The oppressed minorities of the world have fought a long war against racism, colonialism and intolerance, a war that began long before the Gauls tried to stand up to the Romans, a world war, whose bloody battles were fought and mostly lost on the slave ships of Arab traders off the Barbary coast, in the ghettos of Warsaw and Lodz and Vilna, in the colonial battlefields in India and China, a war that is still being fought today in India, Tibet, Australia, the Sudan, North Africa, Iran and countless other places where powerless peoples from "Aborigines" and Amazigh to Zulus may suffer discrimination because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs or their ethnic or tribal origins.
Not long ago that battle seemed nearly hopeless in the United States and in South Africa. Within the living memory of many of our readers, there were signs on drinking fountains and cafes that said "whites" and "colored," and within the living memory of most adults, there was a "whites only" government in South Africa.
Less than fifty years ago, Martin Luther King said, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." That simple wish was very far from reality in 1963. Today, when an African American may become the next president of the United States, we can almost touch the dream. In South Africa, the barriers came down even more dramatically, enabling a new birth of freedom.
The war against racism is far from won however. Those who really want to end racism received a new and powerful potential ally at the end of World War II, with the formation of the United Nations. The UN should be the number one force fighting against racism.
In this long war, there have always been war profiteers and false friends, carpetbaggers and Stalinists, who sought to divert the struggle against racism from its legitimate goals to their own private benefit. These quacks and cads lined their own pockets and furthered their own political agendas at the expense of a holy cause.
The first World Conference Against Racism sponsored by the United Nations in 2001, was an opportunity to rally and unite the forces fighting oppression and discrimination, to form alliances to advance rights of women, ethnic groups and other oppressed peoples, and to build organizational frameworks that could give voice to the cries of those who have no political voice, and enfranchise the disenfranchised. The first World Conference against Racism, tragically, was diverted from its noble and legitimate purpose. Whatever positive achievements it did attain, and whatever it could have attained, were totally drowned in a tidal of wave of ugly racist invective against one small people, itself the historical victim of racism, and against one small state, involved in one small conflict that touches a tiny fraction of the oppressed people of the earth. The World Conference Against Racism should have created a forum for redressing all the open wounds of all the hurt peoples that cried for the healing touch of rationalism and brotherly love. Instead, it opened more wounds. This conference adopted resolutions against slavery, discrimination and many other evils. But much of the world remembers only the few one sided resolutions that were adopted to condemn the legitimate national liberation movement of one people without giving it a hearing, thereby sowing the seeds of further hatred and extremism. Much of the world remembers and knows, not the lofty spirit that characterized much of the work of the congress, but only the ugly manifestations of racism that caught headlines in the world press, mocking the purpose and the spirit of the gathering.
Another World Conference Against Racism is scheduled to be held in 2009 in Durban. It is not too late to save this conference from the fate of the first. Let this conference provide a beacon of light and hope rather than adding to the darkness of strige and hate. Our resources are too limited, and the task is too great, to allow for waste and diversion. If you care about combating racism and oppression, don't let partisans waste the wonderful opportunity provided by this conference. Ami Isseroff
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