I remember celebrating May Day as a young child in kindergarten by dancing around the May pole—having, no clue what May Day was all about nor why it warranted a special day of celebration. To be honest, had it been explained to me then, I seriously doubt I would have had any better understanding as to its significance.
Today — a lot older and, I hope, wiser — I find myself similarly confounded about another holiday celebration, albeit one just recently declared.
Last month, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that today, August 5th would become international “Islamic Human Rights Day.”
Ahmadinejad’s August 5th Human Rights Day should not be confused with Universal Human Rights Day, observed December 10th by the world community. The latter date has been celebrated ever since the UN General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948.
To whom does the UDHR extend such rights? The first sentence of Article 1 of the UDHR is very clear: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Thus, if we were to have a Human Rights Day celebration party this December 10th, inviting everyone covered under the UDHR, we would need send invitations to every human inhabitant of Planet Earth—almost seven billion people.
Let’s now fully understand, in his celebration of August 5th as Islamic Human Rights Day, whom Ahmadinejad would invite to his party. Rest assured, he would not need to send out nearly as many invitations. Two factors would leave him with a very short list of qualified invitees who radical Islamists believe are entitled to enjoy human rights and all their benefits.
First, as an Islamic extremist, he firmly believes the only human beings entitled to human rights—even including the right to life—are those who follow Islam as they are the only “humans” on Planet Earth. Thus, in using the words “human rights,” Ahmadinejad eliminates such rights’ applicability to a significant portion of the world community—i.e., non-Muslims.
For more than three decades, the world had accepted the UDHR as the human rights gold standard. But, in 1981, two years after Islamic extremists came to power in Iran, Tehran argued this standard represented “a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition” unacceptable to Muslims as it transgressed Islamic law. Following Iran’s lead, in June 2000, 57-member Muslim states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference resolved to support Islam’s perspective of human rights in accordance with the 1990 Cairo Declaration.
The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam asserts the superiority of Islam, recognizing “freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with the Islamic Shari’a” law. In other words, again using Ahmadinejad’s extremist lens, human rights should only be extended to believers in Islam and adherents to Shari’a law; non-believers, therefore, have no such rigthts. Thus, Ahmadinejad’s invitation list to his Human Rights Day party would immediately dwindle, roughly, to only a seventh of the world’s population.
Second, Ahmadinejad would further cull down the herd of potential invitees to reduce it only to those really benefiting under Islamic law by applying the extreme interpretation of Shari’ah law favoring male over female believers. Ostensibly, Islamic human rights extend to all true believers; in reality, and especially under the extremist viewpoint, Muslim males are deemed superior to their female counterparts. Accordingly, his celebration would involve a party exclusively attended by the one true group of human rights beneficiaries under Islam’s Shari’ah law — members of the Muslim “Men’s Only” club.
This extremist mindset against women stems from a belief they lack the mental faculties and capabilities of men. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini made this clear a month after coming to power in Iran in 1979 by removing all women judges for their inability to understand and administer the law. This then allowed male judges to apply the law with its anti-female bias. It generated such outlandish legal outcomes as the sentencing of female rape victims to much harsher sentences than their male attackers—ostensibly for having ventured out unescorted by a male relative and thus being more responsible for the crime having occurred in the first place.
But, sadly, not even Muslim men, living in Ahmadinejad’s Iran, are guaranteed human rights and dignity. Public executions for non-lethal crimes have been on the rise. Only two days after announcing Islamic Human Rights Day, witnesses report Tehran undertook its “largest mass execution in years.” On July 27, at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where blood still flows from the execution of 30,000 political prisoners twenty years earlier, 29 young men were executed by hanging simply for staging anti-government protests. Thus, Ahmadinejad’s announcement of an international Islamic Human Rights Day comes amidst EU president Nicolas Sarkozy’s condemnation of Iran for these executions, noting too that “making them the focus of media attention is an affront to human dignity.”
It is clear there is a very fundamental difference between human rights under the UDHR and the Cairo Declaration. While the former is one of inclusion, the latter is one of exclusion. Bridging this gap between the two is the only hope for ever resolving Islamic extremism and the terrorist mindset it breeds. Yet, it may well simply prove to be “a bridge too far” to build.
Decades ago, I rejoiced in blissful ignorance of celebrating a May Day I knew nothing about. Ahmadinejad does the same today in celebrating a day to which he attaches two words — human rights — the real meaning of which he really has no clue.
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