Monday, 25 February 2013


Is there a common understanding about Human rights and religious rights in all countries in the world, or does each country reserve the right to define these concepts as it chooses to suit its national political interests? For example, a number of countries have accused the US for violating the human rights and religious freedoms of Muslims under the guise of the "anti-terrorism" campaign. The US has accused China for not respecting religious rights of minority communities, while China has accused the US of hypocrisy.

Israel defines itself as a democracy and presumably pluralistic society that respects human and religious rights, as long as that does not extend to Palestinians who are a people living in de facto apartheid conditions. A number of African countries, including Mali, Sudan, and Nigeria have been plagued by religious frictions, thus finding themselves accused by Western governments that they are guilty of violating human and religious rights. Meawhile, the same Europeans making accusations against Africans for not respecting human and religious rights engage in subtle and overt discrimination against Muslim minorities.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights is a wonderful document, but how many countries abide by it, especially Western countries that have used it to bring to trial at the International Court of Justice political defedants that are almost entirely from Africa and Eastern Europe, but none from the West. Considering that the US has now confirmed the death of several thousand people, including several hundred civilians, among them children, who will be held accountable for such war crimes? Will the CIA, Congress, the White House, the Defense Department, or some other entity be held accountable, and will anyone be sent to the Hague to be tried for killing hundreds innocent civilians, who happened to be Muslims and victims of a US-NATO war on terrorism aimed at Muslims?

There have been recent efforts by some Muslim and Christian intellectuals to link religious rights (freedoms)
 to human rights. This is partly because the concept of human rights, as governments define it and as it has been determined since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, contains a secular definition that supercedes religious rights. The reasons for the interest in connecting human rights to religious conviction are as varied as the proponets of such concepts. For example, some Christian intellectuals want to make certain that the principles of freedom and human rights that go to the heart of how one understands human nature and the relationship of theindividual to society is inexorably linked to religious faith. To avoid making such a link between human rights and religious rights would mean excluding religious institutions from the broader picture. This is mainly a Christian perspective, but the same concept is now used by Muslim intellectuals to combat not just Christian and Jewish prejudice toward Muslims, but Western government biases toward Muslims.

In June 2012, Hillary Clinton, endorsed the free exercise of religion as a First Amendment right, along with the freedoms to speak and associate; thereby linking freedom of speech and association with freedom of religion (and conscience). She added that government's role is to protect such rights, and not to block them, for doing so entails a violation of human rights - a concept that the US has held for decades and used as part of its human rights campaign during the Jimmy Carter administration. Aware that religious freedom is intertwined with human rights and it must necessarily include Muslims, Clinton argued that religious leaders must encourage their followers to embrace the principles of peace and respect of others, thus creating an environment in which everyone’s freedom is more secure.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a long list of how the religious rights of Muslims are systematically violated at the federal, state and local levels. These violations include: courts and state legislatures placing a ban on Sharia law and International law, thus refusing to recognize not just the religious, but human rights of Muslims. Mosuqe and Islamic community centers targeted both by private individuals and groups and by government (zoning laws) in the name of protecting the community from Islamist suspects. US anti-terrorism policies target Muslims, merely on the suspicion of their religious affiliation, denying their religious, human and civil rights. Discrimination on the basis of appearance for both men and women is another area where Muslims have suffered owing to their religious affiliation. The surveillance, infiltration, and no-fly lists that target Muslims is another area of over violation of religious and human rights.  

It is no secret that the war on terror has been described by many on all sides of the debate as a 'holy war', by some as 'clash of civilizations or cultures', by others as a struggle between the Judeo-Christian West and the Muslim East-Middle East. No matter how one defines it, the religious and human rights of Muslims at the receiving end of the Western war against terror have suffered. All of this has taken place by the belicose Western governments that continue to claim moral authority, and continuing to claim that they respect human and religious rights while 'the undemocratic enemy' does not do the same. For their part, the apologists argued that security concerns take precedence over human and religious rights. This raises the question of where are the boundaries that government draws? Does this include covert investigation of citizens as suspects merely because of their faith, wire tapping, covert operations into the private finances of individuals, etc.? If so, does this mean that society is no longer open and democratic but a police state?

Hypocrisy is not the issue, because human beings as well as institutions engage in hypocrisy. Neither is the issue one of linking human rights to religious rights as a way to force the West to be more tolerant and less prejudiced in its practices toward Muslims. The issue here is about Western values and their absolute hollow ring to them because they have become meaningless in the face of what is practiced. Is the West distorting its own proclaimed values rooted in the Enlightenment era, and doing so because its sole purpose is to continue to impose its hegemony over non-Western, predominantly non-caucasian, non-Judeo-Christian people?


Mr. Runyon said...

The overy simple response is of course a resounding yes. The next step is what to do about it. Let the US gallop along unreined? Call the shots? my erligion the way I see it? or can anyone make the US live up to it's own ideals. Who has the power to hold up the mirror?

Anonymous said...

This is intellectual sophistry -- dare I say BS?-- unless we begin with the 3,000 2h0 died on 9-11-01. Both their human and religious rights were violated.