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Futures, Vol. 28, No. 9, pp.

839-859, 1996
Pergamon Copyright 0 1996 Elsevier Science Ltd
Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved
0016-3287/96 $15.00 + 0.00

PII: SO01 6-3287(96)00046-8



An overview
Ziauddin Sardar

The post-Cold War period has seen a flourishing of democracy in Eastern Eur-
ope, Africa and Asia. But the euphoria is evaporating and disillusionment is
quickly setting in as newly democratized states grapple with ethnic rivalries,
internal warfare and corruption. This disillusionment with democracy is also
partly rooted in its perceived failure to meet economic expectations. This article
examines the problems with the Western notion of representative and liberal
democracy and what happens when it is imposed on non-Western cultures. The
potential for information technology to overcome the shortcomings of democ-
racy is also considered. Democracy is also invariably linked with human rights
and the article goes on to contrast Western and non-Western articulations of
human rights. Copyright 0 1996 Elsevier Science Ltd

The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 became a symbol throughout the world for the
end of totalitarianism and rebirth of democracy. ’ Suddenly, democracy became the wave
of the future:2,3 One country after another in Eastern Europe moved towards democracy,
Third World countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh replaced military regimes with
democratically elected governments, newly industrialized countries like Thailand and
South Korea began to abandon authoritarianism, even the apartheid regime in South
Africa imploded to be replaced by the democratic vision of Nelson Mandela.4 In Africa
as a whole, Samuel Decalo’ informs us, tremendous pressure for democratization has
emerged from the grassroots: while a few have started on the road to reform (Congo,
Ghana, Niger, Zambia, Cameroon), autocratic leaders in others are either haggling with

Ziauddin Sardar is an independent futurist and visiting Professor at the Faculty of Technology, Middlesex Untver-
sity. He may be contacted at 1 Orchard Gate, London NW9, UK (e-mail:

The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardar

pro-democracy movements (Sierra Leone, Zaire) or flatly resisting pressure (Central

African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Malawi). Oppressive states such as Equatorial
Guinea and Zaire, or those whose departure from democratic standards parallels defects
exposed in Eastern Europe; those who emphasize the supremacy of the party over the
government; those who function on the basis of a cult of personality and where abuses
of power including corruption and permanent states of emergency are common are being
rejected in toto, together with their leadership hierarchies. Military regimes (Benin, Chad,
Ethiopia, Mali) too are being swamped by the forces of democracy.h It appears that
democracy on a global level has finally arrived.
Yet the euphoria already appears to be evaporating. In less than a decade after the
end of the Cold War, disillusionment with democracy is now being openly expressed.7
Anarchy seems to be the dominant theme in most newly democratized states.8 Russia,
the biggest of the new democracies, is plagued with internal warfare, virulent nationalism,
the Mafia and the spectre of economic collapse: most of central Asia seems to be
unstable.’ Pakistan is on the brink of collapse as a weak government tries to control the
rise of ethnic rivalries, fundamentalism, rampant corruption and general lawlessness.‘“,”
Democratization has opened powerful floodgates of ethnic aspirations with nascent
democracies having to cope with scores of political parties organized along narrow ethnic
lines. In Benin, 1800 candidates from 26 political parties fought elections for 64 seats of
the national assembly and 14 aspirants contested the presidential election! As elections
in Pakistan,12 Bangladesh’ 3 and elsewhere have shown, voting is based largely on ethnic
and feudal lines with political intimidation being all too common. In Nigeria, Chudi
Uwazurika14 notes, the flaws of a civilian government which would replace the military
regime are already apparent: even repeated military rule has not shaken Nigeria from its
complacency in forming ‘the worst forms of unstable democracy’ with ‘endless rivalries’
which makes the return of the military inevitable. Democracy and ethnic revivalry seem
to go hand in hand. Electoral competition, C lnayatollah argues,” stimulates ethnonation-
alism as ethnic groups realize that ethnicity can become the source of their political
power and bring in a few other benefits too! Democracy, thus, turns out to be a double-
edged sword for most non-Western states.
In the new post-Cold War states, democracy was equated with economic prosperity.
And the disillusionment with democracy is partly rooted in its perceived failure to meet
economic expectations. Indeed, the triumph of the free-market economy has been
equated by scholars like Fukayama16 with that of representative democracy. However,
the contradictions of this perspective have raised even more questions about the true
nature and capabilities of representative democracy. Why is it, for example, that demo-
cratic Russia is facing economic ruin and communist China has a flourishing economy?
Moreover, democracy alone has not been able to provide the people of the new states
with a sense of identity-hence, the rise of ethnic nationalism. These failures of represen-
tative democracy have brought its fundamental contradictions to the fore.

The problem with democracy

The meaning of democracy will be a subject of intense exploration in the future. As Brian
Beedham” has argued, there will be a ‘a radical change in the process by which the
democratic idea is put into practice’. As it exists today, democracy is suffering from
arrested development. The only part the citizens play in decision making is to elect, every
The future of demo<-racy and human rights: Z Sard‘?r

four or five years, an elected assembly; it is the representatives who take all the deacons.
Alexander Tytler pointed out, as long ago as 1770, that a system where the citizens hand
all decision-making to representatives cannot exist as a permanent form of government.
It could exist only as long as the voters could be duped into thinking that voting gives
them some form of power. However, in today’s media-dominated world, where issues
are determined by 15-second bound bites and manipulated images, voting actually
becomes rather meaningless. The end of the battle between communism and capitalism
makes representative democracy looks truly like an outmoded political system. Not sur-
prisingly, disenchanted voters are demanding a shift from ‘representative democracy’ to
‘direct democracy’.
The doubts about democracy, argue Andrew Adonis and Geoff Mulgan”’ arise from
two fundamental weaknesses in modern Western states: ‘the divorce of politics from
society, and of political responsibility from citizenship’. Government is dominated by an
elite who offer simplistic, one dimensional solutions to problems that concern the voters.
The typical British MP is chosen only by a handful of party activists. An electorate of 43
million are represented by 652 full-time politicians who are the only ones who have a
direct say over government and play a direct role in framing legislation. In a typical
general election, only a few MPs stand down and only a few seats actually change hands.
Thus the best estimate is that fewer than 100000 people each decade play a direct part
in deciding which of the 7000 would-be MPs, selected by the party activists occupy the
651 seats in the House of Commons! Other countries of Europe and North America follow
a similar sort of representative logic. The voters themselves have illusory and ignorant
expectations of their politicians. According to Charles Leadbeater and Geoff Mulgan,“’
the end result is:

(Ii Low involvement: Citizens are rarely directly engaged in the political process. They
vote in elections only occasionally. They have little direct contact with politicians
who sometimes seem to live in an arcane and impenetrable world.
(2) Limited choices: Electors are offered limited choices between catch-all policy pro-
grammes, which are often vague and confusing, and which parties often abandon in
any case once in power. As consumers, we enjoy a widening array of choice and
more sophisticated product marketing. As electors, we suffer from choice of policies
by political parties, which maintain their monopoly over the policy market.
(3) Poor delivery: Politics is widely seen as ineffective. Even when politicians make prom-
ises, they rarely carry them out.

