Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Enough is Enough: A Rebuttal"

Omar MASSALHA, Coordinator of the International Committee of Support for the Candidature of Farouk Hosny to the Office of UNESCO Director-General, requested that I publish the following response to my posting "Why I Worry About Farouk Hosny as Candidate for UNESCO Director General".

Mr. Massalha informs me that The International Committee of Support for the Candidature of Farouk Hosny, is an ad hoc committee composed of volunteers from civil society that does not have a website, but that does have the support of Mr Farouk Hosny. The committee informed Farouk Hosny in advance that it would be reacting to my posting and that he received a copy of that response.

Here is the material he has asked me to post. I have tried to maintain the orthography of the original as much as possible:

A Rebuttal


The Coordinator of the International Committee of Support for the Candidature of Farouk Hosny

In reporting on the election campaign for the post of UNESCO Director-General, John Daly makes the long-anticipated leap from ostensible objectivity to a pointedly ad hominem assault on one candidate to the exclusion of all others. John has been a self-appointed "expert" observer of UNESCO affairs, holding forth from his distant Maryland redoubt, for some years now and his interest has generally been well-meant and reasonably well-informed. What then has happened in the last few months for him to be transmogrified into the unabashed purveyor of a polemical and poorly-sourced diatribe directed against Farouk Hosny's candidacy, with arguments that are as erratic and flawed as his spelling? John says he is "worried" about Farouk Hosny's candidacy; he should perhaps worry a little more about some of the company he keeps. For he has breathlessly recycled every gripe and grievance currently doing the rounds on the Internet and in the media, reaching down to the very bottom of the barrel to scrape up material penned by such exemplars of tolerance and religious coexistence as Egypt's Muslim fundamentalists and their US-based Christian zealot counterparts in the Free Copts movement, in order to present Farouk Hosny as an ageing and corrupt anti-Semite and diplomatic tyro, poised to lead UNESCO to damnation through his malevolent designs for compulsory religious education, his penchant for book-burning and much else besides. The result is a ludicrous caricature, which more readily discredits the cartoonist than the subject of his lampoon.

Clearly, the time has come for this sorry litany of lies and slander to be addressed head-on since it is but the latest manifestation of what is patently a carefully-orchestrated campaign to impugn the reputation and destroy the credibility of one candidate in order to advance the cause of others.

Yet scarcely can so sweeping a dismissal of a candidate's claim to office ever have been assembled on so tenuous a base, replete with sourcing of the notoriously unreliable "it is charged that", "I have read that", "there are reports that", "it has been implied that" variety. It is just as well John has his own self-anointed soapbox in the blogosphere, for no self-respecting newspaper editor would feature an article so heavily dependent on flimsily-expressed arguments and tendentious reports. And one can swiftly dispel any lingering doubts on this latter score by dutifully clicking on his hyperlinks - only to find oneself on the home pages of such famously objective lobbyists as the Anti-Defamation League or the Muslim Brothers at IkhwanWeb - not to mention Bernard-Henri Lévy and his allies, whose laudable bandwagons in defence of human rights and the persecuted have always mysteriously come to a screeching halt at the border checkpoints dotting the West Bank and Gaza and who have never had an unkind word to say about even the most grievous violations perpetrated beyond them by Israel's governments and soldiery.

First up, John spins the overtly sexist argument that no one should vote for Hosny because it is time for a woman - any woman, apparently, among the four - as long as it's not testosterone-fuelled Farouk. One might ask how the good citizens - men and women alike - of the home countries of the other male candidates (Russia, Tanzania and Benin) feel about an argument that seems to suggest that their candidates be debarred because they had the misfortune to be born with a Y chromosome. But if the aim is to appeal to the more feministically-inclined voters, then let it be said that there has been no stauncher champion of women's rights in increasingly conservative Egyptian society than Farouk Hosny, often at the cost of threats to his life and crude attempts to entrap and unseat him (witness the infamous and egregiously misrepresented "book-burning" exchange with one of them) by his vehemently anti-peace, Islamist detractors in the Muslim Brotherhood - whom John bizarrely conscripts into his cohort of anti-Hosny warriors. (Can there have ever been stranger bedfellows than Elie Wiesel and the Muslim Brothers? Clearly, my enemy's enemy is indeed my friend.) And while it is certainly true that it is time there were more women at the head of the UN System, it can be argued even more forcefully that it is high time indeed - some 64 years after the Organisation's founding - for the post of UNESCO Director-General at last to be entrusted to a candidate from an Arab country, especially at a time in history when the need to bridge the yawning divide that separates much of the Muslim world from the West is paramount. President Barack Obama "gets it"; one can only hope that the Member States of UNESCO will be equally as conscious of the urgency of forestalling the much-vaunted and doom-laden prophesy of a clash of civilisations.

