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Human Rights Are Not Optional

I know I’ve said it before. I know I’m repeating myself. I still can’t believe it needs saying at all.

You can’t trade human rights for expedience. It does not work. It’s not only bad, as in BAD, but it achieves less than nothing. Let me run through a couple of obvious examples. (After all, if their message hasn’t gotten across yet, they must bear repeating.)

Slavery. In recent times, it created–and still creates–suffering among blacks. No particularly startling insight there. It held back the economic development of the US South for over a hundred years, and the area still hasn’t caught up. It created whole swathes of whites who have to believe in fear and hatred to justify what was and is done. It led to a disastrous war that would never have happened if slavery had been outlawed from the birth of the republic. It wasn’t outlawed then because the rights of a bunch of blacks wasn’t worth the trouble of arguing with a bunch of much richer whites.

Anti-semitism. This one is overused to the point of coma, so why haven’t we learned the lessons yet? Before the Second World War ground in its awful message, some anti-semitism was quite acceptable. It’s been lost in the fog of embarrassment just how normal it was to ignore Russian pogroms or to subscribe to conspiracy theories about world domination by a cabal of Jewish bankers. But even so, Kristallnacht, the night of November 9, 1938 that was a lynch party to end all lynch parties, should have been an alarm loud enough to wake the morally dead. However, at the time the rights of a bunch of Jews wasn’t worth the trouble of taking on a military superpower. It didn’t save anyone from having to deal with the Nazis eventually, of course. It just made it a lot more costly.

Moving right along to what caused me to go on this rant, the following is a quote from one of the best, most insightful, and most intelligent left wing bloggers:

Like most extreme reactionary movements, Al Qaeda has no meaningful economic or political program …. But what it does have going for it are wide and deep fears of cultural penetration and Western domination …. These are precisely the fears the administration and the neocons appear determined to stoke with their sweeping demands for “democratic” but slavishly pro-American regimes, privatization, women’s rights, Western-style individualism, etc.

This is like those lists on an SAT: “Find the element that does not belong. Red. Green. Blue. Purple. Concrete.” Putting “women’s rights” in amongst privatization and puppet regimes sets at nothing the unbelievable courage of people who try to give an education to girls in Afghanistan, or who try to help the victims of sexual crimes in countries where blaming the victim is taken for granted. It sets at nothing the superhuman efforts of the Shirin Ebadi’s of the world who are using every ounce of their strength to get at least some of the most basic human rights for the female half of the population in their countries. By implying that we should deny truth to avoid offending tyrants–we who would lose nothing but some money if we did–he sets at nothing the sacrifices of life, limb, sanity, and family that every fighter for human rights risks under those tyrants.

But human rights are a luxury, right? People who aren’t even really men can’t be worth an argument with a bunch of guys with their heads up their seventh centuries. Think about it. These guys have both oil AND guns. It’ll be different this time. It’ll really be much easier, much cheaper, much less painful if we don’t let the rights of these minor groups interfere with the big picture. It’s never worked before, and right now it’s making us more dependent on oil, more involved in wars, and it’s breeding more drug-resistant epidemics in more failed states. But if we just ignore people’s rights harder than ever, this time it will work.