Given these basic characteristics of ‘Western liberal democracies’, we could best describe
them as oligarchies of political professionals. The elitism inherent in liberal democracies
can be traced back to its origins. Democracy is a word of Western origins, deriving
from the Greek demokratia, from demos, the people, and kratein, to rule. In its Athenian
construction, democracy symbolized rule by and of the people. In The Republic, PlatoL”
characterized democracy as a ‘charming form of government, full of variety and disorder’,
which ultimately leads to tyranny. Plato feared that if people were allowed to make
decisions collectively, they would simply endorse their own self-interest, which would
result in policies that were nothing more than the lowest common denominator of individ-
uals’ greed and desire for personal security. While Plato opted for the rule of philosopher-
kings, Aristotle” deliberately described democracy as the rule of the poor in their own
interest. MillJL advocated a regulated, ‘rational democracy’, one ruled by ‘an enlightened

The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardar

minority accountable to the majority in the last resort’. In Democracy in America, de

Tocqueville23 saw a predicament in integrating a democratic political culture with a soci-
ally democratic society. He saw that social democracy does not necessarily lead to polit-
ical democracy in the sense of self-government. He opted for the middle classes but
insisted that democratic culture should be institutionalized to prevent government by
faceless bureaucracies. Marx24 thought democracy was the rule of the proletariat.
Representative democracy is a product of the rise of capitalism and the decline of
English mercantilism. It emerged out of the political philosophy of liberalism, and, in
fact, as Christopher Jones notes,25 ’ the philosophy of liberalism and representative democ-
racy are virtually synonymous’. The whole idea of the ‘democratic rule of the people’ was
used both to curtail feudalism as well as establish a set of conditions for the emergence of
a new kind of political elite. According to Christa Caryl Slaton,*’ Newtonian physics
had an enormous impact on the development and content of democratic theory which
emphasized the ‘laws’ of human behaviour, logic and reason and cause and effect. These
fundamental assumptions ensured that the wealthy, educated elites could maintain con-
trol of political institutions. Only the wealthy and highly educated had the time and
resources to master the skills necessary to pass laws and debate conflicting points end-
lessly. As in Athens, the first citizens of the new democracies of the late 17th and early
18th centuries were men. Initially, only landowners had the vote and thus the mandate
to participate in public life. Later, non-landowners were also included in the franchise;
the abolition of slavery in the 19th century allowed voting rights for former slaves and
indigenous peoples. In the 20th century, after a long and bitter struggle, women too
acquired the vote and the right to participation in political and public life.
Just because the term ‘democracy’ itself is of Western origins, it does not mean that
other cultures did not have representatives or participatory political structures. In fact, as
Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges, *’ ‘European democracy has been. . .heavily influenced by
its contact with Islam’: It ‘is not the result of a superior enlightenment rationality, but of
a backward and mystical feudalism’. Both humanism and democratic ideals were passed
on to Europe from Islam as George Makdisi” demonstrates in his brilliant study, The Rise
of Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West. However, the transition of
humanism from Islam to Europe also involved a radical transformation: Europe accepted
the ideal but changed the axioms-as was also the case with science and philosophy.
The notion of the community and social duties which was so central to Islamic forms of
participatory governance was abandoned in favour of individualism.
Individualism is the absolute of liberal democracy: the notion that society is nothing
more than the sum of individuals and that the individual is a self-contained, autonomous
and sovereign being who is defined independently of society. The assumption that the
individual is prior to society is unique to Western culture: it is the defining principle of
liberal democracy and shapes its metaphysical, epistemological, methodological, moral,
legal, economic and political aspects. In non-Western cultures, the individual does not
define him/herself by separating from others but in relation to a holistic and integrated
group: the family or clan, the community or culture, religion or worldview. The Chinese,
for example, see the family as an organism linking the past, the ancestors, with the present
and the future, the descendants. L’l The individual thus exists not as an autonomous, iso-
lated being but in a living union with his/her ancestors. Muslims see the individuals as
an integrated part of the society which in a local area is defined by the Friday mosque
and on an international level by the collectivity of all Muslims: the ummah. Society is

The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardar

ontologically prior to the individual and social obligations come before individual dic-
tates.jO In most indigenous cultures, the individual is defined by the tribe or the clan: the
individual cannot be distinguished from the tribe and seeks his/her fulfilment as an inte-
grated part of the whole tribe.l’
In the Western liberal framework, the individual is constantly at war with the com-
munity feeling perpetually ontologically threatened. The individual’s main concern is to
keep his/her identity intact, separate from all others, preserve the boundaries at all cost,
to enclose around herself/himself a protective wall. Whereas in non-Western cultures,
morality is defined by the community or society, in liberal thought the individuals have
to make moral choices for themselves. Thus there can never be substantive agreement
between the individual and the community as a whole. Morality becomes a matter of
individual behaviour: the emphasis is not on what is of ultimate value and what ends
should be sought, but how whatever ends are chosen ought to be pursued.32m’” The goals
of liberal democracy therefore focus on providing the individual with all possible avenues
to pursue whatever is desired, even if it is, and often it is, at the expense of the community.
The government can never seek communal social, cultural, economic or political goals
such as ensuring equal distribution of wealth, creating a classless society or providing
equal educational opportunities for all. Bhikhu ParekhS5 outlines five liberal arguments
which are commonly advanced to justify this position:
Firstly, the government owes its existence and authority to the fact that its subjects are self-determin-
ing agents wishing to pursue their self-chosen goals under conditions of minimal constraints. Its
task therefore is to maximize their liberties and to facilitate their goals, which by definition it cannot
do if it pursued large-scale goals of its own.
Secondly, citizens of a liberal society do not all share a substantive conception of the good
life. There is therefore no moral source from which the government can derive, and in terms of
which it can legitimize, its substantive goals. Whatever goals it chooses to pursue are bound to be
disowned by, and thus to violate the moral autonomy of, at least a section of them. An attempt to
create a ‘better’ or ‘more humane’ society flounders on the fact that its citizens deeply disagree
about the under-lying criteria. A government that goes beyond laying down the necessary frame-
work of formal and general rules therefore compromises its subjects’ humanity and risks committing
a moral outrage.
Thirdly, a government engaging in a programme of large-scale economic redistribution or
radical transformation of the social order uses some of its citizens as instruments of its will and
treats their interests as less important than others, violating the principles of human dignity and
equality. Since it is unlikely to enjoy their consent, it is also bound to be oppressive and risks
forfeiting its legitimacy.
Fourthly, a programme of economic redistribution implies that the government has something
to distribute, that it is the owner of what it seeks to redistribute. For the liberal the assumption is
wholly false, for property belongs to its owners and not to the government, and is a product of
their labour and not its. It is entitled to claim from them, with their consent, only that portion of their
property which is necessary to help it undertake its legrtimate and collectively agreed activities.
Finally, for the liberal almost all social institutions are grounded in and propelled by specific
natural desires. This is as true of the economy as of the others. People work hard, exert themselves,
accept privations, and save up for the future because thev are driven by self-interest and the desire
to better their condition. The dynamic interplay of these impulses creates the complex economic
world with its own autonomous logic. Government interference with the economy, as with other
social institutions, runs up against the inescapable limits of human nature and the inexorable logic
of the economy, and is ultimately counter-productive.