Yet, not content with unsophisticated sexism, John later lurches to equally unsubtle ageism, dismissing Hosny as a suitable candidate on the grounds that by the end of a putative second term of office (John could never be accused of short-termism!), he would have reached the ripe old age of ...79. Are we to infer from this that any prospective executive head in the UN System should be elected, as of the very first ballot, on the premise that he or she is expected, indeed duty bound, to be prepared to serve for two full terms? And age is a dubious premise indeed upon which to mount an objection - unless John has insights into the onset of senility that younger fellows are denied. Farouk Hosny is in rude health - a man whose energy and drive belie his years - and good health alone should be the yardstick by which one should gauge his physical fitness to lead. But these are but the pettiest of the premises, redolent of the worst kinds of tokenism (dare I say, discriminatory prejudice), upon which Farouk Hosny's candidacy is being repudiated. So let us now turn to the more substantive arguments that John Daly has deployed...

Farouk Hosny "is too controversial":
Given that most of the actual controversy surrounding this candidacy has not been created by Hosny himself but rather whipped up artificially by vested interests - and their media allies - opposed to his candidacy, it should suffice to say that, by virtue of his artistic mind and his gift for imaginative innovation, Farouk Hosny's creativity and vibrant discourse are exactly what UNESCO needs at a time when it is called upon to react promptly and far-sightedly to the challenges of the 21st century in its various fields of competence, especially after the last ten years of colourless and uninspiring leadership at the head of the Organisation.

"Commitment to peace" - the suggestion that Farouk Hosny is an isolated extremist dogmatically opposed to normalisation of relations with Israel:
It has been the official policy of every Egyptian government since Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with Israel that while this first-ever peace treaty between an Arab State and Israel would foreclose any renewal of military conflict between them and provide for mutual recognition and an exchange of ambassadors, Egypt would only undertake a full normalisation of relations including the cultural sphere once a comprehensive regional peace settlement had been reached that recognised and enshrined the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to exercise national self-determination and ended the Israeli occupation of all Arab territories. Farouk Hosny has for 20 years been a loyal minister in a government which, throughout that time, has scrupulously observed the terms of the Camp David Accords and consistently been Israel's prime interlocutor in the Arab world. Moreover, in his UNESCO election manifesto, he proposes, upon his appointment, to spearhead a specific project to promote a culture of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours in order to facilitate the latest international drive for a comprehensive Middle East peace agreement. It might also be added that, were he and his government to have taken some of the initiatives demanded of him by his more vociferous critics, he would almost certainly have precipitated a popular rebellion, the downfall of his government and probably signed his own death warrant at the hands of a population appalled by bold cultural overtures to an Israeli government that was still occupying, killing and violating the fundamental rights of their Palestinian brethren.

The notorious "book-burning" row and the preposterous claim that Farouk Hosny is an anti-Semitic bigot:
A comprehensive explanation of the entire context of this incident is long overdue. Farouk Hosny had been cornered by one of his most implacable political foes, an Islamist MP, in the corridors of the Egyptian parliament and confronted with allegations that the Alexandria Library contained Israeli works that openly insulted and denigrated Islam. Knowing this to be patently untrue, the minister emphatically denied the existence of such openly defamatory books but, unbowed, his pursuer pressed his claim. Infuriated and exasperated by this latest in a host of similar provocations and harassments, Hosny exclaimed, with an idiomatic Arabic expression frequently used for effect but which is never construed literally, that if his adversary were so sure of his facts, he should fetch the apocryphal tomes and he would "burn them myself". Of course, his Islamist opponent eagerly reported the comment; more curiously, some of the most fervent international critics of the Muslim Brothers just as eagerly seized on the quotation and have been broadcasting it urbi et orbi ever since. Has such an off-the-record outburst of hyperbole ever been so zealously misrepresented and misreported, regurgitated ad nauseum and so disreputably exploited?

