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A conference to boycott
by Thanos Kalamidas
2009-04-21 08:55:02
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In the beginning it was USA and then it was Australia to be followed by Germany more queuing to reject the invitation to participate in the UN anti-racism conference and you would expect especially with Barrack Obama United States to be the first to participate and not lead a boycott. But I think the under question conference raises another interesting question, are there limits to freedom of speech? And be sure even here in Ovi magazine we had a lot of times to ask ourselves despite the fact that this is an opinion magazine and is based on freedom of speech and the right to have an opinion.

I’m not sure what the right answer it is but I think that there should be limits when freedom of speech goes beyond respect and the same time I always believed democracy is not just a political system but a way of living based on respect. I’m very sensitive myself when it comes to the Holocaust and a visit to Auschwitz has made the feeling stronger. However I find it difficult to deal with people who describe the holocaust as a myth the same way I find difficult to forgive a murderer and in my mind with not recognizing the reality of the holocaust makes them accomplice because they show disrespect to the victims. Might sound hard but this is the way I feel. Whatever I do I cannot excuse what Hitler did and I cannot give to anybody room to excuse his acts in the name of freedom of speech.

Oddly and I have often mention it in the past the worst dictators and criminals always demand their rights when it comes the time for judgment, the very same rights they refused to their victims in the most abusive way. So how can you let for example Mugabe talk about racism and freedom when the man is responsible for the slaughtering of hundreds in Zimbabwe, how can you let Pinochet talk about liberties and Kim Jong-il talk about democracy? Well Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the puppet president of the cleric dictators of Iran is going to be in the conference and he is going to speak. Is he going to call the Holocaust a myth or he’s going to remind everybody that Iran will be happy when Israel vanishes from every map? If that is not racism and violation of freedom of speech then what is?

Had South Africa while was under apartheid the right to participate in a conference like that according to the general feeling for freedom of speech? I suppose is like good and bad. We all have the sense what is good and bad and we need the laws to explain the details, I don’t think that anybody normal would ever think that murder or theft is something good, unpunishable and rewarded. I think the same applies to freedom of speech. We had our share with similar situations here in Ovi magazine. A year I think ago we got a very well written article about some ancient founds that were misplaced and ruined by a state – I’m not going to refer to the country – and I have to admit that it was interesting until near the end of the article we realized that these archaeological founds were reference to the …Arian race and all that means in a very strange twist from the writer. Of course we didn’t publish the article because we were aware that we were opening the back door for something that disgusts us and we oppose. But then again somebody might say that we stopped information regarding archaeological founds and history. You see with this example how sensitive is the line that freedom of speech has to balance on.

The draft of the conference says very clearly in the 12th paragraph that condemns legislation, policies and practises based on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. In the 66th paragraph recalls that the holocaust should never be forgotten but the same time in the name of freedom of speech the UN invites Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to participate and speak. Out of curiosity why not Kim Jong-il the North Korean eternal president to talk about democracy and human rights, I suppose he has something to say as well.

The conference for racism is far too important to be ruined by any Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and that’s why I agree with Barack Obama’s decision to boycott it. Racism, xenophobia, intolerance and prejudice exist everywhere around us and it discriminates people of every class, education and age. It exists in our society, in our work, in our neighbourhood even in our family. Yes things have change the last twenty years but we are still far away from been a society that can guarantee equal treatment and tolerance and especially been able to guarantee that globally. So if conference like that must be and especially if that conference must give guidelines and become a reference should never been mocked, bullied and manipulated from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad alikes for their petit agendas and sad issues. And somehow perhaps this is a good chance to exclude Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s alike from everything important.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-04-21 09:58:35
Indeed, freedom of speech is a precious right but there are limits and the limit is the freedom of others and the respect due to others’ human dignity and the truth. The problem is ultimately metaphysical because if one conceives Truth as relative to cultures or even relative to one’s ideology, then it will become a mere utilitarian instrument, just another Machiavellian tool of political power. And here lies the crucial paradox: till fundamental rights are conceived and acknowledged as inalienable (that is to say that they inhere to the very nature of man and nobody can grant them or take them away) they will never be fully guaranteed by any State, not even by a powerful or democratic one. It is intriguing to observe that neither ancient Greeks nor ancient Romans had such a concept as that of inalienable rights. Not even Plato or Aristotle had it, neither did Jefferson dream about it at night and decided to place it in the Declaration of Independence. Rather it is based on certain fundamental premises within Christianity which came to fruition with certain ideas in the 18th century. When those premises are ignored or forgotten (one being the premise of a providential God who loves equally all his creatures), then the use of free speech will be egregiously be violated in the name of its abuses ignoring that the abuse does not take away the use, and sheer hypocrisy will follow, such as that of the ultral liberal Jefferson who kept his slaves and showed disrespect for native Americans as President after grandiosely placing the concept of inalienable rights in the declaration of Independence. Plenty of food for thought there!

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-21 10:08:51
P.S. An afterthought: it takes more than a boycott or evem a walking out of a conference, as important as that may be symbolically, to become fully aware that certain values and ideals and ideas within Western Civilization are worth preserving and even defending and fighting for. Which is to say, one must not only talk the talk, one must also walk the walk or risk falling into hypocrisy.

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