Thursday, February 19, 2009

Realistic Expectations of Idealism

by Aerin Curtis

edited by Cristina Mutchler

If I were to write an editorial responding to President Mugabe’s assertions of former President Bush’s “rank hypocrisy” concerning human rights violations by the US I would try to keep it in perspective. I would present the allegations and discuss them, because I don’t think that either side can be catered to exclusively. However, in writing such an article, it would be impossible not to mention that President Mugabe does not stand on the moral high-ground. I would have to include the reported violations practiced in his country. Also, I would reference the results of these two affairs – the trials of those involved in Abu Ghraib and the closing of Guantanamo Bay – as examples of how the US is trying to move past these issues and toward a more thorough expression of human rights.

In response to those countries/people who criticize the US of violating international human rights on the issues of extraordinary renditions and wiretapping I would begin by explicating that these are issues of two separate degrees. First, wire tapping, though reprehensible, is done to differing degrees by many countries - legally or illegally. The US does grant its citizens the right to privacy, but we allowed, for several, equally unconvincing, reasons many of our personal privacies to be invaded when the Patriot Act passed. Now, we have to deal with the consequences. I hate that this happened, but I am also aware that the kind of personal freedoms we take for granted don’t exist in many other countries. I am especially aware of this after having lived in England - where your picture is taken routinely by the security cameras that are on many, if not all, street corners – and knowing that many companies reserve the right to go through the computers, and email of their employees. Ultimately, wire tapping is an invasion of privacy, regardless of how it is presented, the US is not the only country that violates it, but it may be one that will eventually cease doing so. That said, the US being involved in extraordinary rendition is more problematic. I think this is most likely a case where my response would be to point out that governments sometimes are hypocritical in their desire for security. The US has an anti-torture policy because it professes to uphold international codes of human rights. The country provides asylum for people whose rights have been violated in other countries. That the US fails to live up to its own standards at times, is tragic, but it doesn’t negate the positive things the country has done. If for no other reason, then that no country has a perfect record on these issues.

The US’s violations of international human rights would have to be considered when writing about other nations that have similar violations. However, in writing about other countries the base line would be in the international codes of human rights, not the actions of the US. Just because the country tries to play the world’s watchdog does not mean that they succeed or that the US’s successes or failures should be taken as representative of achievable human rights practices. Any country can be fallible, but the point is to look beyond that and strive toward something better.

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