Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Human rights and wrongs

Eric Hobsbawm published an extract from his forthcoming book, Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism, in the Observer on Sunday. It is copyright protected so is not on line.

Slipped into a long essay on the decline of empire, I found the following deeply depressing paragraph:

... the historical experience of Nazi Germany has eliminated racial/ethnic claims to superiority from polite discourse. However, the tacit Western claim of superiority remains and finds expression in the conviction that our values and institutions are superior to others and may, or even should, be imposed on them to their benefit, if necessary by force of arms.

Once again, the same limp arguments are implied; democracy and human rights are linked through guilt by association with imperialism and fascism, humanitarian intervention and international law are described as Western impositions. What always strikes me about this lazy discourse are the missing voices. You will find it repeated by Western critics, by the leaders of conservative movements, and by dictators and their apologists. But do the people of Zimbabwe reject democracy as a Western imposition, do gays in Iran resent the idea of social equality, do persecuted minorities reject the liberal value of tolerance, and do women the world over refuse female emancipation?

Until the voices of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed are heard, this casual rejection for others of what we are fortunate enough to take for granted for ourselves will continue to be voiced and will influence the ideas of those who should know better.

2 comments:

peterbracken said...

Well said, sir. So well said, in fact, that I can't think of anything to add.

will said...

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