A Project of the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society

Durban vs. America

National Review Online

August 08, 2001

By John Fonte

On Friday, July 27, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declared that the forthcoming U.N. Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, to combat racism, xenophobia, and intolerance (August 31 - September 7) was in danger of being "hijacked" by "Third World nations." The White House and the State Department specifically objected to two proposals, put forth by African and Arab nations, which they claimed would "politicize" the conference. One called for "reparations for slavery" from America and other Western nations; the other condemned Zionism as "racist."

Fleischer declared that "It is very important that the conference succeed," and the American delegation to the preliminary conference, in Geneva, is currently working with U.N. officials. Should reparations and anti-Zionism remain on the agenda, the U.S. has threatened to boycott.

The conference, like similar gatherings, is usually portrayed as a conflict between America and the West on the one hand, and Third World radicalism on the other. This is partly true, but only at the most superficial level. What is far more significant is that American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in a sustained and systematic attack on American principles and American institutions. Their increasingly aggressive form of transnational politics is post-constitutional, post-democratic, and post-American. Let me explain.

On October 24, 2000, wire services reported that representatives from the NAACP, the ACLU, the Arab-American Institute, and other U.S. NGOs "have joined together to ask the United Nations to hold the United States accountable for the persistence of racial discrimination." Approximately 50 signatories, including Julian Bond and Jesse Jackson, petitioned U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson to "highlight" American "racism" at the international conference in Durban, and to consider sending "Special Rapporteurs" or U.N. investigators to monitor human-rights violations in the United States. Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, declared, "In our frustration, we turn to the United Nations . . . to aid us in holding the United States accountable for the intractable and persistent problems of discrimination."

Over the past year and a half, with financial support from the Ford Foundation, U.S. NGOs - including Amnesty International USA, the American Friends Service Committee, the National Council of Churches, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law - have advocated the following positions at U.N. preliminary meetings (quotations are from NGO documents):

Reparations. "Support the inclusion of 'compensatory measures' (i.e., reparations) as a sub theme on the agenda of the World Conference." A U.S. NGO report on the Santiago, Chile, regional meeting describes how American NGOs helped undermine the U.S. government's position by providing research and advocacy to African nations that were promoting reparations. Human Rights Watch, in a separate position paper, recommended that reparations be based on the concept of "economic rights," and that they act to "supplement affirmative action."

Racism is Pervasive. "It was the unanimous view among the [NGO] participants" that statistical disparities between races were the result of racism and racial discrimination in the United States. Racism, the NGOs declared, "permeates every institution at every level." (Policies such as welfare reform and minimum mandatory sentencing are "motivated" by racism, and the idea of "color blindness" is a "myth" that "contributes directly" to the perpetuation of racism.) Moreover, they held, "rhetoric emphasizing the progress we have made" is a form of "denial" that "ignores . . . deeply imbedded racism."

Economic Rights. NGOs attacked the "consistent failure of the U.S. government to recognize that an adequate standard of living is a right, not a privilege." The U.S. thus fails to protect the "economic rights" enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Class warfare. NGOs affirmed that a "small section of the world's population" is a "privileged property owning class . . . this privilege has been inherited throughout the centuries by the descendants of White Europeans and was initially the product of coercive military, social, economic and political means . . . it is necessary to curtail this privilege."

Anti-free enterprise. The U.S. NGO Globalization Caucus "strongly condemned globalization as an attack on democracy, an engine of racism, and a system that deepens global poverty and accelerates the feminization of poverty." At NGO meetings, free-market capitalism was "repeatedly criticized" as "a fundamentally flawed system," and "[p]articipants expressed the conviction that it is possible to organize a more just, equitable and socially responsive system."

America-bashing. On July 20 in Washington, D.C., Gay McDougall, an organizer with the International Human Rights Law Group (one of the chief NGOs), told a pre-conference strategy meeting of NGOs that "the foreign policy of our government (U.S.) is responsible for racial oppression around the world."

U.S. must accept all U.N. treaties without reservations. NGOs have insisted that "The U.S. government should ratify all international human rights treaties" and "remove all reservations" to the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) that the U.S. ratified in 1994. The "reservations" in question? The State Department held that the U.S. would not accept any treaty requirements "incompatible with the U.S. Constitution." State's memorandum specifically notes that the CERD's restrictions on free speech and freedom of assembly are incompatible with the First Amendment. It is these "reservations" that the NGOs seek to eliminate.

For the past few years, astute observers including David Horowitz, Balint Vazsonyi, Ronald Radosh, and John O'Sullivan have told us that Marxist ideas are alive and well among the American intelligentsia. The world-view championed by many U.S. NGOs suggests they are right. (For my detailed analysis of Gramscian Marxist influence in contemporary life, see "Why There Is A Culture War: Gramsci and Tocqueville In America."

The activities of U.S. NGOs can accurately be described as "post-constitutional," "post-democratic," and "post-American." They are "post-constitutional" because, as we have seen, they favor substituting U.N. treaty requirements limiting free speech for the First Amendment guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. They are "post-democratic" because, as Richard John Neuhaus recently noted, the global policies advocated by NGOs would be "impossible to achieve democratically." (Thus the NGOs seek, in Father Neuhaus' apt phrase, "an end run around democracy.") And they are "post-American" because their political allegiance is clearly not to the existing American constitutional regime, but to a transnational ideology seeking to reconstruct America through global governance. (For the first detailed examination of "post-Americanism," see "The Progressive Challenge to American Democracy.")

On Tuesday July 31, Ari Fleischer said that "the only thing stopping" the U.S. from attending the U.N. Durban conference would be if the "important mission" of the conference is "diverted." But the conference's real mission, as conceived by its key players - the NGOs, their ideological allies in the U.N. hierarchy (e.g., Mary Robinson), and their Third World clients - is to chastise the United States, and begin the long process of transforming our constitutional democracy into something more to their liking. Whether it's to the liking, or with the consent, of the American people, seems not to rank high among NGO priorities.

The anti-Zionist and reparations proposals are only the most egregious signs of an entirely flawed process. Under the circumstances, the United States should boycott the Durban conference - no matter what phony compromises are engineered in the coming days and weeks.

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