Sigmund Freund would have a field day about the not so subtle push to bring a universal norm of behavior in human rights in our world today, considering the zeal by which political and social shortcomings in the Third World are vilified in the developed countries, many of them former slave-owning countries. From absurd accusations of slavery being practiced in Haiti to indignations over women’s second-class status in African and the Middle Eastern societies, the list of malevolence attributed to the less developed countries is endless and unforgiving. Naturally, no human being, familiar with the enlightenment ideas of the great philosophers of the 17th and 18th century, could conceivably countenance these obviously abhorrent practices. But it seems that the developed world, whose less than stellar record on these abnormal human behavior is a matter of historical, if not common, knowledge to all, has established itself as the ultimate judge of decency and enforcer of values in contrast with its own failings.
No doubt humanity could not have progressed without the constant fusion of cultures, which straddled our primitive beginning to the present, although much more remain to be accomplished. However, the notion that any set of principles (economic, religious, social, political) should be forced upon others, in complete disregard of cultural, ethnic and other idiosyncrasies, may actually set back the ongoing process of achieving mutual understanding among humans. This predisposition of the developed world, at times haughty and punitive toward countries that fail to toe the line, must be reconsidered for the good of humanity, since it breeds resentment and constitutes a latent threat to universal peace. Not surprisingly, even some of the western world’s most harmless practices are perceived as a threat to self-determination by others.
For example, in lawless and Islamic Somalia, a militant group, al-shabab, recently banned the use of bells as a method to signal the end of classes in areas under its control, because they are perceived as Christian symbols, thus a threat to the people’s religion and culture. Taking into account the muezzin’s call to prayers, which can be annoying to non-Muslims, one can argue that these people are unreasonable and intolerant. However this somewhat incomprehensible edict, which undoubtedly cannot be theologically validated by any Muslim scholar or Imam, should not be instinctively dismissed as the work of extremists. It is part of a growing trend in many Third world countries centering on regaining control of their destiny through reinforcement or application of neglected indigenous values, which in most cases ran counter to the West’s own.
One palpable example is homosexuality: a social behavior as old as humanity itself and present in every country. In Africa, however, a survey conducted this year shows that in some countries 98% of the respondents disapprove the practice and favor banning it through criminal prosecutions which, taking into account the Kinsey study on sexual behavior, could only mean that even those practicing homosexuality consider it atypical. Yet, when Uganda moved to pass a legislation that would provide the death penalty for certain homosexual acts, particularly pedophilia, the West reacted with dismay and helped squash the move. Was it a genuine concern for human rights or transference of guilt? Understandably, homosexuality is a human rights issue and rightly so, but it was wrong for the West to interfere in the internal affairs of a small nation trying to protect its youths considering that sex tourism is a major problem in the Third World.
Also, labeling child domestication in Haiti as “modern slavery” trivializes a word which, like the Holocaust, stands as a powerful remainder to human’s indecency and predatory instinct. Child domestication, which stems from the appalling socio-economic conditions existing in Haiti, could not possibly be equated with the transatlantic slave trade that spanned three centuries and cost millions of African lives. Is it a genuine concern for the welfare of Haitian children or transference of guilt over the role played by the West in the destruction of Haiti? While the practice is unquestionably abhorrent and ought to be eradicated, its condemnation is coming from the wrong corner, as the same conditions prevailed in Europe and the U.S at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, when children as young as 10 years old were forced to work more than 12 hours a day.
Furthermore when the sub-Saharan African countries were given the opportunity to self-govern from the late 1950’s to the 1980’s, few of them had any institutions of higher learning and the industrial structure necessary to sustain social, political and economic development. Nonetheless, the disingenuous commentaries from western media, lamenting the appalling social and economic conditions in these countries, put the blame exclusively on poor and corrupt leadership. While China’s development aid to Africa is derided for its lack of emphasis on human rights, France’s dismantling of Guinea’s telephone system before granting that country its independence in October 1958 elicited no condemnation. Once again, is it a genuine concern for the welfare of Africans or transference of guilt over the West’s immoral actions in Africa?
The West seems unwilling to accept the reality that economic exploitation and political domination deprive the Third World countries the opportunity to attain social and political maturity and violate the premise of human rights. Naturally, it is bound to affect the existing geopolitical realities. Transference of guilt is certainly not the answer because human rights are a universal aspiration that differs according to a nation’s needs.