Empowering the human in human rights discourse.

Author:Yildirim, Seval
Position:Human Rights and Fundamentalisms - Proceedings of the One Hundredth Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law: A Just World Under Law

In a recent article, Abdullahi An-Na'im wrote: "The universality of human rights means that they are the rights of every human being, everywhere, without any requirements of membership or location other than being human." (1) Starting from this premise, I would like to approach the topic of this panel, "Fundamentalisms and Human Rights," by first refraining it: "How to Incorporate Fundamentalists Into the Human Rights Discourse."

I do not mean to suggest that the human rights discourse needs to accept the propositions of fundamentalist ideologies but, rather, that the human rights discourse must at least attempt to understand the reasons why some human beings--its subjects--turn to fundamentalist ideologies. It is true that fundamentalist movements, deliberately or not, seek to undo human rights progress, Stating their possible agendas, however, does not explain their reasons, or why they find any meaningful support among the masses. I will first express my discomfort with the word "fundamentalism," although I am unable to give a useful alternative. Then I will argue that fundamentalist movements derive their strength from socioeconomic injustices at both the domestic and international levels. Next I will discuss what I think some possibilities are for international human rights discourse. I will conclude with a brief discussion of a recent European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision.

The word "fundamentalism" implies that there is indeed an accurate reference point to which the ideology refers. This is the claim of the fundamentalist. I find this concept problematic because this past, this fundamental pure form of religion, is a myth. It is a picture of an idealized past which may never have existed as it is portrayed. By referring to these ideologies as fundamentalist, we are in effect accepting the validity of these idealized fundamentals that the ideology claims to revive. I am also reluctant to accept the term "religious extremism" because it implies that somehow the ideology is purely a product of religion--as if a group of that religion's adherents have taken its meaning and practice to its extreme. In other words, the term "extremism" implies that the proposed ideology is in fact imbedded in the religion--it is simply a matter of whether we take it to that boundary or not. Although I disagree with the implications of both "fundamentalism" and "religious extremism," I cannot coin a better phrase that would effectively convey how I...

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