By Alan Simons
As we know, the conference turned into a disastrous failure. Many NGOs trampled on the fundamental values of the United Nations, as well as on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ironically, it was in the name of anti-racism that the conference turned into a spectacle of hatred and of demonisation: it even re-awakened a entire panoply of antisemitic stereotypes long forgotten.
Three years later, in 2004, Fiss was urged by the French philosopher Bernard Henri Lévy to describe the Durban conference in detail. Lévy then published the account in his literary review, “La Règle du Jeu”.
This week The Durban Diaries, the English translation of Fiss’ remarkable day-by-day, and sometimes hour-by-hour testimony of what really happened at the UN conference, has been published by the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS).
The Durban Dairies, we are told, “is the story of a group of puzzled young Jews who returned from Durban in 2001 confused and disorientated. For the first time in their lives, they had been subjected to racism; by people who held antiracist speeches, who chanted peace and love songs. Thousands of individuals united, all in the name of antiracism, to isolate them, offend them, and intimidate them. Their perceptions shift. Nothing appeared to be the same as before. A new phenomenon, judeophobia, which remained in their minds as an abstract notion until then, brutally imposed itself as a new political order. Anxiously, they wondered what will await them back home. They felt misunderstood. Their vision of politics, of human rights and of civil society blurred their minds.”
Fiss tells us that she “aims to create a psychological detour around a political event that lasted a few days. The Durban Diaries illustrates how in a brief fraction of time, profound effects can weaken the morale of a group. How can a group regain confidence in the community of the NGO’s, after having physically felt the hatred of racism committed in those surroundings? How can we make sure that a similar experience will not occur again?”
The World Conference against Racism triggered violence against Jews, just a few hours before the attacks on the United States, on September 11th. The brutality of the hatred unleashed in Durban, the collective anger that was railed against Israel, the United States and the West in general, resonated as a warning of coming times.
I thoroughly recommend you read The Durban Diaries by Joëlle Fiss. Currently, Fiss is a policy advisor for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, a centre-right political party and the third-largest political force in the European Parliament. She can be reached at: Joelle.Fiss@gmail.com
The Durban Diaries can be read in it’s entirety at:
The Durban Dairies
(Photo credit: Daily handout left on the tables at the Conference Against Racism, Durban 2001. ICARE/Magenta Foundation, Amsterdam)