Sunday, April 24, 2011

Human Rights Watch and Modernity

Reform in Saudi Arabia: At a snail's pace | The Economist: "A recent report on political reform in Saudi Arabia by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby group, argues that although gradual changes are welcome, unless they are properly institutionalised the kingdom risks sliding backwards again, as it has done many times before. “Newly gained freedoms are, for the most part, neither extensive nor firmly grounded,” the report concludes. “The limited reform that has taken place suggests the elite is still floating trial balloons, undecided about the type of government and society it wants to steer towards.”

On some specific human-rights issues, the report praises the kingdom’s progress: reform of the justice system, women’s rights and freedom of expression. Yet it notes with concern that, whereas legal reform is one of the areas where changes are under way, new courts have yet to materialise, and new, transparent procedures have yet to be put into practice. Greater freedom of speech is not codified, and so remains subject to arbitrary intervention by the state. Earlier this year, a newspaper editor made the mistake of printing a blunt critique of puritan religious beliefs, and was summarily fired. As for women’s rights, an official loosening of the ban against the mixing of the sexes in public places has not been widely implemented. The same goes for an ostensible liberalisation of rules that require women to have a male “guardian”. Women are still forbidden to drive.

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What business is it of Human Rights Watch to try to change Saudi Arabia's culture?

These westerners want all cultures to be the same - a universal monoculture. Western culture, of course. After all, there is only one legitimate civilisation in the world, Western civilisation. All other civilisations and cultures fail to measure up to this ideal.

Anthropologists and sociologists may foam at the mouth trying to explain that cultures are different, the product of their history and environment, but imperialists like Human Rights Watch will turn a deaf ear. If a woman does not drive, she is not a modern woman.

Thus Grace Davie, in her book 'Sociology of Religion, has pointed out that: "Once again, it is the application of the concept [of modernity] elsewhere that causes the difficulty - a way of working that leads quickly to the conclusion that any society or group of societies that does not conform to the patterns of Western modernity is in some sense less than modern (my italics)." Thus, she, and other sociologists, are more comfortable with the notion of 'modernities', rather than 'modernity'.

But reason is powerless against imperialists: they have to be beaten back with weapons of destruction. If your way of life is threatened, you have to fight back.

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