Thus the liberal notion of what is a human being is unique and suspicious of communal
concerns and values. This notion is not only the defining value of liberal democracy, it
is actually built into its conceptual structure. This is why in a liberal democracy, certain
The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardar

representative individuals are elected to ensure that other individuals have all the freedom
to pursue their individual interests. So, strictly speaking, liberal democracy is not so much
representative democracy as representative government.
We cannot, therefore, think of liberal democracy as a universal phenomenon that
should be imposed on all cultures. To do this would, in fact, amount to a denial of the
West’s own historical experiences; and would, paradoxically, lead to a betrayal of the
liberal principle of respect for cultural diversity. When the industrialized countries insist
on imposing liberal democracy on non-Western countries, they deny their histories,
destroy ‘the coherence and integrity of their ways of life, and reduce them to mimics,
unable and unwilling to be true either to their traditions or to the imported alien norms’.
Similarly, the baggage that comes with liberal democracy, such as the nation-state, elec-
tions and multiple political parties, and other institutions and practices, cannot be univer-
salized either. Non-Western cultures would have to evolve their own consensual forms
of government based on their own worldviews and history.

Imposing democracy on the Third World

What happens when democracy is imposed on non-Western cultures is well illustrated
by Africa. African political thought evolved on an organic conception of social and polit-
ical order hinged around the natural formation of kinship.3h The major elements of this
thought, Godwin Sogolo notes,$’ continue to dominate the political formations of con-
temporary African societies. Moreover, this conception is further strengthened by various
myths of creation that shape the communal identities of Africa. Thus the exercise of
political power in Africa was grounded in the consensus of the people who in turn gave
their blessings both to the authority and actions of the rulers. The rulers derived their
power from the people and held it in trust on their behalf. The whole complex was
organically knitted by the belief systems and the religion of the community. The ruler
was thus not just a person who could impose his will on the people but the axis of the
political relations of the community, the symbol of its unity and identity, and an embodi-
ment of its basic values. The claims by some Western scholarsi” that traditional African
systems were not ‘democratic’ and did not allow for participation in political issues has
no historical support. Godwin writes: ‘powerful though African monarchs were, their
powers were circumscribed by the customs and usages of their kingdoms. The kings were
expected to work within a structure characterized by inhibitions and social control. In
fact, the social system prescribed elaborate and explicit rules of behaviour and a king
had to forfeit the right to rule if his conduct fell below expectation’. Indeed, the citizens
exercised an automatic right to remove the ruler once his misconduct or abuse of power
was proved. In many African cultures, power was collectively shared through a council
of elders. Again, the plurality inherent in the membership of council checked any tend-
ency towards tyranny. Thus the traditional African system of governance involved both
participation and accountability-much more so than the modern forms of representative
democracy. It is ‘bad history’, declares N Sithole’” that has led many Western scholars to
declare that ‘Africans never had democracy until the coming of the white man to Africa’.
What the white men did bring was the idea of the modern nation-states. The notion
of the state with its impersonal institutions and emphasis on geographical boundaries was
not only alien to African thought, it led to a total dislocation and disruption of African
societies. The imposition of the nation-state on Africa, produced profound changes by

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destroying the indigenous social fabric of villages and communities, chieftancies and
kinship. It replaced these organic structures with alienating state institutions such as
bureaucracy, law courts, political parties and, of course, the military. The nation-state
structure made Africa an appendage to Western civilization and plunged Africa into the
world capitalist system dominated by the colonial powers and where Africans, with their
communal and sharing values, were ill-equipped to compete with the dictates of aggress-
ive individualism. The fragile state structure, the crisis of legitimacy and economic
underdevelopment has all reduced Africa to ruins.“’ According to Meddi Muguenyi,” it
took post-colonial Africa less then a decade to lose confidence in democracy. Given the
distrust of democracy, it was natural for the vacuum left by the displaced traditional
political structures to be filled by military and authoritarian regimes.
It is also because of its libertarian ideals and obsessive individualism that most
religious movements shun democracy. Clearly the idea of the sovereign individual, which
turns democracy into an oppressive ideology, is against the principles of all great religions
for the world. According to Fatima Mernissi,“’ Islamic fundamentalists have a deep fear
of democracy because they (rightly) regard it as a product of secular humanism. The
religious criticism of democracy points out that democracy, as it exists today, is a liberally
constituted democracy-that is, it is defined and structured within the limits set by liberal-
ism. Thus, rampant individualism, breaking of moral taboos, frenzied consumerism and
other absolutes of liberalism shape the democratic character of modern democracy. What
Mernissi fails to realize is that it is the Western liberal package, with all its dominating
tendencies, that leads most religiously motivated movements and communities to reject
liberal democracy. Muslim fundamentalists certainly fear democracy; but they fear it not
because they fear freedom but because they abhor make-up-as-you-go-along morality of
liberalism. But the rejection of liberal democracy by religious fundamentalists does not
mean rejection of all forms of participatory governance, as Elie Kedourie”’ seems to sug-
Of the two main schools of political thought in Islam, only the Shia endorse theoc-
racy: Iran provides us with an example of a modern Shia theocracy.44 The Sunnis, who
constitute the majority of Muslims in the world, categorically reject theocracy. Indeed,
while most religious-nationalist movements envision some kind of political order born
out of religious activism, almost all shun theocracy. 45 As long as it is not equated with
truth, Islam has no objection to democracy.‘(> In the formative history of Islam, democracy
was one method by which the Rightly Guided Caliphs were elected.47 Thus fundamental-
ists movements in such Muslim countries as Algeria, Egypt and Pakistan do not reject
democracy totally. Rather they envision a state ruled by Islamic law and governed on
the basis of a consensus-orientated democracy. The problem arises when the state
acquires both political and religious authority: when religion and state have a single
identity; this is where totalitarianism takes 0ver.I” In contrast, Sinhalese Buddhist activists
in Sri Lanka see a religious state that is vaguely socialist with active democratic partici-
pation. The constitution of the BJP, the Hindu fundamentalist party in India, contains
democratic sentiments that are remarkably similar to political ideals found in the West.
Thus religious fundamentalism and democracy are not necessarily mutually contradictory.
It is possible to conceive of religious states that imbibe democratic principles and plural-
ism. As Mark Juergensmeyer notes4”, given that
there have been so few attempts to create a religious state in modern times, it is easy to conclude
that such an entity would be old-fashioned: it would be dogmatic, repressive of differences, and

The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardar

intolerant of diversity. the stories that have circulated about life in the Islamic Repub-
lic of Iran have done little to dispel these impressions; and because Iran was the first religious state
to have come into existence in this generation, it serves as the example of what religious nationalists
must want everywhere. The challenge for religious movements is to develop alternative polities that
reflect equality, pluralism and community participation enshrined in all the world’s great religions.

