Human Rights: Beyond the Middle East

The media goes to great lengths to pursue their narrative, and in that effort the respective audiences are able to ascertain information about their local environment and beyond, which in some cases includes questionable actions by governments and non-governmental actors. The public is provided access to events that call into question the definition of human rights, and what it means to violate them as well. This semester I opted to take a closer look at what can be deemed violations to acceptable and basic human right norms. Some preconceptions were affirmed, others modified, but all in all it is very complex and there is no singular, easy solution.

As a Political Science major, the occurrences in other countries and how any singular action may affect the rest of the world is extremely interesting to me and is critical to know for someone attempting to enter the field of politics post-graduation. Given the opportunity to take a minor, I decided upon Jewish Studies because I have always found it to very fascinating; from ancient (biblical) times to current day dynamics affecting us here at home and abroad. As a result, I began this blogging journey with what I felt tied in the Political Science, Jewish Studies, and the objectives set forth in this course; the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Previously, I only considered the Israeli perspective, but in the course of my studies at St. Edward’s I have come to question that assessment; the entire conflict and its history is a series of poor decisions and human rights violations. It all reminds me of the saying “robbing Peter to pay Paul;” taking land through most recent history and ancestry belonged to Palestinians, and then giving that land to Jews. This was a series of actions occurring between WWI with the Belfour Declaration of 1917, followed by President Truman and Great Britain considering the matter to assess the impact of a Jewish state in the region. The British were against it as they did not want to cause turbulence between them and the Arabs in the region, and what began with 100 thousand displaced Jews in Palestine expanded into a formal declaration of the Jewish state in the WWII era. This could be perceived as a being from the perspective of Political Liberalism, as this was an effort reached by several nation-states taking a multi-lateral approach to resolve the Jewish and Palestinian question. Additionally, both the US and GB also approached the multilateral solution from a political realism approach, since they wanted to protect and/or advance their national interests; the British with the Arabs, and the US with creating a strategic regional place for themselves. Complicated and resulting in the conflict that has ensued since the first 100K Jews set foot in Palestine. In 1917, it wasn’t easy to justify a Jewish state, but by the time of Hitler, it wasn’t even a question anymore in the global community.

This state of perpetual statelessness of the Palestinians led me to explore the Kurdish population. I first heard of Kurds while working in Germany where I encountered many Turkish people living in Germany. They seemed to speak of the Kurds with disdain, like a pebble in someone’s shoe. As I researched for my second blog, it came across as though this feeling was not unique to Turks. Cumulatively, the Kurds are the largest displaced population in the world at a whopping 33 million spread across several countries, though the greatest numbers are in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. With the largest amount being in Turkey, a nation who up until recently worked diligently to reform (or at least give the appearance of it) in order to be seen parallel to European nations, it was rather shocking for me realize how disenfranchised the Kurds were in Turkey. Of course, most developing nations change, not because of a change of heart, but rather because there is usually some monetary or political incentive that drives the desire to change; in this case, it was mostly due to Turkey’s ambition to enter the EU. That has become more of a pipedream as Erdogan has shifted from progressive to regressive methods, ultimately becoming more authoritarian. As we learned through this course, many of Turkey’s decisions through the Arab Spring were largely inconsistent with regard to external loyalty, but was consistent with attempting to secure Turkey’s interests. And while attacking and disenfranchising the Kurds violates their basic human rights, it is a rational approach because Erdogan and his predecessors must do what they believe will protect its sovereignty and preserve the nation. Sovereignty comes at a price; that price is sometimes human lives.

