Roger L. Simon

Durban II Diary: Part 1 - packing

It’s 5:47 AM in the City of Angels and I am up early to make sure I get everything – from Ethernet cable to Lipitor – packed for my short week in Geneva. I leave about noon. Cameraman Andrew Bridgewater, who is accompanying me, had the heavy lifting, figuratively and literally, jamming tons of equipment (yesterday at PJTV hq) in a Pelican case the size of sleeper trunk. It will be fun trying to get that past the Air France check-in scales without paying an overage equal to or exceeding the AIG bailout.

Meanwhile, I have been following the unfolding drama surrounding my destination – the Durban Review Conference, an event called by the UN to “review” the results of its controversial “anti-racism” conference and Israel-bash in Durban, South Africa back in 2001. The US has still not said definitively whether it is attending Durban II. Canada, Italy and Israel are not. The EU is equivocating, but leaning toward going. We do know, however, that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is attending. The Iranian president is speaking to the assembly and holding a press conference on Monday afternoon. My credentials are supposed to admit me.

In the midst of this Iran has just convicted Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi of spying. This is a case we have been following closely on PJTV. Perhaps this development will help the US make up its mind not to come. We shall see. According to The Guardian: The US has dismissed the charges against Saberi, who has reported for the BBC and America’s National Public Radio (NPR), as “baseless and without foundation”. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, expressed concern about the case and called for her release.

Hmm…. The BBC and NPR – now there’s a good cover for an American spy, if there ever was one. [How about the Guardian itself?-ed. Even better.] But I am kidding here. I wish Ms. Saberi only the best in getting out of her eight-year sentence. I’ve seen people after they’ve come out of Tehran’s Evin Prison and let’s put it this way: Whatever you might read of the “tortures of Gitmo” in our media, forget about it. This is the real deal. You come out limping with your face resembling a cubist painting – if you make it out at all.

That’s related to another reason I woke up early this morning – and have for the last few days. I haven’t been sleeping well because I fear that I am going to be getting a heavy dose of a reality I have not had to confront personally in my many decades of life: anti-Semitism. Sure, I know a great deal about it and have written about it in books and films. But as an American Jew I have lived a privileged existence. During recent years especially, this country treats the Jewish people magnificently. It is a wonderful place for us to live. At the Durban Review Conference I will be face-to-face with, interacting with and possibly even interviewing, people who despise me because of my ethnicity or religion (even though I am almost entirely secular). That can keep you up at night.

And now back to packing. [Don’t forget your Kindle.-ed. It’s a thirteen-flight. It’s charged up and ready to go.]

UPDATE WALKING OUT THE DOOR: The latest from Reuters is that the US will not attend the conference, excerpt perhaps as an observer. I cannot help but think that the overnight Saberi conviction referenced above has played a role in this. The Iranians, particularly their hardliners that of course include Ayatollah Khamenei, have sent a signal to Obama. We’ll find out if he’s listening.