Is the idea of human rights a universal concept, or does it represent Western cultural imperialism?
What do we know about human rights? According to the United Nations definition, “human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status.” All humans are equal in their rights without any discrimination. In this article, I will analyze the difference of understanding of human rights between the Western and the Eastern worlds and will try to answer the question: Is the idea of human rights a universal concept, or does it represent Western cultural imperialism? James Paul and Joe Stork state “Most human rights advocates agree that rights are not universal and abstract, but rather embedded in human culture and history”. Let us find out if their statement is true.
During all the human history, people were struggling for their rights. The need to protect their rights had appeared together with the inequality. When some people became richer than the other did, they became to dominate. People with more resources and more money have more power than those, who have no access to the goods. Such situations lead to inequality and domination. In this case, one becomes to lose its freedom and gets into full dependence of another. This is how the vassal system had appeared on the Middle Ages and slavery in the eighteen century. Both, vassals and slaves, were oppressed and limited in their rights. However, at that time there were no any organization that protected human rights. Moreover, the very concept of human rights did not exist. Nevertheless, people felt injustice of their state. Times had shown that both vassal system and slavery did not represent the interests of every member of the society. Moreover, economist concluded, that the nation would get more wealth when all its members have equal opportunity to work and are paid for the work according to their results. The economy will develop and prosper when all members are motivated and are free to choose any type of work. Nowadays a special organization that protects human rights exists – the United Nations. This organization was formed in 1948 after the Second World War. After this horrible page in human history, people understood the necessity of the supranational world control and peaceful settlement of disputes as well as the prevention of a new war. The Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. This document “states basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all human beings are entitled.” The Basic Human Rights are:
Right to live;
Right to move and look for safe place to live;
Respect to nationality;
Presumption of innocence – we are not guilty until prove converse.
“The main principles of these rights are their universality”. It means, that people all over the world, no matter what nationality, gender or age, have these rights and may protect them if necessary. The goal of the United Nations is very lofty and noble: to ensure equal access of human rights to all inhabitants of the Earth as well as the protection of these rights. Unfortunately, what we have in reality does not look so lofty and noble. I will explain what I mean.
It is understood, that every person in the world wants to live in peace, to eat enough food, to have possibility to educate and choose what to do for living. It is difficult to imagine, but less than one hundred years ago all these natural for us things were not possible for many women around the world including Europe and the USA – countries, where human rights are fully respected. Thanks to the feminism movement and the era of emancipation, nowadays men and women are totally equal in their rights.
Women became full members of society who are able not only to take care of children but also to benefit the society. Nowadays women run their business, become heads of companies and even countries. One of the first world example of female president is Sri Lanka where “Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first female prime minister in 1960”. The USA are also close to have their first female president if Hilary Clinton wins the elections in 2016. “After the first Afro-American president, the best solution for the USA and world democracy is to elect the first female president” The Western world finds such society structure with full respect and implementation of human rights the only wright way. In addition, they may have such point of view. When we speak about the western world, their road to respect of human rights can be named evolutional - people had been developing the idea of human rights for centuries. As the result, all developed countries of the western world have archived the goal of the ubiquity of human rights. Unfortunately, western society did not stop there. It decided to penetrate their ideas in other parts of the world. Let us discuss to what consequences they have reached.
In contrast to the Western world, we can name the Eastern world. In the English language, a proverb exists: “the East is a delicate matter”. This proverb tells us about the existence of differences between Western and Eastern styles of life. Many theories were developed and many articles were written on the term of the Eastern peculiarities for the Western mentality. Most people have admitted this issue. For example, economists, who want to run business in the East, study in details the eastern business ethics and other aspects of the eastern style of life. To my mind, the only category of people who prefer to ignore or not to notice the difference between two parts of the world are politicians. They consider the East as just an imperfect part of the world that want to become identically to the West. With this purpose, politicians developed the strategy of the spread of the democracy, including the idea of the respect of human rights according to The Declaration. In recent years, the Western world, at the head with the USA, is interfering in the internal affairs of states under the pretext of protecting human rights and democracy support. The most object lessons are the intervention in Iraq, Syria and Libya. It is a well-known fact that such innervations resulted in armed clashes with a great amount of dead and injured in these counties. For example, in Iraq “according to UNHCR, there are 1.9 million internally displaced people and 2 million refugees escaped to neighboring countries” The situation in Syria does not look better. According to a new report, “470 000 or more than 1 in 10 Syrians have been wounded or killed since the beginning of the war in 2011”. The public model in these counties failed to meet the democratic style. Human rights according to the Declaration were not always followed and protected. In order to protect democracy and human rights, the Western world provides military and financial assistance to opposition movements.