Without going very far, the wars in Syria and in Yemen are also escalating the human loss at intrepid amounts. Admittedly, as I communicated in the class presentation, I was very ignorant about Yemen; unfathomably ignorant on it. Beyond the human death toll, instability and rampant malnutrition in Yemen, it is a very intriguing situation. Though different primary stakeholders, Syria and Yemen have an integral commonality; they are subject to external influence from powerful nations. In the case of Syria, it is Russia and the US; whereas in Yemen, it’s a battle between regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran. Two proxy wars that involves allies like the US and Saudi Arabia supporting opponents backed by Russia and Iran. But who is the ally of the people being slaughtered and displaced? As discussed in the Syria reflection, it becomes increasingly challenging to justify American interests when American made weapons have been identified as doing as much damage as the Russians. Depending on which side of the war one stands, they each believe they are doing the just response for an unjust event. Does Syria’s sovereignty matter more than the lives of those being hurt? And why does that give the US authority to insert itself, yet until recently, we didn’t get involved in Yemen. Why were the violations against the Kurds insufficient to garner Turkey some American justice? Losing Turkey as a strategic post and ally did not seem to be worth sacrificing for the Kurds, one might think. As for Yemen, what economic interests are there for us to defend? It doesn’t seem we had anything to gain, and so we haven’t been much involved. One wonders, is it really human rights and national sovereignty the US and other world powers are championing or is it just rampant political realism and market liberalism?

Continuing with Qatar and their modern-day slavery, I have been following this for a while, mainly since I deployed there and was infuriated by seeing how the workforce (which did not include Qataris) were treated. Because Qatar comes across as pretty stable, it doesn’t draw attention to itself or blatantly take hard lines publicly with regard to wars within the region, it is understandable that people would not think of Qatar as a place that would be guilty of human rights violations like slavery. While it’s not the textbook slavery most Americans are familiar with, it is nonetheless slavery when a person’s travel documents are confiscated, the person doesn’t have an avenue to report harm without fear of retaliation, and especially when a worker cannot freely seek other employment because they are shackled to that which brought them to Qatar. Highlighting the many deaths involved with Qatar’s ambitious World Cup goals, it really begs the question of, when is human life more important that national interest (regardless of how capricious the goals/interests are)? Qatar would have continued its methods if there hadn’t been an uproar. That’s not willing progress, or growing of a conscious; that’s just getting caught and trying to clean up the marred image. Consequently, Iran is just as much a violator of human rights and its barbaric approach to homosexuals, and other grievances it finds to be at contrast with the Q’ran. Stoning, forced blinding, amputations and public hangings are not uncommon, yet many nations still trade with them as if those mechanisms are not concerning or atrocious. When do nations care for human life instead of national interest? How convenient it all is, but can you blame them if they, too, have to seek what will keep their nation viable?

I was really surprised with Saudi Arabia finally considering woman as important enough to make them an integral part of their economic diversity. Its one thing to teach half your potential workforce and leave it without a significant role to play. But now it seems they are taking steps toward incorporating women much more, which is progress. How much was progress out of concern for women versus how much they realized women served an economic interest, we may never know, but the shift in their ideology is a positive one for women in Saudi Arabia. This change elevates Saudi Arabia’s reputation in the global community, and as such provides it with leverage other Middle Eastern nations wish to have for themselves. Saudi Arabia is very astute and has played neutral in the relations between the US and Russia; as it trades with both and seemingly has friendly relations with the US and Russia.

In the process of this research, there wasn’t an issue or conflict that didn’t lead me back to external influence and especially that of the US and Russia. Though the Cold War ended long ago, the battle between the two great powers never ended in reality. It morphed, shifted and blossomed into a new method of confronting each other. Currently, this means they face each other through other nation’s conflicts. They massively support various engagements in the Middle East and in other nations around the world (Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Ukraine, Georgia, etc). While the US and Russia may not be formally facing each other through congressionally-approved war, they are facing off by proxy. This is the safest war to have it seems; use other people’s plights to show your might, minimizing loss of life from their respective citizens, and the fighting occurs outside of their national borders; win-win. I find myself at a conundrum because while I can follow the rational logic that nations take to protect their interests, I also am saddened by the innocent loss of life, as well as annoyed with the hypocrisy nations display through their justification for action or lack of action. I’ve learned a lot in this course, and the answer is still the same; this is a very complex issue with no simple solution.


Political science major at St. Edward's University in the grand location of Austin, TX. Politics, technology, social issues, and problem solving are subject areas I'm interested in, and try to bring to my academic and professional journey.

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