The Rise of Cultural Exceptionalism

4803 Words Apr 4th, 2014 20 Pages
In May 2000, the Taliban, who rule most of Afghanistan, ordered a mother of seven to be stoned to death for adultery in front of an ecstatic stadium of men and children. The year before, the House of Lords -- Britain's highest court -- had allowed two Pakistani women accused of adultery to claim refugee status in the United Kingdom, since they risked public flogging and death by stoning at home. Women today are denied the vote and the right to drive cars in several Arab states, and harsh versions of shari`a (Islamic law) punishment are spreading to Sudan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Still, the Taliban's repression remains in a class by itself: denying women the right to leave home except when accompanied by a brother or husband and
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Although these legal instruments allow some restrictions in time of national emergency, they brook no cultural exceptionalism.

But more and more, such universalist claims are being challenged. And so the argument must be joined: are human rights truly universal, or are they a product of the decadent West that has no relevance in other societies?

COMMON CAUSE

The postwar flourishing of human rights has featured two dynamic elements: globalization and individualization. Against both a backlash has emerged.

Globalization has been achieved by drafting basic codes of protection and, to the extent possible in a decentralized world, by monitoring and promoting compliance. Inevitably, this scrutiny has come into conflict with notions of state sovereignty. When the Commission of Experts overseeing compliance with the ICCPR found Jamaica to have violated the treaty through its administration of the death penalty, Jamaica responded by withdrawing from the ICCPR provision that allows individuals to make complaints to the commission. Jamaica's defense in that case was typical: respect our culture, our unique problems. When it comes to the treatment of our own people, we want sovereignty, not globalism.

Sovereignty, however, is not what it used to be. Beginning in the mid-1950s, the global system