The end of the cold war has shaped a succession of uncertain events that aimed to identifying “a new world order”. To this point, the single firmness is that the international community has gone into a period of a remarkable global transition that has caused more social problems than solutions. The end of the super-power challenge, the growing disproportion in wealth and the access to resources, correspond with a worrying increase in violence, poverty and unemployment.
This atmosphere of change raises new challenges to our continuing search of universal human rights. How can human rights resolve its differences with “the conflict of cultures” that has come to represent the current world? Cultural background is one of the major sources of identity. The latter is considered as a symbol of self-definition and expression. As cultures interact, cultural identities change. This itinerary can be inspiring, but it is also disorienting.
The current uncertainty of cultural identity translates the basic changes in how a human defines and expresses who he is today.
Some questions and concerns remain inevitable in this manner as they highlight the ebate over universal human rights and cultural relativism (“a concept that refers to the fact that what is regarded as true, valued, or expected in one social system may not be so in another”): How can universal human rights exist in a culturally diverse world?
Is a global culture unavoidable? If this is the case, is the world prepared for it? Many eastern point of views have argued that the “request” for the global recognition of human rights symbolizes the imposition of Western principles and values on other civilizations. For instance, the censorship of the press may be more tolerable n eastern societies (such as the Middle East region) because of its bigger emphasis on discipline and order.
Hence, what validity is there to the argument that human rights are a western imposition? Are human rights advocates in the region “cultural imperialists”? Before embarking in this dilemma, it is essential to consider the cultural imperialism’s supporting arguments and its opposing arguments. II – Cultural imperialism: benefits and drawbacks The idiom “imperialism” itself has a negative sound to it as it means “imposing the influences and the beliefs of the stronger culture”, “cultural invasion” in other terms.
First of all, imperialism is accused of enforcing a specific way of life; it somehow underlines control and dominance (“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience” – article 1 of UDHR). Moreover, it strips away a population’s identity. Besides, labor was discriminated and torced into slavery, mostly in Atrica, India and Sudan (“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms” – article 4 of UDHR).
As a final point, most traditional cultures languages faded away. However, it has guided several smaller countries towards development and expansion: many superpowers have introduced developed means of transportation, have provided new healthcare facilities, have encouraged education (“Everyone has the right to education” – article 26 of UDHR) and scientific thinking; they have also influenced smaller nations by introducing them to modern technology and this lead toa boost in their economy.
In addition to that, in order to ensure political stability, cultural imperialism acquainted smaller countries with the concept of democratic elections (“Everyone has the right to take part in the overnment of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives” – article 21 of UDHR). In this matter, considering human rights as a western imposition may neglect and disregard the fact that human rights advocates don’t always refer to cultural imperialists, as they may provide smaller countries with various advantages and conveniences by trying to assure the practice of their rights.
Ill – Non- Western point of view Within the international debate on human rights that has improved over the past two decades, the Islamic countries of the Middle East have occupied a certain position oncerning human rights resulting from the particular religious character of their societies and beliefs. Specific questions are frequently raised regarding the Islamic traditions. Due to the incident of current political conflicts and disagreements, in the Middle Eastern countries in particular, the Islamic culture is often described as being fundamentally “narrow-minded” and argumentative toward individual freedom.
While recent developments in human rights may undoubtedly be used to give an explanation for foreign military interventions on humanitarian grounds, human rights law also keeps tight restriction on the abusive power of the state and protects the freedom of the individual. Are these freedoms considered as drawn from the West’ and thus limited in their application? Some states affiliated to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) appear to approve the aforementioned thought: “according to its charter, the OIC aims to preserve Islamic social and economic values”.
As a reaction to their previous stance, Islamic states drafted the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam in the 1980s, as an alternative declaration. The Islamic challenge nas been there trom the sta n e UDHR was being drafted in 1947, the Saudi Arabian delegation brought up an objection to Article 16 that is associated to free marriage choice in addition to article 18 concerning the freedom of religion.
Middle East Islamic states deny many rights such as: the rights of women, the rights of non-believers, the rights of people deemed to be apostates and the question of punishments. Recent examples of obvious conflict with international norms include the treatment of non-Muslim minorities in Islamic states and the persecution of writers whose opinions are said to offend Islam. For that reason, an assessment of the claims of the aforementioned states may uncover the general debate on human rights.
In Asia for example, Singapore in particular, has productively integrated political authoritarianism with market capitalism. Singapore’s Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew has mentioned saying that Asians have “little doubt that a society with communitarian values where the interests of society take precedence over that of the individual suits them better than the individualism of America. ” An “Asian model” theoretically places community and family ahead of ndividual rights and puts order prior to democracy and individual freedom.
In the real world, there is no such thing called Asian model, since each of these societies has modernized in different ways, within dissimilar political traditions, and with contradictory degrees of market freedom. It is possible to conclude that Asian represent in a way, in addition to the Islamic culture and traditions, a challenge, civilization wise, to the hegemony of Western models. IV – Conclusion “Cultural imperialism” is an expression used in debates and arguments in which ultural relativism is encouraged and normally considered as correct.
In other terms, it is used by people who do not support nor agree with the idea that human rights are a “western imposition”: one cannot back up Western values if one believes that the cultural relativism values are completely accurate. The universal declaration of human rights was adopted and approved by several developing countries such as Lebanon, China and India that have highly contributed to its drafting. Consequently it is not fair to suggest that these rights have been imposed on them.
In conclusion, here is dissimilarity between discouraging the violation of human rights in certain countries in the world and introducing human rights as essentially foreign to those aforesaid countries. As Justice Geoffrey Robertson Q. C. mentions: “Freedom from torture and genocide, freedom from hunger and persecution, freedom to worship and to express opinions, the right to fairness at trial, and so on, are not western inventions – they are your entitlement as a human being, whether you live in London or Nairobi, Timbuktu or Tuvalu. On this issue there can be no compromise, no excuse of ‘cultural relativism’. “