Monday, September 19, 2005

THE MOST SHOCKING outcome of last week's U.N. summit was the failure, once again, of the world organization to take a definitive stand against terrorism. It was scarcely surprising that the 191 member-states could not come to agreement on adding members to the Security Council or on sweeping management reforms or on foreign aid, however disappointing these failures were to some. But a long-overdue declaration on terrorism had seemed well within reach.

That it was needed in the first place will surprise many. The sad fact is that the U.N. has never spoken clearly on this issue, thanks to the stubborn efforts of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, made up of 56 states — nearly 30% of the U.N.'s membership.

After 9/11, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan took it upon himself to secure a blanket condemnation of terrorism, but it was beaten back by the OIC. Last year, after the attack that killed hundreds of schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia, Annan tried to get a resolution of this kind through the Security Council but was forced to settle for equivocal language in order to secure the votes of OIC members Pakistan and Algeria.

A proposed U.N. convention against terrorism has been stalled since 1997. The holdup? How to define terrorism. But this is nothing more than a semantic trick. The Islamic states insist that terrorism must be defined not by the nature of the act but by its purpose. Putting a bomb in a market or train or bus is not an act of terrorism, they say, if it is done for a righteous purpose; namely national liberation or resistance to occupation.

To say there is a problem of definition is to focus on a word. The real question is whether it is ever legitimate to target women, children and other noncombatants. For the Islamic states, the answer is yes.

[...] U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns claimed victory nonetheless because we had at least blocked an explicit reiteration of the U.N.'s support for terrorism. "Sometimes in diplomacy, defeating negative measures is a very important achievement," he said. If blocking yet another pro-terror resolution is an achievement by U.N. standards, then the institution's moral corruption may prove harder to cure than the material corruption so much at the center of attention.
(Via Bad Hair Blog)

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