is human rights a “western” idea?

through the process of organizing a rally asking for democracy and the restoration of justice in pakistan i have come to a new understanding of how “human rights” are viewed by many in the pakistani community. it is astounding to me that those who have immigrated to the united states and enjoy freedom and at least some recourse to a somewhat independent judiciary in their new country, can rationalize that people back home might not need similar freedoms. i am shocked to hear statements such as “many in the community support martial law” or “if musharraf goes the taliban will take over, therefore let him stay”.

how easy it is for us, sitting here in our half-a-million-dollar suburban homes and driving our mercs and oversized SUVs to dismiss a grassroots movement asking for justice and human rights, halfway across the globe in pakistan, where we only go to attend lavish weddings and shop for clothes and jewelry. are we not guilty of the same racism immensely popular with western governments? that human rights and democracy are only good for people with a certain skin color. that in countries like pakistan military dictatorships are more conducive to stability – even if it is always at the cost of human rights. that the people of pakistan cannot be trusted to make their own decisions and therefore decisions must be made for them by the likes of musharraf – kept in power by american military aid and so answerable to america, not the people of pakistan. i guess that we ourselves have bought into the ridiculous idea that human rights are not for us – we can’t handle them.

in the letter we sent to our senators and congressmen (posted 11/21/07) my husband and i talk about the people being sent to jail and house arrested by the pakistani government. we describe the lawyers, retired justices, journalists and activists who have been musharraf’s prime targets as “secular-minded, liberal, tolerant, middle class professionals”. one pakistani found that offensive and asked what we meant by that label. three words: muhammed ali jinnah! the founder of pakistan was a secular-minded, liberal, tolerant, middle class professional so what’s so repugnant about it? why do we translate these words to mean “american sellout”? since when has education, professionalism or tolerance become counter-culture in pakistan? the same man then takes a jab at pakistanis asking for human rights in pakistan by proclaiming that they have “misplaced identities”. since when has religious radicalism, conservatism, intolerance and being either lower class or upper class (as opposed to middle class) been more in line with being pakistani? that’s absolute bullshit.

for those who think that it’s all about american sellouts pandering to the west’s spiel about democracy, watch this documentary by ziad zafar called “missing in pakistan”. a lot of the confrontation between the judiciary and musharraf started with a case filed by amina masood and others demanding that their disappeared husbands and sons be accounted for. shockingly enough, the case was taken up by the supreme court chief justice iftikhar chaudhry. this is when musharraf summarily fired him and the country, led by its legal community, erupted in violent protest. look closely at amina masood’s face – that’s the face of pakistan and that is who we should be siding with. amina masood is a teacher. she is middle class, educated, articulate, strong and in your face. in the west she would be called an activist, a feminist. yet should we turn away from her because she embodies all the great ideals we absurdly attribute to the west? is she an american sellout too?

granted the west’s spiel about democracy, as it applies to less developed countries, is insincere and used to window dress its own selfish economic and political interests, but there is nothing wrong with the ideology itself. there is nothing wrong with human rights, individual freedoms, democracy or justice. people in pakistan know that and they are fighting for it with their lives. we don’t have as much to lose, sitting comfortably on our asses out here in the land of plenty. is simply supporting that struggle from your leather armchair too much to ask?

documentary “missing in pakistan” by ziad zafar:

also watch this pbs documentary on the same subject.

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