You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > Human rights — all things being equal
The homework he set himself and his team was to understand the “nature of moral transactions” between ordinary people; what people coming from different cultures “actually do when they confront each other on issues of moral principles”. The lingua franca and elite discourse of rights talk has been vernacularised, certainly. But has it taken root? Moral globalisation has taken place. But whose practices has it shaped? He writes:

How, in the age of globalisation, do we negotiate our differences if all we have to go on is a procedural universal: that all human beings are entitled to respect and a fair hearing, that no one’s view must prevail by virtue of their race, gender, religion, creed, income or nationality?

It is fascinating that Ignatieff, for whom Eleanor Roosevelt and the authors of the Universal Declaration are to the world what the authors of the Declaration of Independence are to America, is prepared even to question the insufficiency of the “procedural universal” which is human rights. And this comes early on in the book, whetting our appetites for evidence.

Instead of evidence, however, what we are offered is eight long chapters of Ignatieff’s ideas about, yes, policing.

He starts near to home: Jackson Heights, New York. After assuring us that there are lots of foreign foods there, Ignatieff reads us the news — in this case of Eric Garner’s tragic death at the hands of Staten Island police. Which of course leaves us waiting to hear his on-the-ground observations about the immediate response of local African-Americans to the event which catalysed Black Lives Matter. But we’re waiting in vain, as we’re subjected to a lecture about why fairness must be the norm for police-community relations. That’s certainly true, but we were hoping to hear about what ordinary people think about, well, anything.

Ignatieff concentrates on policing, it turns out, because the only people he has really talked to on his global tour are policemen. In Jackson Heights, we find him chatting to an NYPD officer, who explains why the crucial task of infiltrating New York mosques can occasionally be perceived as intrusive. I bet, but how do Muslims think about the tension between national security and religious freedom? We’re not told, because he hasn’t talked to any. While in Los Angeles, after again reading us the news — this time getting us up to speed on the Rodney King riots of 1992 — we find Ignatieff talking to the LAPD about brokering relations with municipal agencies to improve rubbish collection. Before more generalities: “when Koreans in Los Angeles feel they get no police protection at all, trust collapses.” Interesting, but it would have been good to call on some Koreans.

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.