I know this is how you wish the world was, it just isn't.

Rights Around the World

I know this is how you wish the world was, it just isn't.
I know this is how you wish the world was, it just isn’t.

There’s been a lot of talk about a couple of guys in Muslim countries who have been arrested for violating the law, mostly blasphemy laws.  There are numerous atheist bloggers and tweeters who really want these people released.  I say no.

There are two people currently on the ever-rotating list of foreign people who have been “wronged”.  Right now, Abdel Aziz Mohamed Albaz, an Egyptian blogger living in Kuwait, has been jailed for blasphemy.  I see lots of atheist bloggers who keep saying he’s done nothing wrong.  Sure he has.  He blasphemed, as defined in the law.  That’s why he’s in jail.

The second is Saeed Abedini, an Iranian who converted to Christianity.  Like it or not, this is illegal in many Muslim countries, just like being non-Christian was, at one time, illegal in lots of Christian nations.  He has been in prison for months, his trial is supposed to be happening as I write these words.

Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with these people, but I also strongly support the rule of law.  I’ve had my say over individual rights many times and, like it or not, rights are simply things that individual cultures or societies grant to themselves.  They are not something that just magically exist, floating in the ether.  Further, when you live in a particular society, by choice or not, you inherently agree that you will follow the laws of the land or pay the consequences thereof.  This is part of the social contract.  This applies to the country in which you live or in any country that you visit.  If I decide to head off to Mexico, for example, by crossing that border, I agree to follow their laws whether I like them or not.  If I strongly disagree with the laws, as I would in a country like Iran or Kuwait, I wouldn’t go there and if I lived there, I’d move, no matter what it took.

Look at Muslim nations where it is illegal to convert to Christianity, there are always stories in the news of people who do exactly that who end up in prison and whine about it.  It’s not like they didn’t know the consequences, they’ve lived there their entire lives.  It’s also not like you can’t be a certain religion and keep it quiet, they could have easily lived under the radar and likely never been caught.  No, these people went out and openly  displayed their Christianity and when they get picked up for doing so, whine how unfair it is.

get_out_of_jail_free
This doesn’t work in the real world.

I really have no idea where people got the idea that civil disobedience automatically comes with a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  In fact, half the reason for civil disobedience in the first place is to get punished as a means for drawing attention to the cause you’re trying to change!  You didn’t see the people in the civil rights movement in the 60s refusing to go to jail or whining about how unfair it was.  Martin Luther King Jr. was in jail multiple times and spent that time writing.  Actions, whether you like it or not, have consequences.  My issue here is twofold.  First, that the people who are breaking the law and being jailed for it are not trying to change the law, at least that’s not their primary purpose.  They’re just doing whatever they want to do and paying little attention to the law.  Second, in the vast majority of these cases, it’s people who live outside of the particular culture who are complaining about things, especially those who live in the very privileged west.  You don’t see an outcry from, in the case of Mr. Aziz, the people of Kuwait, who realize based on his actions that the blasphemy laws are wrong.

Perhaps the biggest issue I have is the utter hypocrisy of it all.  Lots of people are screaming that the U.S. ought to use military, political or financial means to forcibly stop these countries from acting in a means we don’t approve of.  Sure, that’s a common tactic by nations powerful enough to do so.  However, think about it.  If in a couple of years, if the U.S. keeps sliding into economic disarray, and a Muslim nation gains lots of power, would we bow down to an effort by that government to push Sharia law on us?  I’ll bet those same people who want us to do it to them would be screaming bloody murder if they tried to do it to us.  What about our right of self-determination?  Okay, what about the people of Kuwait?  What about the people of Iran?  What about their right to self-determination?  Or does that only apply when you’re on the “right” side of an issue?

In the end, this comes right back to something I spend a huge amount of time talking about:  responsibility.  Both Albaz and Abedini should have known that what they were doing violated the law of the nation they lived in.  They should have been aware of the consequences of their actions long before they committed them, yet they still went ahead and did so.  They knew what they were doing and they should have known the likely outcome.  So where is the complaint?  You don’t leap off a cliff and scream “gravity is unfair!” on the way down.  You have to deal with the reality that actually is, not the one you wish were true.