In their actions, they guided by the principle: “If you not come to democracy, democracy come to you”. The question we ask: Is it a wright way to behave? We have mentioned above, that the Western world came to the idea of human rights in an evolutionary way. What do they suggest to the Eastern world is a revolutionary way. Nowadays the situation in the Eastern world looks like the democracy and human rights are imposed with the help of a weapon. To my mind, such situation is immoral and is contrary to all the principles of the international law as the right of States to the self-determination. The peculiarities of the Eastern style of life are not considered. The centuries-old way of life, cultural traditions and the religion of Islam made this region different from the Western world. In such situation, the Western world contradicts to its own actions: is trying to protect human rights but is violating them at the same time.
Moreover, the Western culture became imperialistic thanks to the mass media. Western Cultural Imperialism is one of the tendencies of the twenty first century. Let give us the definition to this process. Western culture imperialism is “the process by which a dominant foreign culture exerts social and economic pressure on other social institutions and cultures to promote their values and practices, at the expense of native ones”. It goes without saying, that the most powerful country in the world is the USA and the dominant culture is the Western. That is why Western cultural imperialism very often is called the Americanization. Nowadays, with the spread of internet, television and other types of mass media, cultural boundaries have been erasing. “What Hollywood movies and Luce’s publications did for the 20th century, Google, Twitter, Facebook and Netflix are doing now”. People all over the world drink Coca-Cola, wear Zara or Adidas and watch movies produced by the Hollywood Company Production. “A clear example of how the world eagerly becomes Americanized can be seen in the recent appearance of U.S. chain restaurants in Asian countries.” I would like to use the Starbucks example. According to the official information, there are “nearly 600 stores in 12 Middle Eastern and North African countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and United Arab Emirates”. Moreover, “Starbucks predicts a 2% growth in 2016 comparable sales in Asia.” After analyzing these statements, we can say that the Western culture is penetrating in every part of the world. People from the East, especially the youth, are becoming imbued with the ideas of the Western culture and are trying to copy it. Together with cultural peculiarities, the Western style of life is penetrating to the East through movies, books and music. Without any weapon, the idea of human rights erased in the Eastern mentality. Young people from eastern countries, who were growing according to the eastern traditions, began to analyze their opportunity of life with those of the Western world. Very often, they concluded that the Western style of life is more preferable and acceptable for them. This leads to the “brain drain” – the situation when specialist from all over the world move to the USA because of higher salary and better opportunities in life. For example, “150,000 Iranian professionals leave the country each year, giving Iran one of the highest rates of “brain drain” in the Middle East.” When this happened, eastern women enter universities and do a career instead of devoting themselves to the family. “They began in so-called "women's professions," such as nursing and teaching, traditional in Europe and gradually becoming so in the lands of Islam”. The freedom of thoughts is gaining momentum in the Eastern world.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the answer of the question “Is the idea of human rights a universal concept, or does it represent Western cultural imperialism?” is ambiguous. It is impossible to say that the idea of human rights is only a universal concept or only represents Western cultural imperialism. To my mind, it is both. The history of the western civilization has shown that people concluded civil rights and freedoms the best and only public way of life that brings more benefits. As I see, the Eastern world is still on the road to such understanding. I am sure that in a short time the eastern civilization will conclude the importance of human rights protection. However, it does not mean full copy of the Western lifestyle. The blind imitation of the Western lifestyle is not the best solution. Western cultural imperialism, which we can see today, has both pros and cons. One of the largest pros is the spread of the idea of human rights. Of course, it is a positive effect of the Americanization because people find out that they are free and equal by their nature and nobody has a right to limit this freedom. Unfortunately, the process of the Americanization does not limited to culture and takes political overtones. What, in its turn, leads to armed conflicts in the East. In my opinion, when we speak about the idea of human rights, it is necessary:
Not to impose universal principles for everybody;
Only mutual respect between countries and people will lead to the world where all human rights are respected. In such a world, our children and we will be happy to live.
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