Seven years ago, the United Nations held a conference on racism in Durban, South Africa to address what some saw as growing trends in hate speech and discrimination. Lofty ideals aside, the conference quickly collapsed into an anti-American, anti-Israeli spectacle. As then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat delivered rants on the conspiratorial and racist goals of Israel, others handed out flyers celebrating Adolf Hitler. Having had enough, the United States rightly walked out in protest.
Today, the United Nations is gearing up for a Durban follow-up set for 2009. Like the first conference, "Durban II" would be funded through the regular U.N. budget, 22 percent of which comes from the American taxpayer. In a symbolic gesture, the United States withheld equivalent funds from the U.N. budget, and voted against its final passage.
Regardless, Durban II will proceed, and the prospects for it taking a 180-degree turn are not good. Like the first Durban conference, some of the worst human-rights violators will serve on Durban II's panel. Participating members were selected by the gravely disappointing U.N. Commission on Human Rights - the same commission that has passed light condemnations of the regimes in Burma and Sudan. Its passion is democratic Israel, which has been condemned 15 times over the past two years.
Chairing Durban II will be Libya, whose U.N. ambassador called Israel "the most terrorist regime in the world," and whose deputy likened the situation in Gaza to the Nazi concentration camps. For its leader's denial of the Holocaust and repeated calls for the destruction of Israel, Iran has also been granted a leading position on the commission. In a supporting role will be Pakistan and Egypt - each strong critics of Israel. While we can expect the same denunciations of Israel and the United States that we saw in 2001, Durban II may prove to be even more harmful.
Participants will likely seek to shape international norms, attempting to push restrictions on basic freedoms of speech to prevent "Islamophobia." A recent resolution passed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate instances where freedom of expression may have discriminated against race or religion - Islam - is an indication that this is just what participants at Durban II have in mind. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a 57-member voting bloc, will be able to set much of the agenda for Durban II. Already it has helped Libya secure the top position.
Recent statements from the top OIC officials are telling. The secretary-general of the organization, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, recently boasted of sending a "clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed" in regards to the Danish cartoons and the Dutch film deemed to be offensive to Islam. He went on further to say that the West must "look seriously into the question of freedom of expression from the perspective of its inherent responsibility." In other words, freedom of speech stops when dealing with Islam.
Freedom of speech is already being chipped away, even in liberal Canada. Take for example the case of noted political writer Mark Steyn, who is on trial before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal for violating a hate-speech law. What grievous crime did Mr. Steyn allegedly commit? Having excerpts of his best-selling book "America Alone" published in MacLean's, a prominent Canadian magazine. The Canadian Islamic Congress took offense at sections of his work, calling it "flagrantly Islamophobic." If the OIC has its way, publishing works such as Mr. Steyn's, or drawing cartoons of Mohammed, will be strictly forbidden. Durban II may be just another stepping stone towards attaining that goal.
Since its inception, the United States has been very tolerant of foolishness in the United Nations - some would argue to a fault. Having endured countless criticisms of itself and of Israel, turning our back on Durban II was the right decision. I don't see any reason to think that we won't be forced to take the same position again.
Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican, is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and former House representative to the United Nations.
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