Of course, given the acutely painful connotations for Jews in Israel and in the wider world of any mention of the "burning of books", especially in the context of books supposedly written in Hebrew, Farouk Hosny's throwaway expletive was deeply insensitive and, rightly, he publicly apologised for uttering it, on the pages of Le Monde in response to a vitriolic and no less intemperate article authored by three of his most prominent and impassioned detractors. But let it not be forgotten that the actual burning of Jewish books as well as the whole atrocious slaughter of the Holocaust took place in the heart of Europe, and these word associations and connotations are not uppermost in the minds of two Egyptian politicians acrimoniously trading ill-tempered jibes in an obscure corridor of a domestic parliament. One would certainly not normally expect a single remark made in such a context to be given such a distorted spin and such exaggerated prominence across the pages of the world's leading newspapers. Moreover, it was manifestly made off the record, was unattributable and could easily have been denied or claimed to be a misquotation. But Farouk Hosny is an honest man and, when asked, he confirmed that he had indeed made it. Nonetheless, we are talking about what was merely the regrettable juxtaposition of a popular Arabic colloquialism with a heated debate about Islamophobia in books that did not even exist; it is most certainly not a symptom of anti-Semitism or intolerance of Hebrew literature (indeed, as long ago as 2000, Farouk Hosny launched a programme to translate, from Hebrew into Arabic, the works of a number of Israel's best writers, Amos Oz foremost amongst them, in support of comparative literature studies and greater mutual understanding). If Prime Minister Netanyahu can understand this, it is difficult to understand why others still persist in refusing to do likewise. And anyone wishing to learn about Farouk Hosny's true feelings about the Shoah and Jewish suffering during Nazi rule would be better advised to read his speech at the UNESCO conference to launch the Aladdin Project against Holocaust denial in March of this year, for which he earned plaudits from Israeli and foreign listeners alike.

This campaign is all the more despicable for the fact that it is being waged against a man who has placed his political and personal life on the line by his pioneering actions in restoring Egypt's synagogues, in proposing that the least-frequented of them be used to house a museum of the history of Judaism in Egypt (in response to a request made in 2008 by a delegation of American Jewry), and in extending a ground-breaking invitation - notwithstanding the absence of formal cultural ties with Israel and in the teeth of ferocious domestic opposition - to Daniel Barenboim to perform with his mixed Israeli and Arab orchestra in Cairo. And all the while, John Daly (and others far more prominent) turn a blind eye to the fact that another leading contender for the post of Director-General represented the international face of a government, in the land of Hitler's birthplace, that in the earlier half of this decade embraced the anti-Semitic far-right in a ruling coalition for the first time in post-war history and gave it half of the cabinet portfolios in the process - a woman who not only shared the same cabinet table with them for four years but also publicly belittled the significance of that party's enduring nostalgia for the Third Reich and who was instrumental in bringing the workings of the European Union to a standstill in retaliation for the political sanctions Brussels had imposed upon her government for bringing shame upon her country and the union to which it belonged.

As for the legions of opponents ("the opposition of so many groups") queuing up on John Daly's blog to denounce Farouk Hosny, most respectable politicians would probably view that opposition, by religious extremists of every stripe, as a badge of honour. It is somewhat ironic that Hosny is criticised by the Muslim Brothers in Egypt for being "pro-Copt" (he has consistently defended the Coptic minority, with the same ardour he has brought to the upholding of women's rights - so much so that there is a popular misconception in Egypt that he is himself a Copt) while he is criticised by the more extreme fringe of the Coptic diaspora for being in league with fundamentalist Islam. So one can reasonably surmise that he is probably striking the right balance! He will not be swayed by his detractors in the Muslim Brotherhood, the irredentists in the Free Copts movement with their dreams of a pure Coptic state spanning the whole of modern-day Egypt, Ethiopia and Eritrea or the vehemently anti-Palestinian militants of that curious misnomer, the "Anti-Defamation League", so keen to denounce anti-Semitism and yet so culpably silent whenever the innocent civilian victims of violence and war are Arab or Muslim. He will steadfastly pursue his programme for the promotion of tolerance and dialogue among religions across the globe. One of the key planks in this endeavour will be a UNESCO project to promote the teaching of comparative religion in schools in order to foster greater mutual understanding and to eradicate the myths that all too often pervade the thinking of one religious community about another - a far cry from the extraordinary way in which John Daly has misrepresented his plans for the education sector.