It is not difficult to envision religious futures where culture blossoms, freedoms and
responsibilities go hand in hand, progress is negotiated through peaceful cooperation and
compromise and where people respect each other, the public institutions, and the rule
of law.5fl,5’

Democracy in cyberspace

The shortcomings of democracy, it is now being argued, can be overcome with the new
information technology which will humanize liberal democracy. The availability of cheap
and reliable telecommunications technology, databases and networks, it is being argued,
would not only enable citizens to be better informed but also to participate more directly
in decision making. Technology would enable the citizens to have direct access to their
representatives thus bypassing pressure groups, party politics, the media, special interest
groups and other undemocratic ways of opinion formation. Thus, technology will improve
both ‘the people’ and the political system. Miklos N Szilagyi explains?*

The information revolution will change the political system automatically. The commercialization
of computer networks will create a situation when everyone will be connected to everyone else
with the ease of using a telephone today. In this environment ideas will be exchanged free of
charge and with the speed of light. No government or special interest group can stop this process.
It will lead to the collapse of representative democracy as it is known today. Money will be elimin-
ated from politics and replaced with this independent information system to present a broad range
of political choices for every caring citizen. Participation will be open to all qualified persons. The
electronic information system will provide forums to express ideas. Competing opinions will be
freely publicized, criticized, and discussed. Paid political advertising, financial campaign contri-
butions and political action committees will become obsolete. Politicians will be selected in a free
competition of ideas. Their power will be limited and decentralized. They will be accountable to
the citizens. Success and status in society will not depend on political power. Representative
democracy will be dead and the sooner it is replaced by the democracy of the information age
the better it is for all of us.

Thus, in this vision of technological future, parliaments and parties would not cease to
exist but would lose much of their old grandeur. The ‘representatives of the people’ would
perform that function only on the people’s daily sufferance. Much of the technology
needed for this kind of vision to be realized already exists: satellite networks, cheap fibre
optic connections, Internet-the network of all computer networks-videoconferencing,
two-way cable systems, and the desktop computer in almost every (Western) home. But
we cannot really tell whether these technologies will actually enhance democratic partici-
pation or lead to further fragmentation. 53 An individual sitting in front of a computer
terminal is no less capable of being manipulated by soundbites and other means than
any other sort. Moreover, there is a real danger of further divisions between information
rich and information poor societies as well as individuals linked to decision making and
those, for lack of technology or other reasons, who are cut off from this process. But
perhaps more seriously the very idea of the citizen sitting in front of his or her computer
terminal interrogating the political representatives actually takes individualism into a new

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dimension. It also leaves the nation-state and all its oppressive apparatus intact. Far from
creating a community based on consensus, the information technologies could easily
create states of alienated and atomized individuals, glued to their computer terminals,
terrorizing and being terrorized by all those whose values conflict with their own. In the
very least, this would require an extension of ‘universal human rights’ to include state
protection from psychological abuse and terror inflicted via the modem.

The question of human rights

The future of democracy in the Third World is often linked with the issue of human rights.
Akwari Aidoo,54 for example, argues that human rights is the foundation of democracy. A
truly democratic state is a state that shows total respect for human rights. The rights that
are argued for in the idea of ‘universal human rights’ are rights against the state: the state
should ensure freedom of expression and dissent, should not engage in persecution or
torture on account of political, religious or ethnic affiliations, should guarantee the civil
liberties of the citizens and a libertarian attitude towards expressions of individual tastes,
feelings and desires.
While the state is supposed to be the guarantor of these rights, everywhere it is the
state which is in fact the most flagrant violator of human rights. Ajit Singh Bains” suggests
that the violations of human rights by the state are not only increasing but will assume
dangerous dimensions in the future as more and more states try to suppress ethnic and
regional movements for autonomy or liberation. According to Harsh Sethis human rights
violations in India have escalated as the state tries to suppress liberation movements in
Kashmir, the Punjab and in the tribal areas of south India. A series of annual human
rights reports by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan5’~“” note the apathy of both
the state and the public towards human rights. While public awareness has increased
marginally over the past few years, the state itself has shown little interest in accepting
international human rights standards. Violations of human rights by the police and param-
ilitary forces have increased and a new blasphemy law has increased discrimination
against religious minorities. However, in August 1991, notes the monthly Hera/@’ for
the first time in Pakistan’s history the judiciary took the initiative and committed itself to
the protection and enforcement of human rights. Following the ‘Quetta Declaration’,
framed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Chief Justices of the four High Courts,
Human Rights Bench of the Supreme Court were constituted and started looking at the
violations of human rights. In /s/am and Human Rights, Ann Elizabeth Mayerh2 suggests
that lslamization programmes have undermined the autonomy of legal institutions and
contributed to the deterioration of standards of justice in Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan
and other Muslim countries. Even where they respect the human rights theory, Muslim
ideologues have shown more fervour in defending their tradition than in probing their
conscience. The newly reconstituted and redesigned index on Censorshipf”mh” reports
massive violations of human rights in Burma, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq and not-so-
massive ones in Britain, France, the USA and elsewhere. Ditto: a stream of reports from
Amnesty lnternational.67,6H Human Rights are Women’s Right+” reports on the abuse of
women in 75 countries where women have been subjected to abuse, rape and other
forms of violence: most of the casualties of war are women and children; most of the
displaced people are women and children; most of the world’s poor are women and

