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Democracy vs Universal Human Rights

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    Democracy vs Universal Human Rights

    I have trouble reconciling these two concepts. Most who advocate universal human rights (as defined by their respective ideologies) also advocate democracy. But what if a society decides they don't wish to institute a system of human rights similar to that of another society? What if they collectively make such a decision? Isn't it as unjust to impose your system of human rights on such a society, regardless of what you percieve to be the shortcomings of their system of human rights?

    This is what the US does - it imposes its definition of human rights on nations who differ. It does this through sanctions, through its institutions (the World Bank, IMF, the UN), and through force.

    If I give you the example of Afghanistan. Taliban's Afghanistan doesn't comply with the US standards of universal human rights, therefore they are sanctioned until they comply. But what if the people of Afghanistan support the regime in power. Moreso, what if they are democratically elected (ie Iran)?

    Some stretch their definition of human rights to the limits. Including such things as pig eating, prostitution and alcohol consumption. Even if we take the prohibition of these items to be abuses of human rights or even abuses of rights on ones individual choice, if a collective society approves of such a prohibition democratically - isn't that enough? Or are we advocating the imposition of our (read American) definition of human rights, regardless of what the people want? Because if indeed we are - than we are advocating a dictatorship. With the dictates coming down from the mouth-piece which resides in Washington.


    [This message has been edited by Achtung (edited September 21, 1999).]

    Human rights in islam!

    Whatever advancement has been made by human civilization with regard to man's
    role and position in this life, you will find it well established before it was even contemplated by
    reformers anywhere outside the Muslim world. Only a few centuries ago, Europe
    unquestioningly accepted the concept of the divine right of kings. It is needless to say that the
    so-called divine right could only produce absolute rulers who were accountable to no one. Over
    1,400 years ago, Islam established that no human being is infallible and no ruler is immune to
    accountability. When, a few years after the Prophet had passed away, the ruler of the Muslim
    state, Umar ibn Al-Khattab, requested the people during a speech he was giving in Madinah to
    come forward and correct him, should he deviate from the right path, one of the people stood up
    and said: "By Allah, should we find you deviating from the right path, we will certainly straighten
    that deviation with our swords." Umar praised Allah that he has given him people who would not
    hesitate to correct him should he slip. The international declaration of human rights is a
    relatively recent event. Over 1,400 years ago, the Prophet declared "Human beings are equal,
    just like the teeth of a comb." When he traveled to do his pilgrimage, 100,000 people joined him.
    That was the largest gathering during his life. He gave a memorable speech in which he
    repeatedly requested his audience to communicate what they learned from him to other people.
    In that speech, he declared: "You all descend from Adam and Adam was created out of clay. No
    Arab is superior to a non-Arab and no white person has any privilege over a black person
    except through good actions based on fearing Allah. The best among you are those who are
    most God-fearing." The principle of equality of all human beings has always been central to the
    Islamic social concept. That equality is clearly reflected in the treatment of slaves as regulated
    in the Islamic system. Before referring to this, I wish to emphasize that Islam could not have
    abolished slavery at one go. That was a worldwide system operated by all countries. Therefore,
    Islam laid down a system which ensured the gradual and steady eradication of the system of
    slavery and its progressive abolition. While it continued, Islam was to ensure the rights of
    slaves. The Prophet says: "He who kills his slave shall be killed and he who mutilates his slave
    shall be mutilated." This was the extreme opposite of the prevailing law. No one could question
    a master about what he did with his slave. If he killed him, he was immune from punishment.
    Equality also was established between men and women. It was the normal practice throughout
    the world that women were considered far inferior to men. Islam addressed its message to both
    men and women and made it clear that both have the same rights and duties, with minor
    differences that are necessitated by their different nature and different roles in society. I have
    begun with the basic right to equality because it is the one which generates the longest debate
    whenever the subject of human rights is discussed. Other rights have also been guaranteed by
    Islam. The first is the right to live, which every infant is guaranteed from the moment he or she is
    born. Indeed, this right applies to a fetus once pregnancy is established. Anyone who causes
    abortion exposes himself to punishment. Other rights like education, work, ownership, freedom
    of belief, etc. have also been guaranteed by Islam. What is more is that Islam establishes rights
    to individuals who do not even know of these rights, cannot claim them and have no way to
    enforce them. For example, a newborn baby has the right to good care and education until he is
    old enough to look after himself. If a particular couple neglected a child of their own, the ruler is
    required to ensure that they fulfill their duty. Otherwise, he could take their son or daughter
    away from them and place that child with a family who is certain to look after it. Islam also
    establishes other rights to which all people are entitled. The most important of these is the right
    to receive guidance. Allah has revealed His message to mankind and conveyed it to them
    through Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him]. Everyone is entitled to have this message
    conveyed to him or her in the language he or she understands. This is because Allah has
    revealed this message so that people can conduct their lives in accordance with divine
    guidance which ensures their happiness while they live on earth and guarantees happiness in
    the hereafter. The Muslim community is required to ensure that this message reaches all.
    However, Islam recognizes that faith can come only through conviction. Hence, it states clearly
    that no compulsion is admissible in matters of faith. Everyone has the right to choose the faith
    he or she wants to follow. As you see, the Islamic concept of man gives this noble creature a
    very high position. It provides every facility needed for man to work up to his potentials. That
    ensures the best results of his efforts. Indeed, it is through such willing contribution to the
    community effort by all individuals in the Muslim community that Islamic civilization made its
    mark on history and continued to lead humanity for centuries on end. Every time Islam is
    implemented, the same sort of marvelous results have been manifest. This assures us that the
    same could happen today if the Muslims were to implement their faith properly.


