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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Boogey Man

One of the legacies of World War II was, at least on the surface, a renewed dialog among the international community about the role of human rights. What is often forgotten in the demonization of the Nazi party is that similar anti-Jewish sentiments existed in most of Western Europe and the United States at the time - and that, given differing economic circumstances, it is not out of the question that one of the more 'enlightened' of us could have easily fallen prey to the incendiary ramblings of hatred that fueled the furnaces of the holocaust.

Many acts of contrition were taken following the carnage of the war, but the one that I want to talk about is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When discussing the adoption of this particular list, a big hurdle was point number sixteen. Namely,
Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Many countries from the middle east - most vocally Saudi Arabia - took issue with the idea that the UN would attack such an established cultural practice like the consideration of women as property. And it was only with much hand-wringing that the West decided to leave the provision in. Keep in mind, this is in a time when the Allies thought of the Middle East in roughly the same terms as our modern governments consider West Africa or South America. That is to say, 'confused' and backwater.

Today, there is very, very little doubt that this article would be stricken at the first claim of cultural imperialism. It's generally thought any more - especially in the wake of 9/11 and the disaster in Iraq - that Islamic countries are just different than us, and we need to respect their beliefs so we can all get along.

Here's my problem: I really don't respect those beliefs. I think the Islam practiced by the vast majority of the world is a disgusting, outdated, misogynistic and violent culture that uses religion as a method for defending their abuse of human rights by couching it in terms of their faith. There's a bizarre tendency for religious beliefs to be considered unassailable even in the face of an almost ludicrous amount of evidence that they're oppressive to the point of being unforgivable.

I'm not one who would say that the exact same ethics must apply to all people everywhere. The same limitations on free speech that might be cogent in Germany (holocaust denial laws) can very easily be frivolous in other societies. But when a country diverts from the basic tenet that everyone ought to be treated equally under the law, they should at least be forced to justify it in terms other than "God said so."

Having to respect someone's mistreatment of another person on the grounds that they really believe in the mistreatment is bizarre beyond comprehension and maybe we've gone a little TOO far in the direction of relativism.

cranked out at 9:23 AM | |

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