Saturday, April 1, 2017

Human Rights, Freedom and National Security

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Human rights provide and protect freedom.  Since the early 20th century, U.S. foreign policy has promoted civil and political human rights that begin with the freedoms of religion and speech, but in Islamic cultures Islamic law, or shari’a, denies those freedoms with apostasy and blasphemy laws.  That is a problem for Islamic cultures and also for U.S. national security.
            The 18th century Enlightenment transformed religion and politics in the West with libertarian concepts of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law; but in the Islamic East, apostasy and blasphemy laws of shari’a continue to deny the freedoms of religion and speech, and shari’a discriminates against women and non-Muslims.    
            That is not unique to Islamic nations.  Blasphemy laws and those denying equal rights for women once existed in America and Europe, but they have long since been eliminated by civil rights protected by constitutions in libertarian democracies and by the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  In Islamic cultures, however, the 1990 Cairo Declaration takes exception to the ICCPR by making shari’a the last word on human rights and justice.

            Where shari’a asserts its supremacy over human rights, it produces a tyranny of religious law by allowing authoritarian rulers and Islamist terrorists to use oppressive forms of shari’a to silence their political opposition.  The freedoms of religion and speech would allow Muslims in Islamic nations to challenge the legitimacy of political despots and terrorists, and that would promote U.S. national security interests.    
            That pragmatic point has been lost on U.S. presidents since 9/11.  They have supported authoritarian regimes in Islamic nations that deny human rights and freedom, including el Sissi’s military regime in Egypt and Erdogan’s repressive regime in Turkey; and they have turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s export of Islamist fundamentalism (Sunni Wahhabism) that has nurtured both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

            Islamist fundamentalism is a toxic mix of religion and politics that denies human rights and freedom and aids and abets political oppression and terrorism.  When U.S. presidents ignore human rights and allow political expediency to shape U.S. national security policy in Islamic nations they give underserved legitimacy to oppressive rulers and terrorists, and in so doing they undermine the credibility of the U.S. as a sponsor of democracy, human rights and freedom.

            The freedoms protected by human rights are a deterrent to authoritarianism and sectarian violence.  It is only when a free people forfeit those rights that tyrants like Hitler and Mussolini can gain power.  Today the radical right is once again a threat to human rights and freedom in libertarian democracies, but political tyranny cannot coexist with human rights and freedom.

            To promote human rights and freedom in Islamic nations the U.S. should deny security assistance to any nation that denies fundamental human rights, including the enforcement of apostasy and blasphemy laws and discrimination against women and non-Muslims.  President Obama equivocated on human rights issues, and President Trump has ignored them altogether.

            Even without pressure from outside, Muslims in Islamic nations will likely insist on human rights over time.  That is evident in the wide diversity of opinion among Islamic scholars on human rights.  Progressive Muslims now promote interpretations of shari’a that are consistent with libertarian concepts of human rights, freedom and justice; but fundamentalist Muslims continue to resist any change to their ancient religious doctrines and laws.       

            Human rights and freedom are at the intersection of religion and politics.  The greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.  Because Americans love their freedom, it should be a moral imperative of their faith and religion to share their human rights and freedom with their Muslim neighbors, and in the process promote U.S. national security interests.

Notes and Related Commentary:

On how geopolitical realignments and the rise of popular nationalism [including the election of Donald Trump] have unleashed a global backlash against human rights, see


On the need for Islam to accept fundamental human rights and equal protection of the law for all, see

On the conflict between the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the 1990 Cairo Declaration that makes shari’a the last word on human rights and justice in Islamic cultures, see Religion, Law and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy, at page 7, notes 22 and 23, posted in Resources at

On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see

On religion, human rights and national security, see

On oppresso de liber: Where religion and military power intersect, see

On the causes of religious violence and how to combat them, see

On religious violence and the dilemma of freedom and democracy, see

On the freedoms of religion and speech as essentials of liberty and law, see

On liberty in law: a matter of man’s law, not God’s law, see

On the evolution of religion and politics from oppression to freedom, see

On the differing perspectives of Islamic scholars on concepts of justice, see Religion, Legitimacy and the Law: Shari’a, Democracy and Human Rights, at pages 10-17, posted in Resources at

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