Quid Rides? De te Fabula Narratur

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Upholding Universal Human Rights

Posted by Anthony on October 29, 2008

By Anthony J. Aschettino

As the world continues to shrink due to advances in communication and travel, disparate cultures who may have had limited contact with one another suddenly find themselves intermingling on a daily basis. Whereas less than a century ago the average American or European might have little to no understanding of Arab or Chinese culture, today, thanks in a large part to the internet, one can not only read up on culture from these areas but also watch indigenous programming and listen to ethnic music on a daily basis. The same can be said for the average person in those regions, and the result of this exchange is that now more than ever the world has truly become one large global community. The problem with this is that, as the world grows smaller, different cultures can and do come into conflict with one another and this has led to no end of debate about whether certain aspects of different cultures are legitimate in modernity.

In Ancient Rome, gladiatorial games were held on a regular basis where the fighters (who were slaves of a sort) would fight with weapons for the amusement of the crowd, sometimes to death. On a similar note, criminals and later Christians were fed to wild animals such as lions, again for the amusement of the crowd. Today, the idea of “throwing people to the beasts” would be unthinkable and rightly so. During the period of Aztec power in what is today Mexico, captives were sacrificed on a daily basis by having their still beating hearts cut out of their chest cavity so that the sun would continue to rise every day; again, a cultural trait that has thankfully passed into the dustbin of history. Humanity as a collective whole has evolved to a point where we no longer consider such things acceptable.

Yet today we as a civilization have fallen back somewhat thanks to an ultraliberal thought process of moral equivalency when it comes to judging the actions of certain states based upon their culture. Specifically, it is not a politically correct act to say that Western (Euro-American), Enlightenment-inspired values are the model to which all understandings of human rights should be held. Although not always practiced by Western societies, these ideals are worth expounding and effecting on a global level because of the inherent value they place on the rights of the individual and on human life in general. Ideas such as the supremacy of the individual and equal value of every human life are certainly beliefs that trump their alternatives and as such ought to be enforced globally in order to ensure that human beings in every corner of the globe are afforded the ability to enjoy their lives without fear of repression by either society or government.

It is true that in certain circumstances, these rights have been trampled in the West. The intolerable treatment of African-Americans in the Southern United States before the Civil Rights Movement is a prime example of such a circumstance. Yet even in that situation, the courts and the Federal Government eventually destroyed the power of Jim Crow. Likewise the Right to Free Speech, enshrined in the American Constitution, has been challenged at times but has almost always come out as something that is inalienable as it is a direct descendent of the right to freedom of thought. Those societies who repress such rights almost always end up seeing a revolt from their own people, as such states find themselves stagnating on an intellectual and economic level.

This is not to say that the West ought to go around forcibly instituting such rights, but just the same it should insist at every opportunity that those states with whom it interacts give their people access to those rights. In states such as Russia where journalists who speak out against the regime often find themselves jailed or killed, and states such as Saudi Arabia where religions other than Islam are terribly oppressed, Western states should mount diplomatic and economic offensives to bring about a peaceful change in the way they conduct their domestic affairs. In states such as Sudan where genocide is at this very moment being practiced, and in those states where the rights of women are subjugated to second class, the West must not be afraid to proclaim that such things are wrong and act accordingly to either stop (in the case of genocide) or at least influence change.

That said there are many things in the West that are not perfect, and it must never stop the general move towards ameliorating such wrongs, yet that does not mean it cannot keep fighting for what is right in the world. During their colonial rule in India the British had to force an end to sati, the tradition of a widow throwing (or being thrown) into her husband’s funeral pyre. They did so because it was an affront to the dignity of a human being, despite the fact that it was an accepted practice in the culture at the time. Today one would be hard pressed to fault them for this action. Likewise, the West must strive to ensure that despite how such seeming transgressions on local culture might currently seem, the long term effects of supporting such rights as it believes in are well worth the fight.

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2 Responses to “Upholding Universal Human Rights”

  1. […] By Anthony J. Aschettino […]

  2. yasserlatifhamdani said

    Tonybhai,

    You are doing a great job. About the Jinnah article- search “Jinnah clarence darrow” on Pakteahouse or even google…you should be able to find it.

    Will write to you later but much appreciation for an excellent body of work- heck you could be a constitutional lawyer (might as well take the University of London external programme while you are at it – it is available in the US and we can join forces).

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