Thursday, November 15, 2007

Questioning Relativism

It's awful stories like this that make me seriously question, as an anthropologist, whether cultural relativism is something that should restrain us from interventionism.

"A court in the ultra-conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia is punishing a female victim of gang rape with 200 lashes and six months in jail, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

The 19-year-old woman -- whose six armed attackers have been sentenced to jail terms -- was initially ordered to undergo 90 lashes for "being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape

But in a new verdict issued after Saudi Arabia's Higher Judicial Council ordered a retrial, the court in the eastern town of Al-Qatif more than doubled the number of lashes to 200."

While our values are undeniably relative to our cultural heritage, I do not think that that realization in and of itself discredits the universal validity or social applicability of those values' aims. Simply because individual rights is considered to be a Western value, to me, does not mean that it is something corrupt and only applicable to Western cultures...the west just happened to have the right historical context to be one of the first 'cultures' to uncover, outline, and legalize the realization that equality and individual rights is something worth while and worth pursuing, something that protects all humans from the intra-species hatred, injustice, and inequality, that has been the common theme throughout the history of mankind.

This is what the human rights movement is trying to and hopefully will change. And all this talk of cultural relatives, as if they only apply to the cultures in which they are found, is detrimental to the progressive movement of universal human rights.

But thats just my opinion. And I'm pretty sure it would be shunned by the majority in the anthropology community.

*Update: Just noticed that Cosmic Variance has a post on this same story, but adds another story showing that gays seem to have the same lashing fate in Saudi Arabia too.

About 50 people picketed Saudi Arabia’s embassy in London on Oct. 19 in protest against the nation’s reported floggings and executions of gay men.

On Oct. 2, two Saudi men convicted of sodomy in the city of Al Bahah received the first of their 7,000 lashes in punishment, the Okaz daily newspaper reported. The whippings took place in public, the report said.

But I am not just trying to single out Saudi Arabia here. These are just two particular examples of a more common human behavior of targeted group hatred towards other group differences which, unfortunately, seems to be universal.

No comments: