Friday, November 19, 2010

The Amoral Familism of the United Nations

After the much hyped direct peace talks between Israel and Palestine have come to a complete standstill, we are now entering the narrow maze of a Middle Eastern bazar.

In dimly lit rooms Bazari and potential buyers come together behind a thick smokescreen, the smell of tea filling the air. Deals are proposed, deals are rejected, deals are made: it's hard bargaining and if the customer is not satisfied with the offer he gets, he walks away with the Bazari slyly smiling because he knows he has the best deal in the entire suq and the customer will come back, sooner or later.

It is not an oriental rug that is to be traded when Mr Netanyahu, Bazari from Jerusalem, goes to Washington, making one of his frequent house calls. It is the future state, the future statehood of an entire people, the Palestinians, that Mr Netanyahu puts up for sale in the land of the free market economy.It made me really angry one week ago when I heard what Mr Netanyahu's customers in the White House were willing to pay him for the little piece of commodity he put on the oval table: fighter jets worth 3 billion dollars and a pledge that the United States would veto any Palestinian attemps at the United Nations to force a unilateral peace agreement in return for a ridiculously short extension of the settlement freeze in the West Bank by 90 days!

The United Nations were founded in 1945 to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, human rights and the achievement of world peace. Nowadays this league of nations has been reduced to a shabby stock market, geared to further the interests of the five permanent members of the UN security council (UNSC) - the so called "veto powers" US, Russia, China, France and Great Britain - and their friends, Israel among them. It is in this context that the United States can trade an Israeli freeze for a security council veto. Others cannot benefit from this kind of deals, certainly not the Palestinians.

It goes without saying that everybody wants to be a part of this splendid club. For some years now there has been talks about reforming the United Nations, without a result so far. Now for India there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In his recent visit to India, Barack Obama called India a world power and promised that the US would back India's quest for a permanet seat on the UN security council. Did Obama make this promise because he believes the United Nations should really be reformed and put on a broader basis, reflecting today's economic realities rather than the military lines at the end of World War II? No. But many of India's recent foreign policy decisions have been unprecedented and in favor of the US: It has backed three US-supported resolutions against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency; it is enforcing UN security council sanctions against Teheran; it has stopped a North Korean ship in Indian waters in 2009 and inspected its cargo; and India is the fifth largest donor of reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan. And there is also China: The United States aim to develop a counter weight to Bejing and India seems to be just the rock they want to roll into China's garden.

It pays to be Washington's friend and an aspiring candidate for the UN security council. In New Delhi Obama was quick to point out that the US can't impose a solution in Kashmir. But yes we can in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr President?!


It looks like the United Nations have become the private enterprise of the United States, the world leader we all love to hate. Not surprisingly so: institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), UN and NATO were precisely established to enforce and legitimate a world leader's agenda. And through the United Nations, the US makes their problems our problems. A dark chapter in that regard was opened after the terror attacks of 9/11. The UNSC was quick to adopt a list of persons and organisations provided by the US that were suspected to finance terrorism. Once the person was entered in this list there was no way of getting off again except you died. Bank accounts were frozen, traveling was restriced; there was no legal procedure offered to challenge the list entry, to prove one's innocence and to leave the undeclared house arrest. In 2008 the European Council called this black list scandalous and in defiance of basic human rights. The United Nations a human rights abuser in its own right with the US as instigator: Sound familiar? And by the way: how expensive is it to stuff some grams of explosives in your underwear or your shoes? 100 Dollars? 200 Dollars?

For many Italy, the Italy of Andreotti and Berlusconi, is the prime example of a immature civic society. To explain this, the Italian antropologist Carlo Tullio-Altan identifies two phenomena largely responsible for the backwardness of Italian society: clientilismo (the exchange of votes for favours) and trasformismo (collaboration among politicians by the exchange of favours). Tullio-Altan deducts his ideas from the American political scientist Edward Banfield who in his book The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (1958) diagnosed the syndrom of amoral familism as a hinderance for the development of a society. Banfield argued that the backwardness of communities was to be explained largely by the inability of the villagers to act together for their common good or, indeed, for any end transcending the immediate material interest of the nuclear family. (How fitting then: the five permanent UNSC members are at the same time the "traditional", self-acknowledged nuclear powers!)

But is civic maturity realized anywhere in the world? The subverting of political institutions for personal gains are features of most politcal societies. As an excuse for the failures of the United Nations I have been told many times that the UN can only be as good as its members. And when the member states, and particularily member state #1, are mostly preoccupied with amoral familism, then I rest my case with the UN and expect nothing from it in the future.

Iraq in 2003 was attacked and occupied by the US and its henchmen with a mandate from the United Nations. In 2006, the UN could not agree on a resolution however weak it would have been to condemn Israel for her onslaught on Lebanon in the summer war because the US applied its morality and threatened with a veto. Since then, the UN, in the form of UNIFIL, has a reinforced presence in Southern Lebanon, protecting Israel from the Lebanese resistance. For me, these UN troops stand on the wrong side of the border. They should be present at military airfields in Israel, preventing Israeli fighters from taking off. The daily bombing of Gaza and the supersonic booms over Beirut have to stop!