By Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
A U.S. civil rights leader returning from the U.N. racism conference in South Africa argues that its participants, including key women, devised a path that could diminish terrorism: agreeing to discuss and address racism.
(WOMENSENEWS)--I am trying desperately to connect the dots between the World Conference Against Racism just concluded on Sept. 8 in Durban, South Africa, and the dastardly Sept. 11 terrorist attack against the United States of America.
The specter of the deadly imploding concrete and steel of America's economic and military superiority was unfathomable after experiencing at Durban the stressful confrontation between nations ideologically--and often geographically--polarized. In addition, it came on the heels of tendentious displays of the raw power of the United States and other industrialized nations in thwarting the conference's agenda of addressing long-neglected Third World issues.
The acts of human annihilation, perpetrated by U.S. airplanes turned into situational weapons of mass destruction in the hands of lunatics, instantly trivialized the race conference's posturing, bickering and frequent fits of uncompromising arrogance.
The image of discord projected by many news organizations covering the meeting with the unwieldy title of World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, was fueled by Western nations' determination to have their own way and to play only by their rules.
In fact, the United States vacillated for months about coming, ultimately to send a low-level delegation that left five days before the conference ended.
As long as this and petty parliamentary moves by others succeeded in suppressing slavery and reparations as topics for serious consideration, Western power ruled.
As long as it was possible for extremists on all sides--Arabs, Israelis and Americans--to manipulate the Middle East into an untenable zero-sum position, no nation could be expected to make true progress on slavery, its lingering effects or its remedies.
Yet, these heated confrontations somehow pale when compared with the United States' utter vulnerability under a war-like attack, or with the fragility of thousands of American lives, collaterally consumed in a conflagration of hatred and fanatical rage.
But the dots do somehow connect in my mind. Among shifting images and recollections, I see a link between the negotiating, collaborating, rapprochement-seeking delegates at the conference--the majority of whom seemed to be women from both the industrialized West and the Third World--and the allegedly "Third World" Kamikaze men who, in a matter of moments, shook the foundations--literal, spiritual and figurative--of America's deeply embedded sense of security.
Loose cannon conservative TV personality Laura Schlessinger has hastily assigned blame for our vulnerability to security breeches by women in the military who, in her opinion, don't belong there anyhow.
To the contrary. an international team of women planned, governed, managed, guided, mediated and finally led to a conclusion the fragile World Conference Against Racism, complete with a minimally acceptable, formal Conference Declaration and a Plan of Action. Such diplomacy will, I believe, lead to more security for all rich and poor nations alike.
In fact, this experience suggests that we will need increasingly more women at the boundaries between the United States, our sworn enemies and the rest of the world if, in the months to come, we are to prosecute with any sanity a campaign against specifically identified groups of terrorists and their networks, to avenge the pain and destruction caused by the attack.
The Durban meetings would not have gotten beyond the first preparatory conference had it not been for the tenacity of Mary Robinson, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights and secretary-general of the racism conference, who repeatedly insisted that racism is a legitimate topic for discussion, and that a nation's failure to show up is a part of the problem, and not a responsible solution.
This message was lost on the United States, which now must seek alliance with some of the same governments that did consider racism to be important and, in spite of differences and disclaimers, hung in until the exhausting end.
Others joined with High Commissioner Robinson, hoping to keep the U.S. at the table and also to soothe the irritated feelings of international representatives--governmental as well as nongovernmental--who considered America's attitude insulting and dismissive.
Women like attorney Barbara Arnwine, chair of the drafting committee, and attorney Adjoa Aiyetoro, chair of the African-African Descendants Caucus, both Americans, and South Africa's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, were a few of these others.
Yet, it will be from among many of the so-called Third World nations that the United States will seek allies, collaborators, coalition partners--and advice--as our government's top leaders try to move a retaliation agenda forward and to reconfigure our strategy for assuring the United States first-strike preeminence.
My country--and it is, indeed, my country, built and paid for with the very essence of my ancestors--has engendered bad feelings across the globe. A blue-ribbon commission co-chaired by former Senator Gary Hart and former Congressman Newt Gingrich recently reported that America is viewed by a majority in the world as having a bad attitude.
The United States reneged on the Kyoto Protocol, intended to control and manage global warming, and received a very negative review of its six-year-overdue report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. We are going to have a hard time building anti-terrorism alliances with a number of countries affected by this behavior.
The connection between a raucous global gathering of people arguing about ways to eliminate racism, which the United States rejected out of hand, and the cross-hairs in which we Americans today perceive ourselves to be, is more linear than not. The dots connect. We need allies, but we need greater finesse and humanity in attracting them.
Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, Ph.D., a political scientist and policy analyst, is the executive director and chief operating officer of the national Black Leadership Forum Inc., headquartered in Washington, D.C. The forum is a 25-year-old confederation of civil rights and service organizations.
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