Universal or selective?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) begins with a preamble, the first clause of which says

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) also begins with a preamble; its first clause is quite different:

Reaffirming the civilizing and historical role of the Islamic Ummah which God made the best nation that has given mankind a universal and well-balanced civilization in which harmony is established between this life and the hereafter and knowledge is combined with faith; and the role that this Ummah should play to guide a humanity confused by competing trends and ideologies and to provide solutions to the chronic problems of this materialistic civilization…

We are in different worlds already. The UDHR, because it is universal and because the universality is the whole point, does not carve up the human family into nations or religions, while the CDHRI does exactly that from the very beginning. The UDHR starts with the rights of all human beings, the CDHRI starts with the superiority of the Islamic Ummah. In short the CDHRI subverts the entire purpose of the UDHR in its very first words.

The UDHR preamble’s second clause makes clear why the universality and equality of rights are so important and why the invocation of the superiority of a particular community is so sharply – so pointedly, even wickedly – at odds with the purpose of the UDHR.

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind…

The UDHR was drawn up in the aftermath of World War II and the Nazi genocide. The human rights in question had to be universal in order to address ‘barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind’; if the human rights are particular then we’re right back where we started, committing barbarous acts against people who are not members of ‘the best nation.’ So with the CDHRI we’re right back where we started.

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