Double Standards, Racism and Human Rights
By Shaza Zafer Al Jundi, Ph.D
Is the West racist toward Muslims and Arabs?
“Anti-Arab racism is rampant in the United States and much of the West, there’s no question about that. The only kind of racism that can be openly expressed with outrage is anti-Arab racism. You don’t put caricatures of blacks in the newspapers any more; you do put caricatures of Arabs”.
Noam Chomsky on racist attitudes towards Arabs(1)
Racism has been an ugly reality in the history of humankind and continues to flourish to varying degrees throughout the world. The Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and various international covenants prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race or color, yet persistent and flagrant racism remains. The principal challenge to the notion of the universality of human rights is the politicisation of human rights and double standards.
The events of "September 11" have had a negative impact on the efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. "September 11" had provoked racist reactions against Muslims, Arabs and other Middle Eastern groups in a number of Western countries. There has been an increase in insults and physical assaults against members of Muslim communities and destruction of properties including places of worship and cultural centers. This was confirmed by the report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.(2)
Fomenting anti-Arabanti-Muslim racism has not been difficult because, as Noam Chomsky puts it, such racism has "long been extreme, the last legitimate form of racism in that one doesn t even have to pretend to conceal it." I do not want to minimize all the other forms of racism that run deep in this country, but there is indeed a certain legitimacy and respectability given to anti-Arabanti-Muslim racism that is not found with other forms of racism. This legitimacy stems from the fact that anti-Arabanti-Muslim racism cuts across the entire political spectrum, from right to left. It is accepted and even practiced by those who would not tolerate other forms of racism. While the anti-racist record of liberals and some on the left is not the best, it is particularly bad when it comes to Arabs and Muslims.(3)
Many Arab human rights NGOs (4) ussed the racist attitudes towards Muslims and Arabs, and the credibility of the international protection mechanisms and the universality of human rights and posed the following questions:
* Are we all covered by the same human rights protections mechanisms?
* Are we all in fact guided by the same universal principles and values?
*Are there are double standard applied?
Let us first examine what kind of double standards exist?
Double Standard according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “a rule or principle applied more strictly to some people more than others (or oneself). When judicial processes are applied more strictly to some people more than others, such double standards are seen as unjust because they violate a basic maxim of modern legal jurisprudence, that all parties should stand equal before the law. Double standards also violate the principle of justice known as impartiality, which is based on the assumption that the same standards should be applied to all people, without regard to subjective bias or favoritism based on social class, rank, ethnicity, gender or other distinction. A double standard violates this principle by holding different people accountable according to different standards.(5)
The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) (6), argue that although the concept of human rights in international law, being legal and constitutional, is based on international legitimacy - and therefore can only be accepted by the international community, there exists a great discrepancy between the international legitimacy of these rights and their interpretation and implementation by the West. This is one of the most blatant discrepancies that mark modern political life. It also represents a challenge facing nations and tumbling them into a conflict of unequal forces against the superpower that strives to dominate the world and lay its hands on its riches. This hegemony takes various forms and different names, such as globalisation that advocates a New Middle East or New World Order under which human rights are violated in one way or another. This contradiction is serious enough to make us wonder about the universality of human rights according to the western interpretation of these rights. Though we recognise the international legitimacy of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, we must guarantee that the cultural diversity provided for in international conventions is taken into account when interpreting the articles of the Declaration on the Human Rights. It would be unacceptable to apply these rights with less than total justice and fairness or in the presence of the slightest discrimination between one people and another, and in excluding a certain state from being held accountable for its gross human rights violations and endowing it with impunity. Bearing this in mind, we can only stress, once again, the importance of fairness and equality in the international community s application of human rights and of the respect of the differences that result from religious variety and are recognised by international conventions.
One of the more common double standards that is seen every day is where the United States government has double standards when it comes to its treatment of Israel versus the Arabs . Arab countries have been angry over the US position on the Palestinians and on the current Israeli-Lebanese conflict. Nuclear non-proliferation activists have also mentioned the double standards of US nuclear non-proliferation policies where the US has clearly supported Israel s and India s efforts to develop advanced nuclear weapons but has attempted to suffocate Iran s and North Korea s nuclear programs. It should be pointed out, however, that both Iran and North Korea are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while India is not.(7)
The abuses by Israel has severely violated international human rights conventions and international humanitarian laws, such as the universal declaration of human rights, international covenant on civil and political rights, convention against torture and other cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Geneva Convention related to the treatment of prisoners of war. The double standard is particularly evident when comparison is made between coverage of human rights abuses by Israel and abuses elsewhere. More importantly, the shift in coverage of Palestinian human rights violations has not for the most part extended to coverage of abuses inside Israel itself, abuses ranging from suppression of free speech and freedom of the press to travel restrictions, town and house arrests, denial of rights of workers from the occupied territories and land confiscations by the state... When rights organizations treat Israel s violations of human rights as unflinchingly as they treat South Africa s abuses, defenders of Palestinian rights will have won a major victory.(8)
The United States always protected Israel and justified its violation to Human Rights Conventions. Although the United States raises human rights when governments involved are "unfriendly," it remains largely silent when it comes to friends. For years human rights groups have complained of growing politicisation and double standards that have stifled debate and allowed countries responsible for egregious abuses to escape condemnation.
According to longtime U.N. observers, resolutions condemning human rights violations have been directed mostly at developing nations, not at the United States or other western industrialized countries -- even if they are known to violate civil liberties or impose capital punishment.(9)
The international community lacks the minimum political will required to enforce resolutions some of which have been adopted more than half a century ago: Resolution 194 of 1948 stipulating the return of the Palestinian refugees; Resolution 181 of 1947 on the partition of Palestine; and Resolution 242 of 1967 requiring that Israel withdraw from the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The last two resolutions have great bearing on enabling the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination. In fact, any draft resolution seeking to oblige Israel to enforce any of these resolutions was met with a veto. The enjoyment by super powers of the right of veto in the UN Security Council is in itself a blatant manifestation of discrimination. It also questions the credibility of the efforts by the international body to put an end to forms of discrimination in our contemporary world.