    Till next time***K_I_S_S***


      let us consider the following democratic situation. By majority vote, Pakistan decides that Ahmadies are non muslim and passes a law that will punish them if they read kalima in public. perfectly democratic and passed by majority law. there is a room to criticize.

      situation in afghanistan is even more murky. there is not even democracy. even if one accepts ur logic that let people decide and if they want taliban and shariat why not, still it is not clear people want taliban.


        I believe that there is no guarantee that ‘democracies’ will protect Human or Civil rights. In fact, some the democracies have worst records of human rights abuses (e.g., Turkey) some ‘so-called’ civilized nations (i.e. France), and some ‘Magna Carta Democracies (i.e., Britain – Ireland scenario). Civil rights have also been an issue in almost all of the former soviet republics (now ‘so-called’ democracies). Anti-Semitism in some former Soviet republics (from Latvia to Lithuania) and to some new democracies (e.g., Poland, Russia) has been on constant rise. But are these violations are sanctioned by the republic (the answer to that question is Yes and No). It depends on what form of democracy is in place and what the rule of law is? The underlying term here is the ‘rule of law’. Human rights have also been abused on a much grander scale in Dictatorships (e.g., Latin America) and on lesser scale (e.g., Canada and USA). So no one country has a squeaky clean record when it comes to Human Rights. In fact Singapore, a quasi dictatorship, has one of the best race-relations.

        Civil Rights (a sub set of Human Rights) is a separate issue. Where Democracy comes into play is the area of Civil Rights and that’s where one should start the debate. Rule of Law in democracies provide a framework to ‘define’ civil rights (discriminative policies or laws based upon Sexual Orientation, Gender, Color, Religion, Cast, Height, etc. – it covers pretty much everything). I am somewhat familiar with the US Civil Rights Laws and Statues and I will use that as an example. The civil rights law (section 7) and various sub sections (local, state and Federal) makes it ‘unlawful’ for anyone to use discrimination based upon the above factors. For example, an Airline cannot refuse an applicant to become a ‘steward’ based upon the color of her/his skin. It will be against the law. To what extent these laws prevent discrimination is ‘questionable’ and ‘debatable’. But the ‘framework’ is there for one to take it to the nth place to fight for ones’ rights.

        Religious persecution is another area (not civil, but a Human Rights issue) which ‘democracies’ deal with in a different way than for example theocracies. USA can ‘as easily’ (by electoral process) make laws to ban the building and promotion of Mosques (by Quid Pro Quo), but the laws are defined to provide equal rights to all religions. Theocracies do not provide such a framework. In reality many Americans would like to see that happen, but the framers of the Constitution dealt with this issue very wisely (in my opinion) so the debate on such restrictions is ‘unlawful’. So there are times in ‘real’ democracies when the electoral process takes the back seat. The line between democracy and dictatorship is a very thin one. But the Gap between ‘rule of Law’ and ‘imposition’ is huge. Democracies only thrive when rule is law is defined in a way that it prevents states from abusing or violating human and civil rights. The separation of ‘church and state’ is basic tenement of the US governance structure.

        In terms of my views about certain issues, no one here is twisting anyone’s arms to eat or drink certain foods. It is entirely upto an individual to make that choice. My post was only a debate opener. Does it mean that I want to practice prostitution, the answer is NO. Do I have anything against those who might do it, the answer is NO. Prostitutes are as much human beings as a devout Muslim who prays 5 times a day. Would legalizing alcohol mean that I would like people to get naked drunk, NO. Would I have anything against those who do, NO. Do I want drugs to be legalized, NO. Would it stop me from distributing free needles to drug addicts, NO. In fact, it is against that Law in USA to give needles to drug addict, and I am guilty of violating that Law, because I believe that drug addiction is a sickness (a Public Health issue) that must be treated like other sicknesses. I believe that ‘education’ and ‘prevention’ are much better tools to treat social ills. Restrictions only make the problems worst.

        Achtung’s post requires multiple debates: ‘forms of governing systems’; ‘public policy’; ‘human rights’; and finally ‘civil rights’.

        I wholeheartedly believe that openness of a society is a much better solution to deal with social ills (discrimination, religious persecution, drugs, etc.) than a closed system, where governance is done by decree. Not only such a system promotes a sick society, but it also destroys its own foundations.

        P.S., I will discuss IMF, and other institutions as ‘tools’ of the USA some other time. Achtung’s views are ‘somewhat’ correct, but it requires a separate debate (in my opinion).



          The points you make are all quite valid and I wouldn't argue the point that the American Civil Rights legislature is relatively efficient and it works to a fashion. However, American policy at home cannot be isolated from the policy abroad, because the fact is, much of American wealth comes as a direct result of the foreign policy. I agree this is another subject.

          The point Achtung is trying to make is however much Americans might value their 'Human Rights', other nations might have different values. Why should they have western values shoved down their throats IF they don't want them? This goes against everything you have been saying about personal choice and freedom.

          Afghanistan is a brilliant example. Why should Madelaine Albright or Hilary Clinton be flying across the world attempting to impose their version of human rights on a nation which clearly doesn't want them?