Yale Amnesty International’s recent Human Rights Week focusing on the Freedom of Expression did well to add its voice to Yalies’ historical demonstrations for civil rights in the American South and in South Africa, for the liberation of Soviet Jewry, and against political murders in Chile. But Amnesty International’s public celebration of the United Nations and its Declaration of Human Rights betray the contemporary perversion of concern for human rights concern: a mindless transnationalist impulse.
What makes the U.N. sacred guardians of what is right? The U.N. covers for the most inhumane states of the world. When we Yalies, Americans, find the most tyrannical, oppressive, misogynist and racist regimes more useful than truth and the affection of their leaders more important than the freedom of the men and women they oppress, then we have lost our way.
The muddled thinking begins with repugnance toward American missteps. The logic goes: “How can an imperfect America castigate the warts of other sovereignties”? We talk about Guantanamo and Iraq, but never about the political imprisonment of Cuba, the food riots in China, the outright slavery in Africa, and the female genital mutilation and honor killings of the Muslim world.
In America, shamefully, the poor don’t share in all the blessings of contemporary American life; in China, they starve. In America, women still confront a glass ceiling, while over 100 million Arab and African girls have had parts of their sexual organs cut off. This goes far beyond a question of equal economic opportunity. Lest these girls develop as full, independent human beings, they are cut and destroyed. How can we be concerned about the treatment of animals when our own human sisters are treated worse?
Cubans may not be able to cashier their malicious governors, but that’s OK, because those governors promise universal health care, and we all want that. (Few of us know what that would mean, but never mind.) Even if it were true that all Cubans had health care, only the most incorrigible racist could claim that Cubans need not be privileged to the rights we Americans enjoy and, rightly, demand.
We venerate the noble savage we have created, that part-man, part-beast who lives a romantic life that we want to see but not experience. We keep around what Irshad Manji, Muslim Canadian author, journalist and activist, calls “desert Islam” because we find it stimulating to look at from time to time, the way it’s stimulating to look at an African snake in the zoo. To demand the rights of Africans would be to destroy their romantic native societies. True, but the demand that Americans no longer burn witches was also to end a quaint local custom.
We should not tolerate the human wrongs of the Third World because we imagine this silence cements solidarity with its citizenry or because America has its own transgressions. Nor can we accept the immunity-based argument for national sovereignty. Once a government systematically violates the most basic rights of its citizens, that government has forfeited all claims to legitimate rule.
Yalies who want to serve the public would do better to speak out for an ideology that is right and not one that is currently in vogue. We should not fear that some different-looking tyrant or his apologist will call us racist or, worse, American, when we say that his people ought to be free in body and mind. Conservatives will hear the truth in my criticism of the Third World but will dismiss me as hopelessly idealistic to believe we can change it. I fear that liberals will not hear me at all, as they have abandoned the true love of human rights while embracing the notion that the state of being the Third World is an unimpeachable virtue in and of itself.
Michael Pomeranz is a sophomore in Silliman College and the chairman of the Conservative Party.