Sunday, March 21, 2004

The Myth of Human Rights. Amnon Rubenstein has a very interesting, if slightly truncated article in Haaretz on the exploitation and misrepresentation of human rights by groups with ulterior motives:

There's also a huge ideological gulf between the original and the forgery. Human rights laws set grades of rights and the very top level is the right to life and personal safety. In other words, the law recognizes the relativity of rights: The right to life is more important, for example, than the right to privacy. The law is not the same for a state that murders its citizens, as Sudan did for nearly 20 years, and a state that suspends jury trials during periods of emergency to fight terrorism, as England did in Northern Ireland.

The human rights industry is made up of various organizations, academics, and media people who do the exact opposite: all rights are equal. Censorship is the equivalent of genocide. Detention without trial in Guantanamo is the equivalent of murderous terror.

While the original concept of human rights graduated rights according to their level of importance, there is no relativity in the approach taken by those who violate those rights. All the criminals should be judged according to the same criteria. On the other hand, if a Western country were to perpetrate only one-hundredth of the crimes conducted by Saudi Arabia against its residents, there would be an enormous outcry from Geneva to Berkeley. But despite the permanent protests by the human rights groups, few know how many people are executed in Saudi Arabia (in 1999 alone there were 301). But in Oslo, human rights devotees demonstrate against Israel. Nobody protests against the fence that Saudi Arabia is building on its border with Yemen - against international agreements and harming thousands of shepherds whose flocks graze on the lands were the fence is going up, but there is no organization that does not protest against Israel.

I would refer to this as fundamentalist humanism, if I thought most of those involved in it were sincere. Most of them are not. They are quite self-consciously exploiting an emotional issue in order to further a Leftist political agenda. Their's is a politics of extraordinarily bad faith. The truth is that the term "human rights" has become so abused that it has become, like "fascist" and "imperialist", something that people throw around to express their distaste for something they don't particularly approve of. It has ceased to have any meaning whatsoever. This kind of emotional/political blackmail has to be resisted as strongly as possible. At its worst, it results in a total inability to recognize political evil. We can see this at work in the ugliness and anti-semitism of the anti-war Left right now, not to mention John Kerry's very disturbing statements on the subject of terrorism and US foreign policy. One could say that the entire world Left is suffering from a severe case of cognitive dissonance on this issue. They can extoll peace and yet defend Saddam Hussein. They can love human rights and acclaim Arafat. They can decry racism and revel in the basest anti-semitism, sometimes in the same breath. Their desire for an absolutism of justice has resulted in an embrace of righteous murder. Where will the descent end? The possibilities terrify me.