Setting the example to boycott boycotting

45758-resized-un-racism-conferenceLast year, on March 14, The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Isesco) called on all 50 of its member states to boycott the Paris book fair. Why? Because the French had dared to choose Israel as its guest of honor. In the ultimate act of shooting itself in the foot, the organization not only denied authors and publishers the chance at international review and recognition, it also failed to provide a counterpoint to the Israeli perspective highlighted at the fair. Whatever your stand on Israel is, the fact that no Muslim country was there offered them a free pass to promote their own ideas unchallenged.

Similarly, the international community was outraged when Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer was denied a visa to Dubai this past February. The UAE’s reasoning was that denying this player passage to the Dubai Championship would be an effective method to protest the Israeli agression against Gaza at the turn of the new year. Instead, the country was fined, faced incredible censure, and was forced to take in Andy Ram if it wished to continue holding their international competition.

Boycotts and denial of access are simply ineffective ways of protest. They limit communication, and therefore understanding and agreement. While they occasionally have some short-term success, the resentment it creates in the side that was bullied into submission lasts for so long, it will pounce on whatever chance it can take later on to gain retribution, often in the most destructive manner possible.

Why should Muslim countries act any different, however, when the US, Israel, Canada, and the EU, supposedly the paragons of “liberal” and “democratic” countries in the world, don’t provide a better example? Today, April 19, 2009, the US has confirmed that it will not be attending the UN forum on racism in Geneva next week, because of disagreements on how the guiding document views Zionism. This follows similar confirmations from Canada and Israel, as well as serious discussions on behalf of the EU to do the same.

The US decision should hardly come as a surprise to most Muslims, many of whom had their hopes somewhat dampened when President Barack Obama practically promised Jerusalem to Israel, a decision that was not his to make. However, we are still shocked that an administration that is taking pride in its willingness to engage with both those the country agrees and disagrees with, would do something so self-destructive.

What have the past few weeks of international good will visits by the US President and his staff amounted to, then? Why has President Obama ruined all the good faith he has worked so hard to create, over one article within the document, one the forum intends to discuss, and is nowhere near final?

Also, since the president and his government are supposed to be so forward-looking, why is it that they can’t see that not attending is a disadvantage for activism against racism in America as well? The US may be proud to have elected its first African American president, but that is not the end of racism in the United States. There are so many issues it could help resolve concerning those disadvantaged because of prejudice in the US, which can only come by attending these conferences. It can help flesh out African American, Arab and Muslim American, Asian American, Latino American, and other American minority group issues, as well as maybe voicing their extreme disapproval on the “Zionism is racism” segment of the document in person. Camping out in the White House just makes it look like he’s hiding, something President Obama cannot afford to do at this point.

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3 Responses

  1. Your argument may have some validity when discussing boycotts in general, but with respect to “Israel” I believe it is a special case because any dealings with “Israel” or “Israeli” citizens, institutes, businesses, or products amounts to a recognition of the right of a group of people to establish a racist, exclusive entity on someone else’s land. There is no issue of “hearing the other side” on this matter. The issue is clearcut in that there is a clear violation of the inherent right of a people to live freely on their land. Any facilitation on our part for this occurence is a crime in my opinion. We should maintain a position of principle that no one is allowed to take a single inch of our land and create on it a racist, exclusive state for themselves. Otherwise, we would be setting a precedent that our land is open for others to take it and we will recognize their right to do so given a sufficient passage of time.

  2. Many will agree with your point, but I think it also depends on what you’re boycotting. If you boycott a product or an organization because it supports Israel, that is your choice. If you boycott a meeting, however, because “they” are going to be there, then you are simply leaving them unopposed to spread their point of view. Once again, this is about choosing your actions with a full view of the consequences.

  3. Here’s how I feel about boycotts related to the Gaza events:

    http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2009/01/israel-boycott-divest-sanction

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