December 10, 2008


(With Apologies to Thomas Paine)

The worst speculative Sceptic ever I knew, was a much better Man than the best superstitious Devotee & Bigot.

-- David Hume in a letter to Gilbert Elliot of Minto, March 10, 1751

The concept of the natural rights of man has been recognized for some time. In some of the earliest known writings on the topic, the Stoics of ancient Greece described slavery as an unnatural, or external condition of man. The philosophy of sui juris, or the freedom of the human soul was espoused in many writings of the day.

It is a mistake to imagine that slavery pervades a man's whole being; the better part of him is exempt from it: the body indeed is subjected and in the power of a master, but the mind is independent, and indeed is so free and wild, that it cannot be restrained even by this prison of the body, wherein it is confined.

-- Seneca the Younger, De beneficiis, III, 20.

According to Judge Christopher G. Weeramantry in his book Justice Without Frontiers, even early Islamic law denies any master or ruler the ability to take away from his slaves or subjects “certain rights which inhere in his or her person as a human being." Islamic rulers could not take away certain rights from their subjects on the basis that they "become rights by reason of the fact that they are given to a subject by a law and from a source which no ruler can question or alter.”

Folks today figure human rights are something we have been able to take for granted for a very long time; probably since the days our Founding Fathers crafted that most durable of documents. But all our Constitution and Bill of Rights achieved was to recognize these rights. Ask a veteran who witnessed the carnage of Nazi death camps, the relative of a holocaust victim, or a survivor of the atrocities in some of the former Soviet republics. More recent examples are to be found in Laos, Rawanda, Congo, Darfur, and Somalia.

The oldsters who survived the Great Depression understand that what we today consider “natural,” “God Given,” or “inalienable” rights may be just that, but it takes human intervention to protect and guarantee these rights.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

-- First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Our current concept of inalienable rights, and that same idea voiced by our Founding Fathers, has roots in the teachings of the 17th century English empiricist philosopher, John Locke. When Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” he was shamelessly plagiarizing Locke. The original Locke quote, however, mentioned nothing about happiness. Locke professed that man had the natural rights to “Life, Liberty, and Private Property.” Recognizing that most potential American citizens owned no property, Jefferson edited it slightly to make it more palatable to the huddled masses.

On to Modern History, and the reason for this post:

Today is a day of which we should be quite proud. It is the 60th anniversary of the day the whole world came together to recognize the rights we now take for granted. United Nations General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10, widely known as The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a proud achievement of the body, spearheaded by a proud lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. It passed a floor vote of the fledgling United Nations general assembly 48 – 0. Quite the success.

What a difference 60 years makes.

A few months back, at the June 16 U.N. Human Rights Council session, a gentleman by the name of David Littman attempted to deliver a joint statement by the Association for World Education, International Humanist and Ethical Union.

“In the context of integrating the human rights of women throughout the United Nations system we wish to draw attention to four examples of widespread violence against women that we believe merits far greater attention from the council. One, regarding FGM [female genital mutilation], we are making available our detailed written statement…”

That was as far as he got before being gaveled silent by President of the Council, Romanian Doru Costea. What followed were a series of points of order offered by the representatives of Egypt, Pakistan, Slovenia and Iran that essentially led to President Costea silencing Mr. Littman. The crux of the argument, so eloquently parlayed by the representative from Egypt, was that “Islam was being crucified.” Thus ended the most recent effort to stand up for the rights of women in Islamic culture.

"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own"

-- Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

Now on to Current Events:

Back in November world leaders gathered at the United Nations for a special session of the General Assembly with the aim to “advance interfaith dialogue.” Saudi King Abdullah had been quietly organizing a 56 nation (Islamic, of course) effort in support of a U.N. resolution that would criminalize blasphemy. The whole deal started back in March at a conference in Spain. King Abdullah was promoting

“respect for religions, their places of worship, and their symbols ... therefore preventing the derision of what people consider sacred."

While the authors of this proposed resolution claim to have no particular religious bias, it is of interest that Islam is the only religion specifically named. The resolution...

expresses deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.”

While the idea of protecting folks from offensive speech might be attractive to some, a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor by Donald Argue and Leonard Leo reminds us that appearances can be deceiving. The authors call this proposed declaration a “cleverly coded way of granting religious leaders the right to criminalize speech and activities that they deem to insult religion.” The Law of Unintended (or perhaps intentional) consequences May come into play here, as this just might be a means of sustaining the state religion. I can think of a lot of zealots who would like that one, but I find it a bit frightening.

