Hit by the departure of the United States and Israel, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently welcomed its new Director-General, former French Minister of Culture Audrey Azoulay. Those who care about cultural diversity and Western civilization hailed her election, because the representative of Qatar’s Islamist regime had come close to winning UNESCO’s leadership race. But the real problem is that UNESCO has been abandoned to Islamist dictatorships. A battle to save the organization has begun.
Among the critics of UNESCO there is a tendency to dismiss this agency as “irrelevant”. Yet, so long as UNESCO exists, the West cannot allow repressive regimes to dominate the world’s highest body supposedly in charge of culture, science and education. Richard Hoggart, the British scholar who served as UNESCO’s assistant director general from 1970 to 1977, once asked: “Should Unesco Survive?”.
The UN agency is currently dominated by the most oppressive regimes in regard to education and culture. There is China, which in July let writer, poet and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo die an agonizing death in prison, where he was serving an 11-year jail sentence for his support of human rights and democracy. Then there is Iran, where a dean of journalism, Siamak Pourzand, committed suicide to avoid more persecution by the regime. Last week, the assistant director for Education of UNESCO, Qian Tang, was in Iran to advance “cultural cooperation” with the Islamic Republic, but the issue of cultural freedom in the Iran was not even raised by the envoy of the UN agency. There is also Pakistan, a country that has sentenced to death essentially for being a Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, whose condition has never even been questioned by UNESCO. There is Qatar, where a poet, Rashid at Ajami, was sentenced to three years in prison for a poem critical of the emir Hamad bin Khalifa at Thani.