All posts filed under: Human Rights

Human Dignity and Human Rights

My forthcoming monograph for the University of Wales Press, Making Human Dignity Central to International Human Rights Law: A Critical Legal Argument, discusses a number of topics, ranging from the state of critical legal scholarship to international relations. However, much of what I might have written even a year earlier was profoundly altered by the rise to power of postmodern conservatives. Frequently agitating for a nationalist agenda, and opposed to universal human rights, this development lent my book a more cynical edge. Nevertheless, I still consider it an optimistic text—one that defends an emancipatory conception of human dignity and the steps we might take to realize it. Dignity’s Unusual History Conceptions of human dignity go back a very long way. Many of the great religions of the world—including the monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—offer human dignity as something bestowed by God. Buddhists argue that the locus of human dignity lies in our capacity to pursue self-perfection. The term itself arose in the thirteenth century from the Latin dignitas, which referred to the “worthiness” of …

Canada’s Treatment of Indigenous Peoples Was Cruel. But Calling It an Ongoing ‘Genocide’ Is Wrong

Two months after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the public: “As his armies advance, whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands, literally scores of thousands of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German police troops…We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” By the end of World War II, we had at least two names for it, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide. Now, almost 80 years later, a debate over the semantics of genocide has erupted in Canada, following a report from a National Inquiry investigating the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). The report claims not only that Indigenous communities were historically victimized by racist and murderous colonial policies, but also that a “genocide” is still going on in Canada to this very day. While many well-meaning activists are pressuring the Canadian government to act on the findings of the Inquiry, others have questioned the use of this term. The fact that the overall Canadian homicide rate …

How Prophetic Was Gattaca?

Dystopian science fiction films often have the veneer of plausibility. For example, the premise of an overpopulated world (Soylent Green), or a deep freeze earth (The Day After Tomorrow), or an infertility epidemic (Children of Men), generate voyeuristic horror but rarely possess the credibility to elicit anxiety of a real world, highly probable outcome. The 1997 film Gattaca, written and directed by Andrew Niccol, is an exception. Technology has now caught up with Niccol’s dystopian vision of a society where every member is categorized and determined by their genetic origin. Last year a Chinese bioengineer announced the germline editing and live birth of twin girls using CRISPR technology. In the world of Gattaca, preimplantation screening and genetic engineering have generated a culture of discrimination based on genomic scores. The story’s hero, Vincent (Ethan Hawke), has the bad luck of being conceived the old-fashioned way, his genome left to the crapshoot of meiosis. His genome is read to his parents at birth: neurological condition: 60 percent; probability of manic depression: 42 percent; probability of heart disease: …

Stonewall’s LGBT Guidance is Limiting the Free Speech of Gender Critical Academics

In 2015, the main trade union for UK academics, the University and College Union (UCU), objected to the government’s newly announced counter-terrorism strategy—specifically, the part concerned with universities’ legal duty to attempt to prevent student radicalisation. A central aspect of UCU’s highly critical response concerned the use of ill-defined, imprecise words in the strategy. One UCU briefing noted that (my italics): it is important that branches become familiar with how the government defines ‘extremism’.. as follows: ‘Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.’ Branches should note the somewhat nebulous nature of so described ‘British values’ and the potentially very broad range of individuals and groups who may at some point fall foul of such a negatively constructed definition. In a similar vein, a Professor and a senior lawyer expressed their concern that that the vagueness and lack of definition of terms like “terrorism,” “non-violent extremism,” “radicalisation,” and “fundamental British values” could be understood to mean that…academics and …

‘The Guarded Gate’ Review: Elites and Their Eugenics Projects

A review of The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants out of America by Daniel Okrent, Scribner, 496 pages (May, 2019). ….our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stocks, physically and morally… —T. Roosevelt to C. B. Davenport, January 3, 1913 How are we to understand the widespread enthusiasm for eugenics in the U.S. a century ago? Some scholars like Nicholas Pastore have argued that hereditarianism in general and support for eugenics in particular is more commonly found on the political right, whereas others like John Tierney argue that eugenics is …