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children. The Amnesty international 7994 Annual ReporP highlights imprisonment, tor-
ture and political killings in 151 countries.
But: are human rights being trampled all over the world just because of sheer evil?
Can there be other reasons as well? Do they represent a symbol for human dignity that
is universally recognized and understood? Does the West have an innate right to insist,
cajole and coerce non-Western countries to accept human rights? Is the issue of human
rights as simple as preserving the civil liberties of individuals?
Third World and postcolonial writers have now started to raise questions about the
‘universal’ basis of the declaration of ‘human rights’.“-‘j Raimundo Panikkar,74 for
example, argues that human rights are a Western construction and the West has no right
to impose them on all of humanity. Indeed, no culture, tradition, ideology or religion
has a right to impose them on all of humanity. Indeed, no culture, tradition, ideology or
religion has a right to speak on behalf of humankind or impose its notion of what it
means to be human on others. The very idea that other cultures are not paying attention
to human rights presupposes an indisputable superiority of Western culture, and even if
human rights were universal, its introduction in other cultures, by force or tying it with
foreign aid if necessary, amounts to the continuation of the colonial belief that the percep-
tions of a particular culture (about God, Church, Empire, Civilization, Reason, Science,
Progress, Modernity) inherently contain universal values authorizing it to spread them all
over the planet.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights assumes a universal human nature com-
mon to all peoples, It further assumes that this human nature is knowable and that it is
known by a universal organ of knowledge-namely, human reason. Moreover, it posits
that this human nature is essentially different from the rest of creation: other forms of life
are inferior to humans and have no human rights, and living beings superior to humans
are not likely to exist. Thus, humankind is the master of all creation, of itself and the
universe: it is not only the supreme legislator on Earth but also the source of all moral
principles. The whole question of an external Creator, a Supreme Being, can be debated
endlessly but it is largely irrelevant and ineffective. The Declaration presupposes a social
order based on liberal democracy where the society is simply a collection of ‘free’ individ-
uals. Again, the individual is seen as absolute, irreducible, separate and ontologically
prior to society. But more than that: it assumes that the individual is the whole person.
Self-interest and desire for absolute autonomy is all there is to a person: the links between
history and community, environment and nature, cosmos and the universe, do not exist.
But the person and the individual are not the same thing. The individual is simply an
abstraction, a truncated and selected version of the person for the sake of practical con-
venience. A person incorporates his/her parents, children, extended family, ancestors,
community, friends, enemies, ideas, emotions, self-image, perceptions, visions, self-ident-
ity. Violence inflicted on a person equally damages the whole community not to mention
the perpetuator of the violence. Thus in the perspective of the whole person, rights cannot
be individualized. The insistence of many non-Western cultures and religious tra-
ditions,“-” on consensus instead of majority opinion, is based on the corporate and
collective nature of human rights. These traditions see God as the source of all morality
and the originator and guarantor of all rights and duties. Theological worldviews regard
the whole idea of humankind as the source of morality as misplaced, arrogant and the
notion of an autonomous individual as naive. They see the notion of the human being
presented in the Declaration as a rather defective reading of what constitutes a human

The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardar

being: are humans simply packages of material and psychological needs, wrapped in an
atomized microcosm? Is this all there is to being human?
Thus, there is nothing actually universal about universal human rights. Indeed, no
concept can really be universal. Concepts have validity mainly within the ontological
and the epistemological framework of their creation. Human rights are universal only
from the vantage point of modern Western culture, but not from the perspective of the
non-West, from the outside looking in.

Human rights and Third World cultures

The whole idea of universal human rights, argue many postcolonial writers, has become
a political device in the hands of the West. They are used largely to defend the status
quo and maintain their dominance. Vinay Lal”O considers ‘the discourse of human rights’
to be one of ‘the most evolved forms of Western imperialism’. It is ‘the latest masquerade
of the West-particularly America, the torchbearer since the end of World War II of
“Western” values-to appear to the world as the epitome of civilization and as the only
legitimate arbiter of human values’. What from an Islamic perspective, writes Pervaz
Manzoor,a’ ‘is, at best, a fluid theory, a wishful moral sentiment, or a misguided foun-
dationalism’, presents itself ‘as a sacred canon, a legal fait accompli, and a binding char-
ter, to which the only permissible Muslim response is compliance and submission’. In
this atmosphere of liberal inquisition, being against human rights seems akin to being in
favour of sin! Questioning human rights is seen by the Western and Westernized individ-
uals as being against humanity itself. But to have misgivings about the theory of human
rights does not amount to the renunciation of the ideal of a common humanity; indeed,
there are strong arguments to suggest that human rights themselves have religious ori-
gins.‘* Neither does it mean abandoning the quest for a humane politics-it is simply a
way of resisting Western hegemony and rejecting the prevailing world order.
Since an autonomous, isolated individual does not exist in non-Western cultures and
traditions, it does not make sense to talk of his or her rights; and where there are no
rights, it is quite absurd to speak of their denial or annulment. However, this does not
mean that the individual is totally unprotected. Indeed, notions of individuals’ dignity
and respect exist in all non-Western cultures even though they may not be formulated
as ‘universal’ theories.‘” Since the starting point is the complex web of relationships
between an individual and his or her personhood, a balance is sought between rights
and duties. In Hinduism, for example, the notion of Dharma, one of the fundamental
concepts of Indian tradition, leads us to a symbolic correspondence with the Western
idea of human rights. Dharma is a multilayered term and incorporates the terms elements,
data, quality and origination as well as law, norm of conduct, character of things, right,
truth, ritual, morality, justice, righteousness, religion and destiny. In Sikhism, the prime
duty of a human being is sewa: there is no salvation without sewa, the disinterested
service of the community without any expectation. The rights of the individual are thus
earned by participating in the community’s endeavour and thereby seeking sakti. That’s
exactly what the Sikh Gurus did themselves. Thus cultures based on such notions as
charma and sewa are not concerned with the reductive exercise of defining the ‘rights’
of one individual against another, or of the individual against the society: the individual
is but a single knot in a web of material, social, cultural and spiritual relationships and
his/her duty is to find a harmonious place in relation to the society, the cosmos and the

The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardal

transcendent world.84 Indian thought on human rights, therefore, contrasts sharply with
the Western model. According to Panikkar, 85 the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist vision of
human rights insists that:

(1) Human rights are not individual human rights only. The humanum is not incarnated
in the individual only. The individual is an abstraction, which cannot be an ultimate
subject of rights. The individual is only the knot in and of the net of relationships
which form the fabric of the Real. The knots may individually be the same, but it is
mainly their position in the net which determines the set of ‘rights’ an individual
may have.
(2) Human rights are not human only. They concern equally the entire cosmic display
of the universe, from which even the gods are not absent. All sentient beings and
supposedly inanimate creatures are also involved in the interaction concerning
‘human’ rights. The human is a peculiar being, to be sure, but neither alone nor so
essentially distinct.
(3) Human rights are not rights only. They are also duties and both are interdependent.
Humankind has the ‘right’ to survive only insofar as it performs the duty of main-
taining the world (lokasamgraha).
(4) Human rights are not mutually isolatable. They are related not only to the whole
cosmos and all their corresponding duties; they form, among themselves as well, a
harmonious whole. It is for this reason that a material list of definitive human rights
is not theoretically feasible. It is the universal harmony that ultimately counts.
(5) Human rights are not absolute, They are intrinsically relative. They are relationships
among entities-entities determined by the relationships themselves. The classical
Indian vision would start from a holistic conception and then define a portion of
reality by the function of its situation in the totality. In a certain sense, the knot is
nothing-because it is the whole net.

This vision has many similarities with Islamic ideas. In contrast to ‘Western liberal tra-
dition of personal freedom which signifies the ability to acf, Abdul Aziz SaidHO tells US,
‘in Islam it is the ability to be, to exist’. The emphasis in Islam, therefore, is on creating
a material, social and spiritual environment in which the individual can realize his or
her full potential to be. This is done by protecting the life, liberty and property of the
individual by law while making the government accountable to the citizens. In Islam,
justice and equality go hand in hand and the judiciary is kept at a respectable distance
from the state to ensure its independence. Caliph Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam, for
example, insisted that the judiciary should be above all kinds of executive pressure and
advised judges that ‘when the truth is presented they must pass their judgments without
fear, favour or prejudice’. So important was this principle that a number of judges in
Muslim history were prepared to be put up with all types of persecution, even to be put
to death, to preserve the independence of their office. The whole notion of accountability,
ingrained in such fundamental Islamic concepts as akhira (accountability before God in
the hereafter), khiiafa (our trusteeship of our environment), shura (consultation with the
public on important matters) and istislah (public interest), has become an integral part of
Islamic philosophy. In the formative history of Islam, leaders had to account to the people
not only on matters pertaining to general administration but more so on how public funds
were managed. Even Caliphs had to seek public approval before they could use public
moneys for any private purpose.

