I am writing on the long flight back to Los Angeles from Geneva, where I have just attended the so-called Durban Review Conference of the United Nations, aka Durban II.
How was it? Well, when early 20th-century journalist Lincoln Steffens returned from the Soviet Union after the October Revolution, he famously proclaimed he had been “over to the future, and it works.” To paraphrase, I have been to the U.N. present, and it’s nuts!
Steffens was proved wildly wrong, but I strongly suspect I am more accurate. A conference on racism and human rights that features Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as, in essence, its keynote - indeed only significant - speaker is on the edge of a psychotic nightmare. It makes you think you’re living in some alternative universe out of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” among a society of multilingual bureaucrats nostalgic for Josef Stalin.
Of course, it wasn’t intended to be that way. The United Nations expected its review (and subsequent ratification!) of the notorious Durban I conference - the 2001 Israel-bash that singled out that country as the world’s sole apartheid state - to be the usual self-preserving exercise in diplomatic double-speak.
But it couldn’t control Mr. Ahmadinejad’s pathological anti-Semitism, and everything ran off the rails. Normally complaisant European countries like Norway walked out, and the conference virtually shut down the next day out of embarrassment.
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay announced that the Main Committee (whoever its members were - it was never explained) had approved the final statement three days in advance of schedule, and a tomblike silence fell over the Palais des Nations.
My guess is that silence is the default position for the Palais, which resembles nothing so much as Franz Kafka’s “The Castle.” The European U.N. headquarters and original home of the League of Nations is a vast, labyrinthine place that no known person could find his way around without the most experienced guide - certainly not the reporters who had congregated from around the world for the conference, many of whom I would encounter wandering lost in the endless corridors looking for the “media center.”
If they were exceedingly fortunate and stumbled on that center, they found, well, exactly nothing, because there was no information to be obtained. An unblinking female official, again out of Kafka, sat there, staring blankly while nodding opaquely to their questions.
That may be the point. A few years back, after the debacle of the oil-for-food scandal, when the United Nations was caught siphoning billions to international thugs under the guise of helping Iraq’s children, then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan promised the world transparency. No such luck. Although U.S. taxpayers front 22 percent of the U.N. budget, we still know almost nothing about what things cost at the global governmental organization.
Durban II was no exception. Interviewing conference spokesperson (in U.N. speak “Chief, Civil Society Service, Outreach Division, Department of Public Information”) Ramu Damodaran for PJTV, I asked him what the bill was for the Ahmadinejad show. He said he couldn’t tell me because it was part of a “larger budget.” When I asked what that was, he didn’t have an answer either, but he did acknowledge that other people were “interested.”
Whatever the United Nations paid for the privilege of having Mr. Ahmadinejad spew Holocaust denial, the Iranian leader clearly gave back to the city of Geneva, taking, I was told, 40 rooms in the hotel where I was staying - the Intercontinental. He also had a party there for 500 of his closest, largely Iranian, local friends.
No wonder the Swiss president eagerly and publicly shook Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hand upon his arrival. It caused some local criticism, but only minor. It is obvious that the United Nations and its conferences are big business in Geneva - a city of sleek Mercedes-Benzes with diplomatic plates cruising by the rows of private banks that line the Rhone River. No one wants to disrupt that.
But this posh greed is only part of the reason the Durban Review Conference depressed me. What I witnessed was not an anti-racism conference, but a pro-racism one - and not just because of Mr. Ahmadinejad. In fact, if the Iranian madman had not been there, the whole thing might have slipped by. At least now there might be some tiny chance that others will take a second look at what the United Nations is doing.
Hoover Institution scholar Shelby Steele eloquently expressed this irony - that Durban II actually encouraged racism - at a kind of counterconference organized at the Palais by Anne Bayefsky of the Touro Institute. It featured Elie Wiesel, Natan Sharansky, Jon Voight, Alan Dershowitz and the Rev. Patrick Desbois.
According to Mr. Steele - who is black - racism, though of course still a problem, diminished significantly in Western culture in recent years. In short, it is no longer cool to be racist - far from it.
In organizing the Durban Review Conference, the United Nations - besides wasting everyone’s money - emphasized and actually reinforced this marginal racism, providing developing nations and their representatives an excuse for their situation and a “distraction” from it (anti-Semitism above all). So they blame others and don’t bother to improve themselves. Orwell and Kafka would not have been surprised.
Let’s hope there’s no Durban III.
Roger L. Simon is a novelist and screenwriter and the chief executive officer of Pajamas Media and Pajamas TV. His most recent book is “Blacklisting Myself: Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror.”