Different Perspectives on Human Rights

Numerous times throughout the semester, either in books or class discussion, the issue of U.S. imperialism has been addressed.  Although we often touch on this briefly, I feel that a more in-depth analysis of this is needed.  Last week, I wrote about national priorities and intervention.  When the United States intervenes in another country, they are often eager to change their social and/or political system to match that of the United States.  This assumes that the United States is superior to other nations and others should aspire to become like the United States.  Although the United States is the world’s leading superpower and guarantees many fundamental human rights (on paper), this does not justify forcing ideas and practices onto others.  Around the world, there are many ideas of what it means to live in the West.  Many different things are associated with western lifestyles, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and a high standard for respecting human rights.  As Ebadi writes in the text, “Ambitious young people still believed the West offered them a more fulfilling and remunerative future, and left in droves” (182).  It is not just Iranians that immigrate to the West in hopes of a better future, but people from all around the world.  This is especially interesting in contrast to those that are strictly opposed to anything that is popular or commonplace in the West.

Abuse of prisoners is on the rise in Guantanamo prison camps.

I feel that this example brings up a very interesting point in regards to U.S. imperialism.  Some people may appreciate the changes brought about by United States’ intervention, but this is not to say that it is appropriate or best for the country’s sake.  I am particularly interested in U.S. imperialism because it assumes that the United States should be considered a role model country and completely ignores the country’s problems.  For example, maternal morality is on the rise, the prison system treats people unjustly, often inhumanely, and the criminal justice system is very corrupt.  Noting this, and all of the other issues, it is impossible to understand why the United States would act in such an imperialistic manner.

First, I think it is important to discuss universal, fundamental human rights.  Of course, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does a great job outlining these basic rights.  However, this document only briefly addresses the issues of universal human rights.  This document is very straightforward, but there is always room for interpretation.  There are certain rights granted to people in the United States that are not considered rights in other countries, and vice versa.  For example, the right to have an abortion under any circumstance is recognized by law in the United States, but most countries across the world regulate or ban abortion.  I would argue that abortion should be considered a fundamental human right because it relates back to bodily autonomy and the right to plan a family.  However, others would argue in a completely different manner and favor the life of the fetus from the moment of conception.

I bring this up because it shows how different groups of people understand human rights differently.  This is not to say that one perspective is better than the other, but it is to say that no one group should be allowed to force their opinions onto another person.  I feel that this is often the cause of a great deal of conflict between opposing groups.  Laws and policies should be shaped around giving people a choice to decide what is best for them, but this is often not the case as I have seen throughout the semester, mostly through my independent research on reproductive rights.  However, I feel that Shirin Ebadi does a great job analyzing the way that these multiple perspectives shape the government and affect the lives of the people.  Specifically, she discusses the way that church and state interact.  Certain laws and practices are justified because of misinterpretation of holy Islamic texts.  Ebadi recognizes these injustices and fights back.  Her dedication is truly amazing.  She writes, “If I’m forced to ferret through musty books of Islamic jurisprudence and rely on sources that stress the egalitarian ethics of Islam, these so be it” (122).  Here, we see two important things.  First, we become even more aware of her strong sense of dedication.  Second, she makes a distinction between different ethics within Islam.  She recognizes the different interpretations and works within the system in a way that benefits her case and matches her beliefs.

What I find especially problematic about U.S. imperialism is the idea that the U.S. is superior to all others.  There is no recognition of inequality and injustice within the country; all of the problems  seem to go on outside of our borders.  The United States depicts itself in a way that does not actually match the country’s practices.  Although historical American documents such as the Bill of Rights and  Constitution claim that all are created equal and are entitled to numerous freedoms and rights, it does not work out  that way in reality.  As with most other countries, the government is corrupt and does not actually work as it should.  As I wrote in the beginning of this post, I find it interesting that the United States has two very different reputations.  Some still believe in the American (or should I say Western) dream, while others do not tolerate anything American.

Overall, I strongly feel that the United States places itself on a pedestal that it does not deserve.  Although there are many great things in the United States, there are also many problems that go unnoticed and unresolved.  Human rights are violated everyday and minority groups are only equals according to the law.   It is important to push for human rights ideals but these do not need to have an American bias.  I have a hard time believing this could be possible since the United States plays such a key role in shaping international policies.  As someone mentioned in class, the United States is the biggest financial contributor to the United Nations and ultimately decides what becomes a law.  Perhaps it is best to look to smaller organizations or NGOs, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, for the solution.  They approach human rights from an unbiased perspective and do not favor any country, so it would be interesting to see how they would tackle this problem.

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