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Friday, 25 November 2011

Congratulations to President Assad

Congratulations go to Syria for securing election to not one, but two committees of UNESCO ( As the Arab League stands poised to finally act on Syrian human rights abuses (, UNESCO has just elected Syria to its human rights committee. At a time when Syria has never been condemned more by a range of NGOs, UNESCO has elected Assad's country to its committee for NGO relations.

You may say that all countries get to have a go on these committees and that it doesn't matter. In that case, I would say that we might as well stop pretending that such bodies stand for anything and are worth bothering with, and it is you, not me, who is being cynical - I have a wholly uncynical desire for UN bodies to stand for their self-proclaimed values and to not-elect brutal dictatorships to their human rights committees. Otherwise what is the point of such bodies?

UNESCO's own director-general has herself questioned the efficacy of now appointing Syria to these committees. But then that is the same director-general who recently summoned the Israeli Ambassador to complain about a cartoon in an Israeli newspaper ( - the equivalent of summoning the British Ambassador to complain about a cartoon in the Guardian. The one country in the Middle East that actually has a free press and not repressive state media, and she summons its ambassador because of a cartoon in an independent newspaper. Small wonder that, when the ambassador reported back on this, the Israeli Foreign Ministry cabled back: "It seems your work environment is getting more and more reminiscent of 'Animal Farm.'"

Animal Farm indeed, as there is something distinctly Orwellian about progressives' long blindness to the faults of such deeply repressive Middle Eastern regimes as Syria. A blindness that never extended to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, which was elevated from being one important issue (which it is) to being the issue that supposedly trumps all others, with "the Middle East" no longer referring to a region of many countries, but to the situation facing Israel and the Palestinians.

This focus on the Palestinians to the exclusion of all other Middle East issues (including issues that are of equal, if not greater importance) is delusional and helps no-one (including the Palestinians, whose just cause has been exploited by dictators keen to distract their populations from the problems of their own countries in the region). As a delusion, it stands comparison to the blindness of much past progressive opinion to the reality of Stalin's regime in the USSR.

It's a cliche to talk of a world turned upside down. If UNESCO's members can think that it is OK to put Syria on its human rights committee, then it is not the world that is upside down, but the world's way of looking at itself.

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