Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Universal Human Rights (note key word starting with U)

Taner Edis describes an upcoming conference in which certain busybodies and tyrants will again try to make a mockery of the UN Human Rights Council:

Among secularists, there's an extra concern that Muslim organizations have successfully pressured the UN to endorse curtailment of free speech when "abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination.” That is, there is a good possibility that speech giving offense to Muslims might be considered an abuse.
I strongly doubt this concern is limited to secularists, but whether it is or not, it should be of concern to anyone who cares about free speech because there seems to be no limit to the range of expressions in which at least some Muslims will find offense (not just cartoons, novels, television, movies, and newspapers but also conversions of Muslims to other faiths). Edis then describes the root of the trouble:
A common critique of human rights charges that these rights are products of a Western, individualist moral consensus, derived from the historical experience of Europe and its derivative settler societies. Claiming they are universal and imposing them on the rest of the planet is uncomfortably close to colonialist talk of a "civilizing mission." Even in secular guise, this sort of Enlightenment universalism is very much heir to a Christian missionary urge.

There is a good deal of truth to this charge.
No, there is not anything like a "good deal of truth" to this charge, and I am surprised and alarmed to see Taner Edis pretending otherwise. This charge is patent bullshit.

Yes, people do criticize the idea of universal human rights on grounds that such rights are a product of "Western, individualist moral consensus, derived from the historical experience of Europe and its derivative settler societies" but that doesn't make it true, and even if we grant it for the sake of argument, it does not constitute a valid argument against the rights thus established. Likewise, Newtonian and Einstenian physics also came from "the historical experience of Europe and its derivative settler societies" but the math coincides with and predicts the observations across the globe -- indeed across the known universe.

People making such criticisms are partaking in a genetic fallacy, playing games with identity politics (cries of "Islamophobia" serving as red herrings), and ultimately confusing human rights with the asserted rights of their favorite god. Yes, the god of the Koran places strict limits on human interaction, but this can only matter if the god of the Koran is actually present on the field of human activity. No matter how loudly his followers scream, he is not present. Nor is the Christian god present. Nor are the Hindu gods. These gods and thousands more have their lists of requirements and limitations for humans, but for any god you wish to cite (or die for or kill for or tithe to or force your children to ponder), there are literally billions of people living today -- a clear majority of earth's inhabitants -- who agree with me that the god in question simply does not exist (chart source) and therefore cannot possibly matter to any discussion of human rights.

Human rights need to stay universal, and the way they can do that is to stick with what's reliably known: that humans exist in great numbers and need to interact justly and peacefully.

5 comments:

Taner Edis said...

Rights are politically enacted. Their universality is an aspiration, not something independent of human interests and agreements.

You might set aside Muslim objections to certain aspects of the Western conception of human rights. But it makes little sense to do this because these rights are universal, no matter who says what. In the end, the aspiration to universality is not being met.

Dale said...

TE, it may or may not be aspirational (aspirations differ); it's certainly politically contested. Which means, to me, nothing more than that the idea of universal human rights is under constant assault from powers and people that don't want it.

The universality of human rights (e.g., the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is grounded in a vision of human nature which is, in turn, grounded in a vision of reality. That reality is politically contested, but as with creationism's assaults on evolutionary science, the presence of a controversy should not be seen as proof that there are two valid sides.

The people who would subordinate rights to Islamic law (as in the Cairo declaration) need to demonstrate that Islam matters to the discussion. This requires them to demonstrate that Islam has a purchase on reality, which in turn means they need to demonstrate that the god of the Koran exists (for starters). Until and unless they achieve that, assertions about Allah, Sharia, the Koran, and Islam are of secondary or tertiary importance to discussions of human rights, and must be held to be so -- we must insist on this standard.

nazir_bht@yahoo.com said...

I am surprised to find that Mr. dale has confined the concept of Islam to some novelistic background where charactters are fictionally created and commented upon within the fantacy of readers.the religion including Islam covers complete code of conduct to live in this universe; which; can;t be seperated from it basic thoughts and origins.your right to speech which starts from disrecpting the prophets of Islam is not only the point of concrn for the westerneres but even; Islamic God is a source of mockring for such human rightists.the contradiction with Mr. dale is that he being athiest have developed a code of conduct to address all religions with due respect while criticising them especially christainity.the concept of God not yet phyically availble ; could be treated as per author within mock sense either through caricatures or cartoons; but; what about prophets? whose existence history has testified?and; why only Islamic prophets? Mr. dale could easily refer his thought to scientists who just believe in big bang theory for mocking purpose till scientists actually find big babg happened.conversely; on causual terms we can mock any body;s unborn son or daughter till they are really born to defend right to exoression.? thanks

Dale said...

Nazir, Islam is a set of beliefs and, as such, has no rights. People have rights, creeds do not.

Free people are free to engage in mockery of ideas, creeds, beliefs, traditions, taboos, "sacred cows." I am free to mock, and so are you.

The god of Islam is imaginary, no more or less than the gods of Christianity, Judiaism, Hinduism, the gods of the ancient Greeks, the gods of the ancient Egyptians, the gods of the Native Americans, and so on.

"History has testified" to the existence of thousands of gods; this does not establish that the gods are real.

As soon as the existence of a god is established by the same standards of evidence with which we have established the existence of Asian elephants, basking sharks, Nelson Mandela, and Saturn's rings, the existence (and demands) of that god can, in principle, matter to discussions of human rights. Until then, assertions about god serve only to cloud and perturb the discussion.

nazir_bht@yahoo.com said...

Dear brother dale:the words faith; creed; etc do not vitiate the reality.I am pleased you are not routine believer as such had turned non_ believer.the plurality of existence is the merit of universe.you are non-believer because believers exist. thus; each existence has its existential value and significance which value and siginificance becomes relevant due its contrast existence. day and night; good and bad; earth and sky; body and soul ;life and death ; so and so forth are just a few examples which;without just pre-conditioning of mnd tender better chances for human being to think and ponder.therefore; the critical thnking just developed science and scietific attitude the ultimate result of which had been that science imply discovered things not created them.the science believes in speculaton so believes the believer.science has indirect argument to sustain so has the believer.creed or faith is mental attitude towards something which for the time being you hold is correct. if you are athiest you too; have creed and faith may be based on reason and rationale. similarily; believers have the same mental attitude tpwards his/her religion.i understand; you have not felt interested to study Islam seriousely to find rights availble under it.still If you point out specific thing I may be able to answer it.to mock something which you disbelieve is different than to mock something on adhoc terms till its testing the truth comes out in terms of one;s individual satisfaction and thinking. thanks