Ongoing interference in Saudi Arabia’s internal matters

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Who has authorized the Western world to draw a line that separates acceptable and unacceptable cultural practices? And why does that line fail to acknowledge the advances Saudi Arabia has made in terms of women’s rights?

The ongoing commentary on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia raises the question of how human rights fit into a world where cultural relativism is promoted.

The dilemma of the international protection of human rights is part of the ideological conflict between universalism and cultural relativism.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes the importance of being able to access all human rights regardless of gender, age, religion or race. A belief in universal human rights is necessary for our ability to feel connected to each other, as it inspires trust that others have similar moral compasses.

But what happens when the Declaration is confronted with contradictory cultural norms that inhibit its implementation? Expanding hegemony to dominate the rest of the world violates each county’s traditional barriers. Cultural relativists argue that human rights are culturally dependent and that no moral principles can be made to apply to all cultures.

Nowadays, Saudi women are no longer marginalized in society. They are able not only to drive and vote, but also to hold positions in the Saudi government. Additionally, Saudi Public Prosecution curbs guardianship abuses, while complaints of such abuses are not as widespread as being reported by outsiders.

However, there are fundamental differences between the Western concept of human rights and Islamic principles. There are 57 Muslim countries around the world; does that mean that all of them diminish and violate human rights?

The theory of cultural relativism is based on culture, but countries fail to recognize the flexibility of culture for social changes and ideological innovations. Saudi culture is an ongoing process of historical development and evolution.

The rejection of international human rights may lead to the systematic abuse of human rights within communities, but at the same time the international protection of human rights can be used for political purposes.

We must understand that the world is multicultural and the assurance of world peace lies in the co-existence of differences. There must be respect for human dignity and the realization of the fact that everyone belongs to a community and is a citizen of a specific country but not a citizen of the globe. Respect for the internal complexity of traditions should be emphasized and cross-cultural dialogue should be encouraged.

The author is a Saudi political analyst specialized in International Relations. She can be reached at: ekleel.sallam @hotmail.com Twitter: @EkleelBS


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