The future oi democracy and human rights: 2 Sard<lr

The notion of an individual person’s rights is not unknown to Islam. In a brief but
well documented survey, Mohammad Kamali H7 shows that even though Muslim jurists
never articulated a precise definition of ‘human rights’, Islamic law was not only cogniz-
ant of these rights (haqq) but it even developed other more comprehensive and precise
concepts such as hukum (judgments or legal decisions of God concerning individual’s
rights) which subsumed the former. Thus, individual rights in Islam do not stop at personal
freedoms but include economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights as well. The
poor in Muslim societies, for example, have a right to the wealth of the community:
z&at, the ‘poor tax’, is one of the five pillars of Islam and is on par not just with prayer
and fasting but with the very declaration of belief in the unity of God. Moreover, Islam
makes numerous other provisions for the individuals to be: for example, all persons, in
a Muslim society, have a right to meet their basic necessities of food, shelter, clothing,
education and health care irrespective of age, sex, colour or religion.“” But Islam always
combines rights with responsibilities. Indeed, there can be no rights without responsi-
bilities. For example, freedom of expression is a fundamental right but it is also a responsi-
bility that has to be met with a sense of justice and commitment to truth.“’ This is why
in the Qur’an the freedom of expression to propagate virtue and righteousness is not only
a right but an obligation. Thus, rights become responsibilities and responsibilities become
rights. Similarly, the individual has a number of obligations towards the community: to
resist oppression of all kind, to promote peace and harmony, to promote communal
values, to safeguard the lives and property of others and to seek socially relevant knowl-
Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Islam too recognizes the right to
found a family, the right to privacy, the right to freedom or movement and residence,
the right to use one’s own language, the right to practice one’s own culture and the right
to freedom of religion. The Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights,“” for instance,
a document formulated by a group of Islamic scholars in 1981 based on the values and
principles of the Qur’an and the Sunnah (the life of the Prophet Muhammad), contains
the following declarations:

1. Right to Life
(a) Human life is sacred and inviolable and every effort shall be made to protect it.
In particular no one shall be exposed to injury or death, except under the authority of
the Law.
(b) just as in life, so also after death, the sanctity of a person’s body shall be inviol-
able. It is the obligation of believers to see that a deceased person’s body is handled with
due solemnity.

II. Right to Freedom

(a) Man is born free. No inroads shall be macle on his right to liberty except under
the authority and in due process of the Law.
(b) Every individual and every people has the inalienable right to freedom in all its
forms-physical, cultural, economic and political--and shall be entitled to struggle by all
available means against any infringement or abrogation of this right; and every oppressed
individual or people has a legitimate claim to the support of other individuals and/or
peoples in such a struggle.

The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardat

111. Right to Equality and Prohibition Against impermissible Discrimination

(a) All persons are equal before the Law and are entitled to equal opportunities and
protection of the Law.
(b) All persons shall be entitled to equal wages for equal work.
(c) No person shall be denied the opportunity to work or be discriminated against
in any manner or exposed to greater physical risk by reason of religious belief, colour,
race, origin, sex or language.

IV. Right to Justice

(a) Every person has the right to be treated in accordance with the Law, and only
in accordance with the Law.
(b) Every person has not only the right but also the obligation to protest against
injustice; to have recourse to remedies provided by the Law in respect of any unwarranted
personal injury or loss; to self-defence against any charges that are preferred against him
and to obtain fair adjudication before an independent judicial tribunal in any dispute
with public authorities or any other person.
(c) It is the right and duty of every person to defend the rights of any other person
and the community in general (Hisbah).
(d) No person shall be discriminated against while seeking to defend private and
public rights.
(e) It is the right and duty of every Muslim to refuse to obey any command which
is contrary to the Law, no matter by whom it may be issued.

V. Right to Fair Trial

(a) No person shall be adjudged guilty except after a fair trial and after reasonable
opportunity for defence has been provided to him. .
(b) Every individual is responsible for his actions. Responsibility for a crime cannot
be vicariously extended to other members of his family or group, who are not otherwise
directly or indirectly involved in the commission of the crime in question.

VI. Right to Protection Against Abuse of Power

Every person has the right to protection against harassment by official agencies. He
is not liable to account for himself except for making a defense to the charges made
against him or where he is found in a situation wherein a question regarding suspicion(s)
of his involvement in a crime could be reasonably raised.

VII. Right to Protection Against Torture

No person shall be subjected to torture in mind or body, or degraded, or threatened
with injury either to himself or to anyone related to or held dear by him, or forcibly made
to confess to the commission of a crime, or forced to consent to an act which is injurious
to his interests.
These rights are combined with the rights to protection of honour and reputation,
to asylum, freedom of belief, thought and speech, free association, privacy, freedom of
movement and residence, and rights of the wealth of the community, status and dignity
of the workers, social security, universal education as well as rights of married women
and of minorities. The ‘Universal Islamic Declaration’, issued by the same group of schol-
ars a year earlier in 19809’ provides a comprehensive list of basic needs of individuals
that must be fulfilled to preserve the dignity of a person. Both of these declaration are
much more thorough than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The iuture of democracy and human rights: Z Sardar

