By M. Alexander
Chinese President Hu Jintao is currently in Washington DC meeting with Barak Obama. Obama has used a lot of icy rhetoric in recent speeches concerning US relations with China. One of the cruxes of this conflict is the case of Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic, writer, professor, and human rights activist. In December 2009, he was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” and was sentenced to eleven years’ imprisonment and two years’ deprivation of political rights. Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize while serving his sentence.
In the presence of Hu Jintao, Mr. Obama made a comment indirectly concerning Liu Xiobao that reflects a larger problem Obama has with The People’s Republic of China:
“History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being.’’
I agree with Mr. Obama. The world would be a better place if every nation and every people upheld man’s universal rights. However, I had a major problem with Obama’s statement when I first read it.
At what point in history were universal human rights completely upheld? Was it during the Roman Empire? The Mongolian Empire? Was it during the Crusades? The Spanish Inquisition? World War Two? Or was it sometime in between?
The answer is that there has never been a time in the history of humankind where universal rights were granted to every individual. When I told this to Rabbi Mark Borovitz, he smiled at me. He told me that I am looking at it in the same way I look at the entire world. I must always find fault with everything; something must be perfect or completely disastrous, nothing in between. He told me about the movements throughout history attempting to grant universal rights to all people. The Torah repeats 36 times that we must take care of the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. The United States Bill of Rights attempts to grant universal rights to all of its people. Western Civilization’s general conception of universal rights is founded upon Judeo-Christian morality. According to the Book of Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Have the Jewish people been perfect in their attempts to protect the widow, the orphan, and the stranger? No. Have the first 10 amendments to The Constitution been upheld perfectly? No. Have Christians always blessed the poor, the mourners, and the meek? No. But we must continue to make progress as individuals, as a culture, and as a nation. We cannot just stand idly by because the world is not perfect and never will be.
We must protest when we see that universal rights are being infringed upon. We must continue to question exploitation, cruelty, and abuse; we must “be the change we wish to see in the world ”(Gandhi) where there is inequity, where we see hate, and where rights are not granted to everyone.
What do you think? What are our rights? And most importantly, what can we do to make sure that universal rights are upheld?
- Barack Obama and Hu Jintao find an uneasy balance (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Obama Makes Rights Reference In Chinese President’s Welcome (huffingtonpost.com)
- “Human Rights In China Is Part of Obama’s Discussions With President Hu” and related posts (religionclause.blogspot.com)
- Should Obama Push Human Rights Harder With China? (usnews.com)