18 thoughts on “Rights Around the World

  1. Although I agree with what you're saying here overall, the reason that people in Kuwait, for instance, don't say anything about Mr. Abaz is probablt because they don't know about it. The media in Kuwait is state controlled. Those that might know something about the situation would most likely be too afraid to even discuss the situation among friends for fear of being reported to the authorities as supporters of a blasphemer.

  2. Excellent post, Cephus, and I never thought about it like you did, a whole new perspective. I know what you mean about atheist bloggers getting on this particular bandwagon and with some I find you can't express a contrary opinion or they unload with shit-load of invective. This happens with many issues and I'm getting to the point where I seldom visit their sights with a few exception. At least vjack is always civil.

  3. There are certain basic rights, such as freedom of conscience and free speech that supersede complying with oppressive laws. These people are within their rights, regardless of any laws, to exercise their basic rights.

  4. A couple of things. To my knowledge, neither person who has been arrested has "whined" and both knew the risks of what they were doing. Abedini had been in trouble before and went back to Iran to work in orphanages. He knew the risks. He isn't speaking out, others are doing so for him. The same is true for Albaz. He too knew the risks and isn't whining…in fact, he can't say anything from his current location. Once again, it is others doing so on his behalf.

    Second, I think your characterization of human rights is incorrect. Human rights exist. You touched on some of them, self-determination, for example. The people in these countries do not have that, we can't pretend that they do. It is impossible for them to affect their situation if they can't speak about it. How can Kuwaiti's protest Albaz? They would go to jail. Instead ex-pat Kuwaiti's protest their Embassies and Consulates. Can people outside those countries affect change? Who knows? Even if you are correct and it fails, that does not mean we should not make the attempt.

    Abedini is likely going to die solely for something that he believes in his head. If you do not think that it is a human right to have your own thoughts…well, that is indefensible. You're telling me the government of the country YOU ARE VISITING has the right to control your thoughts? Bear in mind that he is a U.S. citizen. He is not Iranian. You are telling me that our government has zero responsibility to one of its own citizens who is likely going to die in a foreign country for something he thinks? For something that is in head? Let's not confuse human rights with privilege. It is not a privilege to be able to have thoughts…that is a human right. Hell, it doesn't even need to be discussed, its simply human to think. We often can't control the outcome of those thoughts…

    Albaz is in a similar situation. He is Egyptian and not a Kuwaiti citizen. You are incorrect about his not trying to change things. He is a secular blogger, who by all accounts treats religion quite fairly and advocates for greater freedom of religion. Things like self-determination, free-speech, free-religion/thoughts are basic human rights. You can't say they do not exist simply because some dictatorships choose to ignore them. I can choose ignore all sorts of things, that does not mean they do not exist.

    I do not believe that there is some kind of "objective morality" or any such thing. That would imply that it is some kind of fixed set of rules. I don't buy that. I do think that ethics, morality, and you can throw human rights into this, are things that evolve. Something is either moral today or it is immoral today–where you do it does not change that fact. I can't kill someone here and think its moral. If I went to some remote place where that law didn't exist, it would not then make it moral for me to kill that same person. We can't confuse "moral" with "legal". I don't believe in objective morality because at some point, murder may have been seen as moral. These things are not absolute and eternal objectives. They are, in a sense, the agreed upon norms of the age in which one lives.

    The same goes for freedom of thought. It is folly to say that depending on where you live, you have the right to your own thoughts and in other places you do not—sorry Mr. Abedini. That just doesn't fly. The same goes for self-determination and free speech. They may not be legal everywhere, the basic right, recognized almost universally still exist, even if it is ignored.
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  5. Cephus—Naturally, I disagree with your comment. This wouldn’t be any fun if I didn’t. Lets look at it bit by bit.
    You wrote: “If the majority of people want such a right to themselves, they are more than welcome to decide that the culture in which they live provides that right.” This fails to recognize reality. If you truly believe what you said there, then this conversation is over and YOU agree with ME. But that isn’t the case is it? Why? Because, the people in those countries do not have the ability to do what you just required them to do. You can’t put this on the people there. You are completely ignoring the “in your face” fact that basic human rights DO exist everywhere on this planet EXCEPT in spots where a dictator is preventing that from happening. What you are failing to recognize is that we truly have no idea what the people of Iran (for example) think. You are basing your entire argument on what their government looks like. You are assuming that they support that government. In fact, perhaps the best argument you could have taken against my position is: because the people living in dictatorial regimes do not have a voice, we do not know what they would think. Therefore you can’t claim universal human rights exist. But you aren’t making that argument. You are actually saying that because they don’t have them, the belief in them doesn’t exist. That is absurd. You are holding the “inmates” accountable for the actions of the “jailor”.

