It certainly has been a big week in the Muslim world. The biggest news, of course, was the highly successful, highly co-ordinated massacres conducted by some Muslims in Paris on 13 November, which killed around 130, wounded around 350, and globally fulfilled what my Penguin paperback Koran translates as ‘We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers’ (3:151). The forgotten news was the bombing in Beirut which killed about 45. It was quickly replaced as a news item in favour of the City of Love, well known to westerners, and with a ready supply of landmarks that can double as Facebook profile pictures.
But the successful killing of infidels and fellow Muslims wasn’t the only news. On the morning of the Paris attacks the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) held a run-off election for the final spot on its executive board. The Islamic Republic of Iran had already landed a seat on the agency’s 32-member governing body, but a tie had been declared between Saudi Arabia and Sudan. What any of these three nations bring to the table of educational, scientific or cultural endeavour is quite unclear. Mind you, UNESCO itself claiming expertise in any of these is curious to say the least. Basically, UNESCO’s brief seems to be funding Hamas-affiliated Palestinian universities, funding Palestinian youth magazines in which teenage girls giddily profess their admiration for Hitler (and not because of the autobahns either!), criticising Israel for its cultural restoration work, and managing some – but not all – of the UN’s annual calendar of so-called ‘international days’ such as World Radio Day (I know what you’re going to ask; it’s 13 February), World Book and Copyright Day (23 April), International Day for Tolerance (16 November) and International Men’s Day (19 November, but there’s always next year).
What is clear is that these three countries all share a commitment to what are essentially the new UN values, for example, hatred of Israel, suspicion of free speech, and enthusiasm for Sharia law. As for the diversity fetish foisted upon us by UN types (World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is 21 May, if you’re wondering), it extends in these places only to the myriad barbaric ways in which you can be executed for things like stealing, or converting to Christianity (for which crucifixion is, unsurprisingly, popular in Sudan). In any case, Sudan won the election and now takes its place around the presumably unwieldily large UNESCO executive table.
But the global cultural berating and moralising board isn’t the only UN agency with inherent – and frankly obvious – problems in its membership. In 2006 the UN Human Rights Council replaced the UN Commission on Human Rights which had been criticised for what Kofi Annan called its ‘declining credibility’ in allowing as members countries with what are euphemistically described as ‘poor human rights records’. Now obviously the sneaky change of name – despite having almost identical structural, electoral, cultural and staffing arrangements – should have done the trick, but inexplicably not much seems to have changed. And so the UNHRC currently comprises such paragons of human rights as Venezuela, Cuba and UAE. Just last month Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, and Togo were also elected to three-year terms. And perhaps most concerning is the recent election of Saudi Arabia as Chair of the Council’s Advisory Committee which, despite its benign-sounding name, is highly influential in the council’s work of appointing alleged experts on various problem areas and human rights themes.
The election of council members and officers is subject to back-channeling and secret negotiations, but also open bribery, as candidate countries splash around money on vague and vanity projects. Saudi Arabia actually bought its seat on the council for the relatively modest sum of $1 million over five years, pledging to ‘Support the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by contributing $1 million…in order to enable the Office to carry out its work and activities, including work referred to it by the Human Rights Council’. Naturally, the ‘work referred to [the High Commissioner for Human Rights] by the Human Rights Council’ doesn’t include considering, investigating or reporting on Saudi Arabia’s horrendous human rights abuses, which have never been the subject of any UN resolution. Just last month, the Netherlands sought to have the Saudis investigated for possible war crimes in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Funnily enough, however, that motion was rejected by the Council in favour of a soft-ball counter-motion brought by – you guessed it – the human rights advocates in the House of Saud.
According to the motivational morning TV hosts, in the wake of the Paris terrorist bombings, the world was united. How can we know? Because the Opera House was bathed in blue, white and red light, and because the tri-colour was flying atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We have started to hear speeches from world leaders that honestly identify Islamic terrorism as Islamic, at least in some sense (although I note that David Cameron couldn’t help himself, grouping those awful English far-right groups with Isis). We have even begun to toy with the notion that unity doesn’t necessarily mean completely and foolishly open migration across Europe, with President Hollande closing French borders for the first time since 1944. If this is what united nations look like, then the world is making a good start.
But there’s another United Nations, from which we foolishly appear to derive our moral codes and legitimacy. Embarrassingly, our school civics curriculums teach that human rights were invented and bequeathed by the UN – obviously a ridiculous proposition. But even if it were true, this modern day League of Nations makes a mockery of human rights and gives Islamic violence – whether designed to ‘put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers’ or to crush the poor Muslim citizens of these beastly and immoral regimes – a free pass. Genuine concern for the most basic freedoms is replaced with bureaucratic and diplomatic paper handling, block voting, and international aid gerrymandering. Landmarks can be lit up, but real unity among the nations in the war on terror and in the cause of human rights means denying the propaganda work of not just Islamic State, but of vile Islamic (and other) states where any day can be worse than Paris on 13 November.
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