Coming to the most outlandish allegation of all, that which purports that Farouk Hosny spied on his student compatriots when he was cultural attaché in Paris, suffice to say that such claims emanate from one specific source: Kamal Habib and his academic colleagues allied to the outlawed Takfir wal Hijra group. Habib is one of the most extreme Islamists in Egypt, a man convicted of involvement in the assassination of Anwar Sadat and whose political inspiration is drawn from Ayman Al Zawahiri and the Egyptian wing of Al Qaida. When John Daly and his powerful sponsors call up Al Zawahari and his acolytes in support and when the likes of Bernard-Henri Lévy and Claude Lanzmann are prepared to find common cause with them, one can safely conclude that there is no ethical standard they are not prepared to forfeit in pursuit of their misguided campaign.

Yet, Farouk Hosny's many years of service at the Egyptian Embassy in Paris and, later, Rome and his twenty-two years as a senior cabinet minister in what is probably the most diplomatically sensitive region in the world, having negotiated innumerable cultural agreements allowing for the exhibition abroad of one of the richest, most ancient and most sought-after troves in human history, all apparently count for nought when John Daly comes to assess his alleged dearth of diplomatic acumen. In John's estimation, a single diplomatic posting - on the UNESCO Executive Board or at an embassy in Washington - is apparently a far weightier qualification for the job of Director-General.

And not content with peremptorily belittling Hosny's 40-year-long career in cultural diplomacy, Daly then makes the outrageous claim that he exploited it to display his own works of abstract modern art alongside exhibits of Pharaonic artifacts - a feat of mixing artistic chalk and cheese that beggars the imagination and which, were it to be even remotely true, would cast doubt on the sanity of any museum curator worthy of the name!

We come to the invariably useful canard of "corruption" and "inefficiency". Once again, John calls in aid his new friends in the Muslim Brotherhood. For it is they who sought to exploit proven embezzlement by a senior official in Egypt's culture ministry in order to try and bring down the minister himself. The culprit was found guilty and sentenced to three years in jail; the same judges found Farouk Hosny to be completely innocent, and his reputation emerged enhanced in the eyes of all but those who had so keenly and dishonestly sought his downfall. More seriously, John Daly conflates in the same paragraph a completely separate incident when Hosny tendered his resignation in the wake of the high death toll caused by a fire in a public theatre. He was reinstated, in response to popular demand, on the grounds that he should not be held personally responsible for the failings of much lower-ranking officials.

To the charge that Farouk Hosny has only one string to his bow - culture - and that his knowledge of science, education and communication are virtually non-existent, perhaps John Daly could cite any recent precedent of a quadridisciplinary polymath heading the Organisation's secretariat. He might also reflect on the fact that, for the last ten years, UNESCO has been managed by a career diplomat with no prior specialist knowledge of any of the Organisations's sectors - without this eliciting any suggestion that he was consequently unfit for the job. The UNESCO Director-General is supposed to be a competent and effective manager, not a superman combining the artistic insights of a Picasso, the scientific prowess of an Einstein and the didactic powers of a Montessori. And, having headed a government ministry of 90,000 officials and staff for the last two decades, Farouk Hosny has managerial experience aplenty. Moreover, just as President Obama has sought to make of his administration a cabinet of all the talents, it is Hosny's stated intention to bring to UNESCO the world's best minds in all of the Organisation's fields of competence rather than try to be a counter-productively centripetal "one-man show".

And, finally, the knowledge society and Hosny's purported ignorance:
In his proposed programme, Farouk Hosny is placing heavy emphasis on technological innovation and the need for UNESCO to catch up after so many years of sloth in this field. More significantly still, he largely ascribes this lag to the fact that, for far too long, the Member States have recommended political appointees for senior posts in the secretariat as opposed to proven technocrats, and he has pledged to pressure them to reverse this trend precisely so that the Organisation can better keep pace with the challenges posed and opportunities afforded by new information and communication technologies and, thus, more expeditiously achieve a true knowledge society.

John Daly helpfully closes his thirteen "deadly sins" with an extraordinary disclaimer regarding his own sources (quote: "of course some of those may be inaccurate or untrue") - but then he appears to have become a fully paid-up member of the Throw-Enough-Mud-And-Some-Of-It-Will-Stick school of polemics. He then follows this up with a no less startling admission that he has never even met Farouk Hosny and has no personal insight whatsoever into his character. Perhaps John should take the trouble to meet the target of his wrath at least once during his forays across the Atlantic from the green fields of Maryland and actually read the man's proposals for UNESCO's programmes: it might just furnish him with a more complete and convincing appraisal of Mr Hosny's true worth as a candidate for high office than any number of tendentious assessments, produced in furtherance of a not especially well-concealed hidden agenda, by so motley an assortment of vested interests.

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