Argue and Leo correctly advise that we “should have no illusions that their efforts will miraculously promote mutual respect between religious communities or end abuses of religious freedom.” In fact, quite the opposite is much more likely, and in fact has already happened.

“A British primary school teacher in Sudan has been given a tough lesson in cultural sensitivity. 54-year-old Gillian Gibbons has been arrested and accused of blasphemy with police claiming that she insulted Islam's prophet by allowing her class of six and seven-year-olds to name a teddy bear [Muhammad].”

-- The World Today - Tuesday, 27 November, 2007. Reporter: Barney Porter

So, what sounds good on the surface will much more likely cause more division and repression than it could ever prevent. The rights of man are precious. Instead of limiting free speech, perhaps we should learn to practice tolerance. Instead of enacting laws restricting the rights of those we abhor, perhaps we should learn not to abhor the person or the act.

More than ever there is an urgent need to work toward fulfillment of Eleanor Roosevelt’s dream of rights guaranteed for every human of ever culture, race and creed.

Every human has the responsibility to practice tolerance and promote the ideals embodied in our Constitution and this Universal Declaration of Human Rights Resolution. This resolution encompasses the fundamental philosophies of every religion and of every rational philosophy; a determined effort is needed to bring the dream to fruit.




Rogue Medic said...

The ability to speak my ideas freely requires that I respect the right of others to do the same.

The ability to practice my religion freely requires that I respect the right of others to do the same.

Both of these are missing from this "anti-blasphemy" movement. This would actually legislate blasphemy.

MiniKat said...

But is it blasphemy to alleged blasphemer if they do not hold the words or the objects/beings in the subject sacred?

Things to muse upon...

Rogue Medic said...

MiniKat (worm wrangler),

This seems to be all about an Islamic person claiming to be the victim, rather than dictionary definition of blasphemy.

If you object to the gang rape of a woman for sitting in a car with an unrelated male, you are blaspheming. Imagine how horrible this must be for those poor men to have to participate in a gang rape. But it is for her own good and they will get over it. I am in awe of the suffering these men must endure to keep women on the straight and narrow.

For me to suggest otherwise would be blasphemous. As it is to practice any other religion, but Islam. And in countries with one dominant Islamic sect, it is blasphemous to be a member of the non-dominant sect. Again, for me to suggest otherwise would be blasphemous.

Anonymous said...

Second try at this. Had a problem with openid. Other sites let you access openid without actually signing in at that site. Yours wouldn't let me do that.

Found your site in a round about way. Like what I've seen (and will be back regularly) - been sampling randomly and have a few comments:

Any one who lists "Glory Road" as a favorite becomes a person of interest and a potential friend.

Got hung up for two hours reading a part of Comanche on Google. You're right - a good book and thanks for pointing it out.

For any one who embraces the concept of free speech, blasphemy is a non-issue used by folks still hung up on the superstitions the rest of us usually describe as religion.

One addition you might think about - some sites have a "Contact Me" or similar button that lets readers reach you without using the comment forum. I like this feature as I sometimes have a comment or information to share that is off topic - kinda hate to break the flow of others' comments with off topic stuff. What do do think?

Glad I found your site. I like the way you express yourself. Sure hope you continue!

Mule Breath... said...

jeg43, thanks for the kind words and the suggestion to add an email link. That has been suggested before, but I'm just getting started on this blog and find I am a slow learner.

Do you blog or have a web page? Your particular comment regarding christianity is a good one.

Anonymous said...

Mule Breath,
Nope, I just have a slowly growing list of sites I look at damn near daily. Sometimes I read and think and sometime I read and think and shoot off my mouth - so to speak. Sometimes I even manage to miss my foot - thank you for the compliment on my comment.
I would like to add that I meant it to be more generic than for just christianity. It may be shocking, but the followers of the Spaghetti Monster can get a little frothy around the gills at times - even if just in fun. After almost sixty six years I've accepted that excess in and of anything nearly always brings grief - so I try to read and listen more than I talk.
Hope you're well, and as the Eskimos say, sometime again. . .

One Fly said...

I think it's time my bud jeg started one of his own. He'd be real good at it.