It’s Time for Progressives to Protect Women Instead of Pronouns

On my way out of Edinburgh University last week, where I’d just delivered a speech on how feminists should resist male violence, I was attacked by a shrieking “transgender person” (to cite the term used in a Scotsman headline). Had it not been for the three burly security guards surrounding me, I would have been punched. I usually use female pronouns to refer to trans women, as a courtesy. But this is a courtesy I won’t extend to someone seeking to hurt me physically. This was a man—specifically, a misogynist who’d become notorious under the (since deleted) Twitter handle TownTattle. He was deeply offended that I’d been allowed to speak. That’s why he wanted to hurt me: for being a woman who opened her mouth. The event at which I’d appeared was called Women’s Sex-Based Rights. It focussed on the threat to women-only spaces and organizations posed by gender activists who seek to erase any legal distinction in regard to the treatment of male- and female-bodied individuals. In the run-up to the event, trans activists …

A Girl’s Place in the World

Worth mentioning here is the way in which the boy’s plight differs from the girl’s in almost every known society. Whatever the arrangements in regard to descent or ownership of property…the prestige values always attach to the occupations of men. —Margaret Mead, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, 1935 It is no exaggeration to say that the greatest obsession in history is that of man with woman’s body. —David D. Gilmore, Misogyny, 2001 In the volume Gender Rituals: Female Initiation in Melanesia, anthropologist Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin recounts meeting a woman who had undergone a male initiation among the Central Iatmul fisher-foragers of Papua New Guinea. One day years back, when the woman was a young, pre-pubescent girl visiting her mother’s village of Tigowi, she had climbed a Malay apple tree to get some fruit. At that moment, two men were blowing flutes in a fenced-off enclosure nearby and saw the girl in the tree. This was a serious matter, as the flutes were meant to be kept secret from the women and children, who were …

How Intersectionalism Betrays the World’s Muslim Women

I attended the infamous “#Feminist” speaking event at the Sydney Town Hall. It was a discussion between Roxane Gay, a Haitian-born intersectional feminist, and Christina Hoff Sommers, a self-described “equity feminist.” I went with the intention of confronting my growing disillusionment with the morally proscriptive nature of intersectional feminism and the broader leftist movement. I harboured hopes that the divisive behaviour I was seeing on social media was disproportionately represented by radicals and that the event would bring some sense to the madness. Instead, I left feeling completely alienated from a movement that once brought me so much hope. It was my second crisis of faith in three years, the first being my renunciation of Islam at the age of 21. Free from the shackles of fundamentalism, I embraced the left-wing movement with open arms. Until only recently, I saw it as a celebration of everything I’d been denied as a devout Muslim. As a woman who’d been forced into the hijab at puberty, trapped within the Islamic guardianship system and restricted by groupthink, I …

The West’s Betrayal of Iranian Dissidents

Next month, Ayatollah Khamenei’s theocracy will stage celebrations commemorating 40 years of revolutionary power. It will do so amidst widespread acts of civil disobedience, street protests, labor strikes, and ubiquitous resentment produced by a collapsed economy and grotesque corruption. Even prominent regime insiders are now openly proclaiming the emptiness of the regime’s authority, with critiques resembling late analysis from the Soviet nomenklatura as it was confronted by cascading legitimacy crises manifested by the primordial contradictions of an ideological state. When the Iranian people rose up against an authoritarian dictator four decades ago, they were rewarded with one of the most politically ruthless and socially backward totalitarian regimes the world has known. Falling for the siren song of populist Islamist rule, they failed to win the justice or the freedoms they had been demanding, and instead lost everything they had taken for granted under secular, modernizing rule: personal liberties, social progress, and economic opportunities that had birthed a middle class. South Korea and other countries economically inferior to Iran before the revolution are now towering over it, despite …

Orwell and the Anti-Totalitarian Left in the Age of Trump

I In his review of Pascal Bruckner’s new book, An Imaginary Racism: Islamophobia and Guilt, Nick Cohen begins with a denunciation of the contemporary Left’s obsession with identity politics and “willingness to excuse antisemitism, misogyny, tyranny, and obscurantism, as long as the antisemitic, misogynistic, tyrannical obscurantists are anti-Western.” Cohen acknowledges that Bruckner has been among the most penetrating analysts of the Left’s moral and intellectual decline in the twenty-first century, recalling that he described Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism as a “brilliant defence of liberalism and a deservedly contemptuous assault on all those intellectuals who have betrayed its best values.” However, Cohen now thinks Bruckner’s animus toward the Left has propelled him to the Right, arguing that he fails to “extend his opposition to Islamism to cover the purveyors of anti-Muslim bigotry,” uses the “language of demagogues and civil war,” and displays the “ethnic favouritism and intellectual double-standards of the counter-Enlightenment.” Cohen also laments Bruckner’s sparse commentary on right-wing populist and nationalist movements in Europe and the United States: At …