The international community was watching the war on Lebanon by Israel, a state that threatens international peace and security, starts wars, occupies lands, and commits acts of aggression almost daily. This is in addition to the number of collective massacres and acts of ethnic cleansing it perpetrated (as confessed to by its political leaders and evidenced by its academic historians), which led to the displacement of millions of refugees. And yet the international community is not able to subject it to the same standards of accountability applied to the rest of the world.
The continued exemption of Israel from being held accountable for its crimes against the Palestinian people, and from abiding to the resolutions of the international community’s institutions has led to sacrificing not only human rights and the international humanitarian law, but also peace and security in the region, and now it is threatening the collapse of the whole international human rights protection system and the absolute failure of the principle of human rights universality.
The Cairo Declaration against Racism issued on 2272004, at the invitation of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and under the slogan of “Together Against the last Apartheid Regimes,”(10) stated that “International efforts, crowned by the United Nations’ endeavors, have accomplished much in the field of combating racism. However, the ninetieth has witnessed a noticeable marginalization of the role played by the UN in international affairs in favor of international super powers, jointly or solely through the will of the United States. This has been of great harm to the UN, has parlayed, in many occasions, international legitimacy mechanisms and has resulted in the political employment – in accordance to double and selective standards – of such mechanisms to achieve the interests of dominating and powerful states”.
Reluctance to introduce substantial reforms for the democratization of the UN and to curb the might of the major powers constitutes a major obstacle not only before international mechanisms against racism, racial discrimination and all forms of intolerance but also before all international mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
From a human rights’ perspective, our peoples feel great injustices that the principles and goals upon which the UN is contingent are not followed, in particular when it comes to Israel and acts of ethnic cleansing perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Such principles include promoting human rights, setting up pillars of equality between nations and individuals and fighting racism and discrimination. Throughout 58 years since the establishment of Israel, the international community has failed to hold it accountable for its war crimes. Throughout 39 years, the international community has failed to force Israel to comply with the UN resolutions obligating the Israeli withdrawal from Arab and Palestinian occupied territories since 1967”
This in fact caused Anti-Americanism across Arab and Muslim societies. It is driven not by a blind hatred of America or religious zealotry, but by frustration and anger with U.S. policy in the Muslim world. America’s espousal of self-determination, democratization, and human rights are often seen in the Muslim world as a hypocritical double standard when compared to political and economic issues as described above.
The Arab and Muslim communities are deeply concerned at the vile propaganda aimed at demeaning Islam as a religion that promotes violence, vengeance and intolerance. The media’s lopsided representation of Islam could contribute further to acts of racism committed against Muslims. The media as a powerful tool for channeling information must act more responsibly in providing fair, correct and balanced reporting, particularly on sensitive issues relating to religion. Irresponsible reporting has damaging effects with far reaching consequences and would contribute to discord and disharmony among religions and races. This would indeed be a disservice to humanity. As the famous adage goes, "the pen is mightier than the sword". In this fast-paced world of modern technology, the ‘pen’ would even be more lethal and the effect almost instantaneous. Those with the ‘pen’ must always take cognizance of this reality. While we recognize the rights of the media, the media in turn should always be mindful of their underlying responsibility towards the well-being of mankind.
The international community has an obligation to ensure the universality of human rights for the people. All forms of discrimination against Arabs and Muslims should end. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is the monitoring body for the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). It examines the implementation of the Convention by the signatory states, who are obliged to submit reports to the Committee every two years on how the rights are being implemented. The Committee examines each report and compiles a "concluding observations" statement, detailing its concerns and recommendations for the county in question. We have to admit that we did not do our duties as expected from us. We should work on research, and we should submit our own reports about the racist actions towards Muslims and Arabs. We need to document all human rights abuses and violations. All kinds of discrimination should be reported, monitored and followed up by the Arab NGOs. The Arab media should play a powerful role in exposing to the world the double standards, racism and abuses of human rights.
Reform of the UN must address the problem of double standards in addressing country situations. The reform must also aim to create a more effective UN human rights body capable of addressing protection and promotion of human rights in all countries at all times and capable of responding effectively to crisis situations. All forms of racism and racial discrimination must be treated equally; there is a need for stronger laws, as well as educational and cultural strategies to end it.
(1) Noam Chomsky on racist attitudes towards Arabs, Racism Western Attitudes Towards Arabs.
(2) (Document ECN.4200224 of 13 February 2002)
(3) El Amine Rami, Anti-Arab Racism, Islam, and the Left, September 06, 2006
(4) The Universality of Human Rights at Risk, The Credibility of International Protection Mechanisms in Danger, Memorandum issued by the CIHRS on April 9th, 2001, after consultation with and endorsement by 32 Arab human rights NGOs from 12 Middle Eastern states.
(5) Double standard, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http:en.wikipedia.orgwikiDoublestandard
(6) Human Rights in Islamic Teachings, http://www.isesco.org.ma
(7)cDouble standard, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http:en.wikipedia.orgwikiDoublestandard
(8) International Human Rights Organizations and the Palestine Question, by Nabeel Abraham, Janice Terry, Cheryl Rubenberg, Lisa Hajjar, and Hilary Shadroui, Middle East Report (MERIP), Vol. 18, No. 1, January-February 1988, pp. 12 – 20.
(9) HUMAN RIGHTS:U.S. Double Standard Prompts UN Tactical Twists, Thalif Deen
(10) Cairo Declaration Against Racism, 2272004, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.