Will the UN General Assembly Session Provide Fundamental Change?

United Nations General Assembly in New York City

This time of the year, with many world leaders arriving to attend the United Nations General Assembly session, New York City becomes busier than ever. It is difficult to find empty cabs in Manhattan close to the UN building. Security is extra vigilant and airports are under Orange alert. Occasionally, there are rowdy protests against some world leaders held in front of the UN building that make it even difficult for passersby. So while the city's hotel and restaurant industry considers these few weeks as their bonanza period, it is surely not a pleasant time for most local New Yorkers. 

The 65th annual General Assembly started formally on Thursday, September 23, with dozens of presidents, kings and ministers expected to address the gathering over the next few days. The speeches often fail to break new ground, so the infrequent theatrics predictably attract considerable attention. 

Neither the Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi nor the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came this time to grace the UN General Assembly (UNGA) podium. But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has come. He is another such world leader whose visit to New York City always draws much curiosity from the media. Every word of his is analyzed and reanalyzed to finding faults with it. Because of his unkind words for the Zionist regime of Israel that has forcibly displaced the indigenous Palestinians from their ancestral homes he is often treated very harshly by the western media. This time was no different. 

In his address on September 23, Dr. Ahmadinejad focused on what he called the collapse of the capitalist world order. He cited two main causes of this failure - attitudes & beliefs and global management & ruling structures. He said there were three theories about the origins of the 9/11 attacks, including "that some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime." The comments prompted a walkout by the representatives of the United States and dozens of other nations and criticism from world leaders. 

The next day, President Obama called President Ahmadinejad's comments "hateful" and "offensive." In an interview with the BBC's Persian-language news service, Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, said they were "bizarre, offensive and attention-grabbing pronouncements" aimed at deflecting the dialogue away from concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Mr. Clegg was oblivious of Dr. Ahmadinejad's proposal that the year 2011 be proclaimed the year of nuclear disarmament and that there should be 'Nuclear Energy for all, Nuclear Weapons for None'. Obviously, the Nuclear Brahmins like the UK and the USA would not allow either option to come to fruition, and would rather hold monopoly on those, if necessary through unfair and criminal sanctions and bullying tactics that deny countries like Iran that want to exploit the nuclear technology for peaceful purpose. 

Such condemnation of the Iranian leader from the western leaders, who after all, had invaded two Muslim countries in the months following the 9/11 tragedy, is understandable. This, in spite of the fact that there are many in the western world (so conveniently dumped as 'conspiracy theorists') who refuse to accept the official version in the Bush-Cheney era. Whatever may be the truth, including the official version that OBL and his group al-Qaeda were behind the event, there is no denying that a considerable segment of the population, both inside and outside the USA (e.g., one in four Germans), believe that 9/11 was an inside job, and that the so-called 9/11 inquiry report was a whitewash and derisory to explain who were behind and what had prompted the tragedy. 

During the BDR tragedy in Bangladesh in 2009, we saw similar 'conspiracy' theories that suggested the ruling Awami League was behind the deadly massacre of army officers in Pilkhana. Some Bangladeshis even suggested that the prime minister and her son were heavily involved in the heinous crime as were some other local MPs (Taposh and Nanok). An official report, prepared after a year-long inquiry by the government, has failed to put a stopper to that 'conspiracy' theory. 

As we all know by now the so-called conspiracy theories cannot be hushed up by inquiry commissions that are not perceived as being independent. It is high time to heed to Dr. Ahmadinejad's proposal to the United Nations 'to set up an independent fact-finding group' to conclusively identify the elements involved in the 9/11 attack and then map out a rational plan to avoid such tragedies from repeating. 

In his speech at the UNGA, Mr. Ahmadinejad offered an alternative worldview that is rooted in the logic of justice and compassion instead of the logic of force, domination, unilateralism, war and intimidation. He said, "Justice is the basic element for peace, durable security and the spread of love among peoples and nations. It is in the justice that mankind seeks the realization of its aspirations, rights and dignity, since he is wary of oppression, humiliation and ill treatment." He also called for the restructuring of the UN.

Democracy has lost its luster in our time, especially since 9/11 when former President George W. Bush of the USA lodged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of removing tyrants and planting democracy by force. Emboldened by the fascist Natan Sharansky's disingenuous thesis that democracies don't go to war, Bush wanted to change the geography of the Middle East so that Sharansky's adopted country Israel -- an apartheid state with a corrupted form of democracy -- would remain the uncontested Goliath in the region. These invaders simply chose to ignore that the occupation of other countries under the pretext of freedom and democracy is in itself an unforgivable crime.

While the democratic West, which, by the way, is increasingly represented by the big business and interest groups and not the electorate, went to war to implant democracy in those invaded countries an undemocratic China, buoyed by stability and peace, emerged onto the world stage delivering ten percent annual growth. In spite of the government stimulus packages, the American economy is in serious crisis, and so are the economies of many western liberal democracies. 

But the worst harm has been done to the UN whose very charters were violated to invade two sovereign countries one after another. The very institution which was supposed to be a forum to resolve world problems and seek peace instead of the curse of war was exploited to make our world less secure and as a launching pad to justify and lodge what appears to be perennial wars. Worst still, the UN was made the least democratic place in our planet. The UN Security Council (UNSC) -- or more accurately, its veto-wielding power block -- was made the actual citadel of new world order while the UNGA has simply been relegated to the no-good debate club for the entertainment of the audience. Simply put, the UNGA has been turned into a toothless and clawless tiger.

While one may disapprove of the Iranian President's remarks against Israel or his apparent lack of emotional intelligence, there is no denying that the cause of the United Nation's ineffectiveness is in its very unjust structure. Its structure needs an overhaul that allows all independent states and nations to participate in the global governance actively and constructively. The veto privilege should be revoked and the UNGA should be made the highest body. The Secretary-General should be the most independent official and all his/her positions and activities should be taken with the approval of the General Assembly and should be directed towards promoting peace, justice and eliminating discrimination. We are repeatedly told that in spite of its gargantuan faults and deficiencies, democracy is still an idea worth the fight. What better place to demonstrate that theory than the UN? As long as the UN structure is kept undemocratic by the very state powers that preach democracy, the latter is an untenable and ludicrous proposition.

This year's UN General Assembly session, which often serves as a stage for ambitious countries to project a new image, none has grabbed that opportunity this year with as much vigor as Turkey. In a flurry of speeches and meetings the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, defended his country's close ties to Iran, proclaimed Turkey's intention to become a leader in the Muslim world, and snubbed an attempt to mend fences with Israel over its deadly raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza. He refused to meet Israeli President Shimon Perez in New York without a formal apology coming from the Israeli leaders for the gruesome murder of Turkish human rights activists. It is worth noting here that the United Nations Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission recently concluded that Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was unlawful because of the humanitarian crisis there, and that the military raid on an aid flotilla in May, killing nine activists, was brutal and disproportionate, and that it violated international law.

With a vibrant economy that is the envy of much of Europe, Turkey is surely not the "sick man" of Europe any more. It is actually "the only healthy man of Europe." With its location at the hinge of Europe and Asia, Turkey is in a unique position to play a central role in resolving problems like the Iranian nuclear program and the Middle East conflict. "If you look at all the issues that are of importance to the world today," Mr. Gul said in an interview on Tuesday, "they have put Turkey in a rather more advantageous position." Turkey, Mr. Gul said, was the "only country that can have a very important contribution to the diplomatic route" with Iran - a clear reference to its effort, along with Brazil, to head off the last round of United Nations sanctions against Iran. 

Last year when President Hugo Chavez of Bolivia joined the UN General Assembly, he entertained the audience with his remark "The smell of sulphur is gone" (an obvious reference to former President Bush whom he equated with the devil). "It smells of hope," he said, adding cheekily that President Obama should "come over to the socialist side...come join the axis of evil over here". That smell of hope is increasingly proving to be misplaced. President Obama has failed to come out clean from the failed legacy of his predecessor. He has failed not only to provide hope for the millions of jobless Americans inside the USA but has utterly disappointed billions outside who had such a high hope in him. They wanted a world leader who is serious about change for the better, away from the warmongering days of Bush and Cheney. 

If Mr. Obama cares about the long-term interest of the USA and world peace for which he was unduly awarded the Nobel Prize, albeit as a down payment, he better listens to Mr. Gul. Peaceful resolution is always better than the path of war that brings the worst in mankind. 


Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored nine books. His book: "Democracy, Politics and Terrorism - America's Quest for Security in the Age of Insecurity" is available at Amazon.com.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Government And Politics, Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, New York, United Nations  Channel: Opinion
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