Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
September 17, 2001
Durban meeting showed courage
It was a courageous and idealistic idea to organize an international conference on racism, right in the heart of where systemic, institutionalized racism reigned for more than 50 years.
Racism, of course, is as old as humanity. And God knows there is a need to discuss this fatal flaw in the human condition.
Christ himself, on more than one occasion, used the Samaritan, the despised race, to teach us who our neighbour is. The first commandment says love of neighbour is equal to love of God. In that sense, searching for answers to a persistent problem in human relations was not a waste of time.
Given the reality of a world drenched in fear and distrust of the other, it would have been foolish to hope for any concrete results coming out of such a dialogue. The fear and distrust expresses itself daily in violent outbursts of pure hatred for one another or in absolute indifference for the fate of those who do not belong to our particular circle.
Extreme examples of this inability to live in peace with our neighbour can be seen in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Sudan, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, the Congo and Sierra Leone, to name but a few locations.
The malaise is endemic.
Why do you think U.S. President George W. Bush is promoting the missile defence system? Because he thinks there are enemies out there. We don't know who they are exactly, but they are likely to be terrorists who mean us harm. And they probably don't look like most of us and they might well speak a funny English.
Bush is not alone in his analysis of a dangerous world. Arms salesmen and gunrunners have profited handsomely from the lack of trust we have in each other. You look at the list of heads of state, and a large majority are perceived as strongmen who can mix it up with the bullies in the global schoolyard.
Racism might be a hangover from our territorial tribal days when hunting grounds had to be carefully guarded to ensure the survival of the clan. But it is more likely that it came with conquest the first empires when entire nations of sovereign people were subjected to foreign rule.
Without trying to put too much of a romantic twist on it, primitive people endeavoured to live in harmony with their environment, which included their neighbours with whom they traded or intermarried.
On the other hand, conquerors tended to exploit, marginalize and exclude their vanquished. Isolated in ghettoes or slums, in low jobs at poor pay, often as slaves, these minorities would stand out as easy targets of discrimination.
Such revolting conditions inevitably lead to revolt and armed conflict, instead of the just peace that should truly be the ultimate aim of humanity.
What was good about the meeting in Durban was that we had the guts to look at the beam in our collective eye. That the victims of injustice would focus on their particular experience of inhumanity to fellow humans was to be expected.
If you have never been a victim, you wouldn't even recognize the wrong that was done. You would perhaps call it enlightened self-interest or self-defence.
That's why the Holocaust was allowed to exist as well as the purges in the Soviet Union. It is why a dominant minority supported the apartheid system, which by the way, was copied from the Canadian method of dealing with the "native problem."
Durban was a first, a chance to listen to the victims instead of the victors. In future conferences we might focus more on our commonalities instead of our differences.
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