Human rights and human needs

So what problems does the West have with these non-Western holistic frameworks which
combine basic needs and social and communal responsibilities with the rights of the
individual? The Western model of human rights, thought and action, notes Upendra
Baxi,92,“3 finds the problems of needs rather annoying. It is frequently transformed into
a contest between ‘bread’ and ‘freedom’ and freeclom always wins in the Western per-
spective, despite the fact that without ‘bread’, ‘freedom’ of speech and assembly, of
association, of conscience and religion, of political participation, is all existentially mean-
ingless for its ‘victims’. Indeed, it is characteristic of classical and contemporary western
liberal thought to ignore the entire problem of basic human needs. The whole tradition
of discourse from John Stuart Mill to John Rawls illustrates the tendency massively. In
his famous Essay on Liberty, Mi11y4 excluded the backward nations, women and children
from the rights to liberty. John Rawls, y5 in his celebrated Theory ofjustice, acknowledges
that societies where the basic needs of the individuals are not fulfilled do not fit in his
framework of liberty! Liberalism also has a serious problem with the notion of community.
The liberal perspective sees the egalitarian approach of non-Western cultures as denying
the basic characteristics of freedom as belonging to a community consciously demands
some discipline and sacrifice. That it does: no community can exist if every individual
goes his or her own way and defines his or her own morality. But the cultural anarchy
of individualism, so prevalent in the West today, is not only a direct root to extreme
alienation and total fragmentation of society, but also inconsistent with ecological bal-
ance. Its creative potential is oversold and it overlooks the capacity for creativity in non-
coercive communities: look at the artistic, cultural, architectural and scientific achieve-
ments of India, China and Islam! The Islamic heritage of communal concerns and social
consciousness allowed independent non-Muslim cultures to flourish in Islamic Spain and
pluralism to bloom, in more recent times, in Bosnia and today in Malaysia. In contrast,
Western individualism has led to the destruction of numerous native cultures-Tasmanian
Aboriginal, Native American tribes to give just two examples-as well as anti-Semitism
and other forms of racism in recent years. Indeed, liberal secularism is unable to deal
easily with any kind of collective identity except those defined by geography. It is not
surprising than that liberalism is only happy when the non-Western cultures ditch their
traditions and sacred notions and subscribe fully to the liberal creed, Scholars like Ahmad
An-Naim,“’ a follower of the Sudanese reformer Muhammad Taha, who want Muslims
to abandon the ideals of Islam and reverse the principles of Islamic law and jurisprudence,
are widely applauded. 97 But this only amounts to extending the imperialist territory of
the West.
The Western discourse of human rights, however, cannot be sustained for long-
both the doubts within the West, practical experience in fighting for human rights on the
ground as well as the onslaught of postcolonial writers have sealed its fate. The changing
balance of economic power will also ensure that the discourse will shift, in the not-so-
distant future, towards an all-embracing notion of human dignity.
Despite its ‘natural’ and ‘universal’ appeal, human rights theory has had many critics
and detractors in the West. For jeremy Bentham,. 98 for instance, the very idea of such
rights was ‘nonsense on stilts’; for Edmund Burke, 9y their ‘abstract perfection’ was also
their ‘practical defect’ and for Alasdair Maclntyre,lO” human rights are fictions, like
‘witches and unicorns’. In On Human Rights’“’ ’ volume of Oxford Amnesty lectures,

The future of democracy and human rights: 2’ Sardar

seven prominent Western thinkers, give these doubts a concrete form. There is also a
growing reluctance to embrace the term rights and the individualism that is perceived as
its foundation. This reluctance is being shown not just from the conventional quarters of
the clergy in Europe and the USA, but also from contrastive and liberal intellectuals. The
re-emergence of the communitarian movement, based on the ideas of Amitai Etzioni’02~‘“3
in the USA, provides one example. The series of popular critiques of American individual-
ism, produced by sociologists under the leadership of Robert Bellah,“14,‘“5 also emphas-
izes commitment to communal concerns and religious values as an essential counterbal-
ance to individualism run rampant. Similarly, Alasdair Maclntyre’“6 has argued for a
recovery of virtue in the classical sense as an antidote to a paranoid preoccupation with
individual rights. All this is not too far removed from non-Western traditions, for example
the Islamic position, where virtue is emphasized to ensure continuation of tradition and
connect the individual with the community.
In the minds of most people, Amnesty International is equated with the struggle for
human rights. As such, what Amnesty fights for or fights against is taken to be the sum
total of the human right’s agenda: detention without trial, disappearance, torture, extra-
judicial executions, capital punishment. But the human rights activists in many Third
World countries have been forced by experience to broaden their agenda.‘“’ In India,
for example, the human rights actions have taken the form of organization and
empowerment of the tribals, the dalits, the rural poor, and women. Through such organi-
zation writes D L Sheth,lo8 it is hoped, these marginalized groups would be able to
‘articulate their needs and press for their rights, not as passive subjects, but as self-confi-
dent citizens advancing their legitimate rights to survival and well being’. These initiatives
have opened the human rights movements in India, from its narrow focus on civil liberties
to wider issues of basic needs and social empowerment. The state, argue the more open-
minded activists groups, is not the sole adversary: there are the local power structures,
the structures of global dominance and the multinationals-all of whom are collaborating
with the state to deny basic rights to the marginalized. This collaboration, they argue,
has led to particularly inhuman models of development which reduce vast segments of
rural population to total abject poverty, rendering them helpless and incapable of survival.
These models have an in-built bias against the citizens in unorganized and informal sec-
tors who have to be kept in their place as a perpeptual sources of cheap and trouble
free labour.‘“” Their survival problems are attributed by the established economic and
political institutions to over-population and deteriorating law-and-order situations. It is
this population, written off by development and the organized politics, that is now
increasingly becoming a focus of human rights activism in India.
For vast majority of the people of the planet, argues the Malaysian human rights
activist, Chandra Muzaffar,‘“’ the right to food, housing, basic sanitation and the preser-
vation of one’s own identity and culture are far more important than the preservation of
an individual’s civil liberties. ‘Of what use is the human rights struggle’, asks Chandra,
‘to the poverty-stricken billions of the South if it does not liberate them from hunger,
from homelessness, from ignorance, from disease ? Human rights interpreted mainly in
terms of political and civil rights will not satisfy the quest of the poor for human dignity
and social justice. Life and liberty, food and freedom, should go hand in hand if we
want to develop a more holistic, integrated vision of human rights’. For the non-West,
emphasizing the rights of the collectively as a whole is not just a matter of developing
a more complete and holistic perspective on human rights: it is also a matter of survival.

The future of democracy and human rights: 2 Sardar

When most of the world’s political, cultural, intellectual, economic, scientific and techno-
logical resources are controlled and dominated by a few industrialized states of the North,
it is inconceivable that the people of the South would not insist on their right to justice
and equity. ‘By equating human rights to civil and political rights’, writes Muzaffar,

the rich and powerful in the North hope to avoid coming to grips with those economic, social and
cultural challenges which could well threaten their privileged position in the existing world order.
What the rich and powerful do not want is a struggle for economic transformation presented as a
human rights struggle, a struggle for human dignity. If, on the other hand, the discourse on human
rights is confined to civil and political rights, it will be much easier to put governments in the
South on trial for alleged violations of freedom or expression of freedom of assembly. Consequently,
governments in the South will be on the defensive. If economic rights become the central issue, it
is not inconceivable that the North which dominated the global economy will be in the dock.

