with most many Western nations (on my current count, at least the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Israel) boycotting the conference.

This development makes me wonder - again - about the future of the UN itself. Now that the UN is so dominated by illiberal parties, such as the OIC countries and the Vatican, it cannot be assumed that international norms will take a direction that's compatible with liberal political theory. If the UN goes down an increasingly illiberal path, then those countries that still value fundamental liberties, such as freedom of speech, will increasingly reject whatever verbiage emerges. A time may even come when the Western liberal democracies see no point in retaining membership, in which case they could pull the plug entirely and concentrate on relations among themselves. The UN could turn into a rabble of theocracies and dictatorships.

The next couple of decades will be very interesting.


Steve Zara said...

It is very difficult, but with the potential for giving Ahmedinejad a platform for irrational Holocaust-denial views, and those views being given credibility by the presence of heads of state, boycotts are probably the right decision.

mace said...

How can representatives of democracies discuss human rights with delegates from theocratic or totalitarian states? There is no common currency, it's not equivalent to nation states negotiating a border or an international treaty.

Russell Blackford said...

And now New Zealand has joined the boycott. UK next, or am I behind the news?

Russell Blackford said...

And it continues. 30 countries walk out during Ahmedinejad's (I wonder whether I got the spelling correct without checking it!) speech, and some won't be back. Looks like they've lost Poland and the Czech Republic. Maybe more? France doesn't sound very happy, but the French said before the conference that they wanted to engage.

It seems to me that the conference's supposed purpose in addressing racism was lost long ago. It's turned into a conference about attacking Israel and stifling the right to criticise religions and cultures ... and, indeed, it was apparent a long time ago that that's what it would be.

I don't actually mind criticism of Israel, which has a fair bit to answer for - up to some reasonable point where it is not one-sided, etc. But the stifling our right to criticise religions and cultures bit is totally unacceptable.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, obviously I can't spell "Ahmadinejad" without checking. Meanwhile, this is a good article on the conference: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8007673.stm