Canada, the United States and other countries – 23 nations, almost all from the developed world – boycotted the UN’s conference on “racism, discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance” this past week. That should tell you something. 

Of course, some of the nations that stayed for Durban II are some of the world’s worst offenders of human rights abuses, torture, degradation of women, slavery, political suppression, denial of free speech and fair trials. I could go on but you get the picture.

So why did Canada and the other countries cut and run? Was it as simple as the media puts it? You know, that these nations will not tolerate anti-semitism, anti-Zionism, anti-Israel comments and insults? That these countries took the moral high road? That they have some kind of “moral compass.

Nope. Moral compass?  Not likely.

Nations and their governments don’t have morals. Nations are ruled by governments run by politicians and these people ain’t saints. They make decisions that reflect their own or their party’s interests and prejudices, as well as those of their government, and the interests of the state come after – usually in that order. These politicians are more concerned about voters at home and the next election than they are in acting like true international statesmen. That’s just the way it is.

Take the signal for their mass walkout on the first day of the conference. Does anyone really believe that their coordinated exit was spontaneous, in reaction to the keynote speaker’s words about Israel and Zionism? What did they expect from the keynote speaker anyway? We’re talking about Iranian President Ahmadinejad. He’s a Holocaust denier who, by the way, is running for re-election. Don’t tell me Ahmadinejad wasn’t grandstanding for potential voters back home, and making my case about politicians and their governments.

Of course, the representatives from the United States and several European nations expected the speaker to say what he did. They also seem to have agreed well before the conference that at a signal, a phrase in Ahmadinejad’s speech, they would rise and exit the conference en masse to the the applause of some and catcalls from others. It was theatre, plain and simple. Lousy theatre at that. It was anything but international statesmanship.

So Iran’s president acted in self-interest. No shock or surprise there. But so did the representatives of those nations that boycotted the conference, including Canada. They should have attended the conference, as so many have already pointed out, because you can’t change minds if you’re at home with hands clasped over eyes, ears and mouth. You can’t combat racism by refusing to confront racists and anti-semites like Ahmadinejad.

Finally, expect little progress internationally on racism when the success or failure of an international conference to combat racism depends upon whether anything might be said about one nation, its government, and its policies. Our governments had an opportunity to tackle these issues head on at this conference but chose to avoid, deny, delay, obstruct.