The control and domination of the industrialized countries on the structures and insti-
tutions of global economy, information systems and media networks, and relentless and
ruthless imposition of Western culture on the South, has a direct bearing on a whole
range of rights in the South. For example, IMF-induced economic structural adjustment
programmes in developing countries, which reflect the interests of the North, force
developing countries to neglect the basic needs of the poor.“1.‘1L This why in many
countries of Africa and Latin America, food production, housing, healthcare, education
and other basic needs which are related to their fundamental economic and social rights
of the population are pushed aside in favour of export crops, tourism and debt-inducing
prestigious ‘development projects’.” ’ In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, intervention by
IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programmes imposed harsh reductions on
government spending on basic needs on the one hand, and high interest on the other.
The result was massive de-industrialization and a steep rise in poverty as social and
economic infrastructures were gradually destroyed. In the South, over 1 billion people-
that is, one in five of the inhabitants of the planet-live in absolute poverty; over 1.5
billion are deprived on primary health care; and 1 billion are illiterate.“’ To talk of
preserving the civil liberties of a few Western-educated elites thus sounds a little absurd.
A recent conference on ‘rethinking human rights’ in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (h-7
December 1994), highlighted a number of ways in which human rights in the non-West-
ern world, in their broader definition, are undermined by the West. For example, the
total control and management of global media by the West restrains and silences auth-
entic voices from the Third World making mockery of the boast about freedom of
expression and free flow of information.“” Western science and technology, Claude
Alvares’ lh argues so powerfully, is an innocuous but effective instrument for depriving
the five-sixths of humanity of their human rights: ‘under the suzerainty of modern science,
the exercise of independent intellect rights are no longer recognized, and ordinary
people-the folk-are considered no longer capable of their own initiative or activity to
provide or attain true and certain knowledge or knowledge of any validity or worth’. This
politically significant right is thus taken away from the non-Western world ‘within the
dictatorship of science’ leading to a ‘demolition of the mind’. Western media-news-
papers, magazines, TV programmes: both imported and those beams by satellites, videos,
films, fashion, pop music, software CD-Roms-also undermines human rights by its
relentless cultural onslaught. Western cultural products have now been popularized in
the non-West to such an extent that they have displaced, marginalized, suppressed, and,
in some cases, totally wiped out indigenous forms of cultural practices and assets.‘”

The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardar

Whole cultures are being threatened with extinction, all varieties of cultural forms from
architecture to food and dress are being replaced, the whole world is on the verge of
total homogenization. What could be a greater right than the right of diverse and ecologi-
cally sound cultures to survival?
Most human rights groups, and their counterparts in the Third World, are concerned
simply with the despotic tendencies and practices at the level of individual nation-states.
What they fail to appreciate is that the suppression at the national level is largely a
reflection of the authoritarianism of the international system. As Noam Chomsky sug-
gests, 118-‘20 it is time that we understood the deep totalitarian strain in the West and the
savagery and cynicism of which it is capable. Focusing on the civil liberties of individuals,
in the guise of ‘universal human rights’, is an attempt to deny the non-Western countries
the right to point out the excesses of state formation in the West and the inherent injustice
and authoritarianism in the global economic system.
The human rights and democracy agenda of the next decade will be dominated by
the struggles of non-Western people to create a space for their own cultures and traditions
and attempts to formulate non-Western, indigenous forms of participatory governance
and views of human rights.‘2’,‘L2 This is an urgent task; otherwise it will be impossible
for non-Western cultures to survive, lL1 let alone offer viable alternatives to liberal democ-
racy and an individualism gone mad. In the West, new directions for democracy will be
eagerly sought’ 24-12h as the experience of new democracies will reveal serious flaws in
the theory of liberal democracy.‘*’ The nature of human rights and democracy move-
ments will change accordingly. Involvement in a politics of transformation, on the one
hand, and politics of conserving non-Western cultures and lifestyles, promoting human
dignity and indigenous values, on the other, will increasingly become the norm.

Notes and references

Cornelia Heins, The Wall Falls (London, Grey Seal, 1994).

2. Robin Blackburn, After the Fall (London, Verso, 1991).
David Held (editor), Prospects for Democracy (Cambridge, Polity Press, 1994).
4. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (London, Little, Brown, 1994).
5. Samuel Decalo, ‘Democracy in Africa: towards the 21st century’, in Bart van Steenbergen, R Nakarada,
F Marti and j Dator (editors), Advancing Democracy and Participation: Challenges for the Future
(Barcelona, Centre Catala de Prospectova, 1991).
6. Rob Buijtenhuijs and Elly Rijnierse, Democratization in Sub-Saharan Africa 1989-1992 Leiden, African
Studies Centre, 1993).
Bart van Steenbergen, R Nakarada, F Marti and J Dator (editors), Advancing Democracy and Participation:
Challenges for the Future (Barcelona, Centre Catala de Prospectova, 1991).
8. Katrin Cillwald, Ana Maria Sandi and Bart van Steenbergen (editors), ‘Central and East European futures’,
Special Issue, Futures, 24 (2), March 1992.
9. 2 Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-First Century (New York, Scrib-
ner’s, 1993).
10. Asma Jahangir, ‘Fostering democracy’ in South Asia: Vision and Perspective (Lahore, Independent Plan-
ning Commission of Pakistan, 1994).
11. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s Encounter with Democracy (Lahore, Vanguard, 1994).
12. K M de Silva, G H Periris and Radhika Coomaraswamy, ‘South Asia: politicized ethnicy, problems of
human rights and environmental issues’ in South Asia: Vision and Perspective (Lahore, Independent
Planning Commission of Pakistan, 1994).
13. Kamal Hossain, ‘Transition to democracy’ in South Asia: Vision and Perspective (Lahore, Independent
Planning Commission of Pakistan, 1994).
14. ‘Confronting potential breakdown: the Nigerian re-democratization process in critical perspective’, Jour-
nal of Modern African Studies, 28 (I), 1990.

The future of democracy and human rights: Z Sardar

I 5. C tnayatullah, ‘Democracy, ethnonationalism and emerging World Order’ in Sushi1 Kumar, Gorbachev’s
Reforms and lntemational Change (Delhi, Lancer Books, 1992).
I 6. Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London, Hamish Hamilton. 1992).
17. Brian Beedham, ‘A better way to vote’, The Economist, 11 September 1993: ‘The future surveyed’, pages
18. Andrew Adonis and Geoff Mulgan, ‘Back to Greece: the scope for direct democracy’, Demos, Issue 3,
1994, pages 3-9.
19. Charles Leadbeater and Geoff Mulgan, ‘Lean democracy and the leadership vacuum’, Demos, Issue 3,
1994, pages 14-25.
20. Plato, The Republic (London, Pengurn Classics, 1987).
21. Aristotle, Politics (London, Penguin Classics, 1987).
22. John Stuart Mill, On Representative Government (1861).
23. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835), two vols.
24. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (New York, International Publishers, 1964).
25. Christopher 6 Jones, ‘Eco-democracy: synthesizing feminism, ecology and participatory organizations’ in
Bart van Steenbergen, R Nakarada, F Marti and J Dator (editors), Advancing Democracy and Participation:
Challenges for the Future (Barcelona, Centre Catala de Prospectova, 1991).
26. Christa Caryl Slaton, ‘Democracy’s quantum leap’, Demos, Issue 3, 1994, pages 32-33.
27. jeremy Corbyn, ‘Political dimensions of northern global domination and its consequences for the rights of
five-sixths of humanity’, in Chandra Muzaffar, Rethinking Human Rights (Penang, Just World Trust, 1995).
28. George Makdisi, The Rise of Humanism in Classical /s/am and the Christian West (Edinburgh, Edinburgh
University Press, 1990).
29. Richard J Smith, China’s Cultural Heritage (Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1994).
30. Merry1 Wyn Davies, Knowing One Another: Shaping An Islamic Anthropology (London, Mansell, 1988).
31. Clifford Ceertz, The Interpretations of Cultures (New York, Basic Books, 1973).
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