Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 2001 / 15 Elul, 5761

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
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The real bigots -- SECRETARY of State Colin Powell shunned the UN's World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, for fear of lending unwarranted dignity to an ugly anti-Israel, anti-Jewish slanderfest. Just how ugly became clear Sunday, when delegates to the conference's forum of non-governmental organizations voted to brand Israel a "racist apartheid state" guilty of "systematic . . . war crimes, acts of genocide, and ethnic cleansing" and urged the UN to reinstate its notorious resolution equating Zionism with racism.

It had been obvious from the outset that antisemitic Israel-bashing would be high on the Durban agenda. Delegates arriving last week were greeted by the sight of posters featuring a large Star of David and the word "apartheid" in big letters. A press conference called by 20 Jewish organizations was broken up when Arab rowdies began shouting and blocking the speakers. The Associated Press reported that the Arab Lawyers Group distributed "pamphlets depicting Jews with fangs dripping blood and wearing helmets inscribed with Nazi swastikas." Josef Goebbels died in 1945, but his intellectual descendants are alive and well.

"There's anti-Semitism and hate literature at the world racism conference," Columbia University law professor and human rights scholar Anne Bayefsky told reporters last week. "It couldn't get much worse."

Well, serious people know better than to take the UN seriously. It is clear that Durban is not meant to focus soberly on "racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance." It is clear less from the topics drawing so much attention -- like Israel -- as from the topic about which nothing is being said: militant Islamic fundamentalism.

Of all the forms of intolerance and xenophobia abroad in the world today, none is as violent, oppressive, and widespread as radical Islamism. Islamist persecution is in the news almost daily. Consider some of the stories being reported as the Durban conference was gearing up:

  • Afghanistan's Islamist dictators, the Taliban, announced that six international aid workers who have been jailed for more than three weeks on charges of preaching Christianity will be put on trial. The 16 Afghans arrested with them will face the death penalty if they are found to have converted from Islam.

  • Iran's "moderate" president, Mohammed Khatami, pledged to continue providing financial support to Hezbollah, one of the world's most murderous organizations. Iranian support for Hezbollah -- the Islamist terrorists who blew up the US embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut -- has been estimated at $100 million a year.

  • The humanitarian group Middle East Concern said that 10 Christians, all foreign guest workers, were arrested in Saudi Arabia after hosting a party that included a talk by an evangelist. Under Saudi law, it is illegal for non-Muslims to hold religious services -- even in private.

  • A Pakistani criminal court sentenced Dr. Younus Shaikh to death for blasphemy. His crime? Telling his students that before becoming a prophet at the age of 40, Mohammed and his family had not been practicing Muslims.

It is important to emphasize: Islamism is not Islam. On the contrary, it is a perversion of Islam. The traditional religion practiced by most of the world's Muslims is tolerant and moderate, an ancient faith with a rich tradition of scholarship. Islam places great emphasis on virtue, charity, and living according to God's will; it is not at all incompatible with political democracy or religious pluralism.

Islamism, by contrast, is a power-obsessed ideology. Like other 20th century "isms" -- Communism, Maoism, fascism, totalitarianism -- it is radical, repressive, cruel, contemptuous of human rights, and deeply hostile to outsiders. Countries ruled by Islamists, such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Sudan, are among the most unfree places on earth. Without exception, they strangle basic freedoms, oppress women, incubate terrorism, and persecute religious minorities.

Islamist xenophobia and violence has many faces. In Sudan, the regime uses chattel slavery, forcible conversion, and mass murder as weapons in its jihad -- holy war -- against black Africans in the south. Islamist gangs in Egypt carry out deadly pogroms against Coptic Christians. This summer, Afghanistan's Taliban demolished ancient Buddhist works of art, then ordered every Hindu in the country to wear yellow identification badges. Terrorist networks like Osama bin Laden's and Islamic Jihad place a premium on killing and wounding Americans. Death sentences are pronounced against authors -- like Salman Rushdie or, more recently, the American Khalid Duran -- who write books the Islamists don't approve of. The litany is grim, the victims are many, and the threat is global.

An international conference genuinely committed to the fight against racism, xenophobia, and intolerance would place Islamist violence and bigotry squarely in its spotlight. But Durban is not such a conference. Which is why the subject of Islamism won't even come up.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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