    Further, If you were to take the argument that I said was best against my point of view, that too would fail. Why? Because the issues we are discussing are exactly the sorts of things that lead to revolution. It is these sorts of things that lead to “Arab Springs”…though they still have much work to do. You want proof that you are wrong? Here it is: Name me one country that has rejected what are considered commonly considered Universal Human Rights when they have had the ability to do so. It doesn’t happen. Look at Egypt, they may have a second uprising because the government still isn’t getting it right. Your argument is completely devoid of history. People demand certain rights once they are aware that they have that option. Those are the things that are deemed as universal. Period. You accused me before of claiming that human rights exist “because I want them too”. I can make the same accusation to you, but I can back mine up. You can’t say that they do NOT exist simply because you want that to be true, and every time a society has had the choice, the choose the universal human rights we are talking about. The rights we are talking about, since about 1776, HAVE been universally accepted when put to the test. You can’t count people who have not been allowed to “take the test” as your argument.

    Your comment about Mormons baptizing the dead is irrelevant here, unless you are seeking to destroy the concepts of democracy and modern theories of International Relations. I assume that isn’t your goal, so we can move on. Otherwise, voting for things that dissenters have to support, when they lose, is democracy…and a large part of modern IR, which has done a decent job of preventing war among developed countries…though is still not perfect. However, you are correct on one thing here. We do not have the right to impose our values on other countries. If Iran suddenly had a revolution, and everyone in that society had a free vote—they can choose whatever they wish their country to look like. My challenge still stands though—find me one country that has chosen to ignore what are widely considered “basic human rights” when given that choice—the point is—we wouldn’t need to force our values on them…they’d just do it on their own, if history has any predictive power.

    Next, you create a straw man when you talk about killing. In my previous answer, I did not say “killing”. I said “murder”. There is a difference. I agree with you on killing. My question, so it is clear this time, what prevents you from murdering your neighbor because of something trivial? Is it just the law and fear of punishment or is it something else?

    You are still not correct on Abedini. His case is going on now. He is only charged with being a Christian. Period. Nothing else. He was there to work in orphanages. The government does not like him because 10 years ago he wanted to set up a church. However, he is NOT being charged for that. His rap sheet reads one word: “Christian”. He is on trial for his life because of his beliefs. You cannot change that fact and assume he did something else when there is no evidence for that, nor any charges being laid against him for that. (Cont)

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  6. I also disagree with your comments on slavery. Again, the fact that some societies do not recognize that slavery is “wrong” does not mean that it is “right”. Again, name the society, where all members of that society have the opportunity to speak—not just the privileged few that haveupheld slavery? You can’t do that because it doesn’t exist. Don’t point to those countries and say, “see I’m right!”—at least not until you count the votes of those in chains! Also, do not compare the ability to fight for a right to the willingness to fight for a right. If we played by that logic, we may still have slavery in this country… That argument just doesn’t work.

    You write that “people can only apply a right to themselves”. That is just false. I can’t pick and choose what rights I think I have and which I do not. That is a recipe for me to end up violating laws of my country. But I do agree with you on morality, in the way you use it here. I don’t believe that there is an eternal universal moral code or human rights list. These things DO change with time. What is moral and a “right” today may not have been in the past, and may not be in the future. We can only speak about today. However, I do not think that our disagreement has to do with the time component of the word “universal”. To be clear, I am arguing for “global” human rights, that exist today—not several hundred years ago or several hundred years from now.

    To sum up, it would seem like you are the one who is ignoring history and reality and claiming a global (if you prefer that word better, that is fine) human rights list does not exist, simply because you do not want it to, not me—as you accused. History and reality both reflect my argument. Unless you can start naming societies where all members (excepting children of course) have the right to voice their opinion that reject such concepts, your argument doesn’t pan out, has no evidence to support it, and is basically a fallacy of “special exception”—you can’t point to a handful of dictators to prove your case.

    Good conversation though, I like being forced to think!

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