Shortly and eventually I came across three totally different fictional books having a plot situated in Saudi Arabia. In my opinion it is still a country on which myths, rumours or lurid tales do the rounds and little has been proven. In order to narrow this knowledge of mine (and ours) gap I borrowed three non-fiction books covering this kingdom strived from the desert. Thereby, I chanced upon a book called „International educational dictatorship“ by Jürgen Bellers.
His final statement started a reflection process on me on European human rights policy: „There is only one normative consequence to be drawn from what has been said: Not the world wide enforcement of (individual) freedom should be the goal which would be very much westward intended. As since the times of Plato not freedom but justice is the core value: each to his own. Each to its own when it comes to nations. This may not exclude the adherence to a minimum of human rights. Traditions of different societies may be observed. The question is what is good and appropriate for a nation. This may vary regionally. Moral is also a subject to geography“ (p. 26). In the following I would like to give an account of what I noticed.
Comment on the peace report 2011
Before we get into the book of Bellers I would like to cite one or two sentences from the peace report 2011 that take the same line. The first article in the report editor’s comment focuses on the revolution in the Arab world which has just begun lately.
Two sentences of this essay are remarkable: (1) „Many of us did not put the destruction of the wall of fear past the Arabs “ and (2) the disproof of the assumption, “Islam does not get along with individual human rights.“ The conclusion drawn by the author „they (the revolutionary masses, the editor) force states as well as social actors of the West to completely reconsider their policy towards Arab societies“ closes the circle to Beller’s paper and to his already mentioned final statement.
The impact of preachy political campaigns
Bellers analyses in his paper (and that three years ahead of the Arab spring) the theses „that policy, foreign policy and society are put across via the media. They often come as preachy political campaigns which make a negative impact on the external decision-making processes“ (p. 3). To analyse the reasons for such a development is the focus of Berller’s paper.
On page seven he throws down the gauntlet to the reader saying „the realisation of this ideal of equality of humankind is the main goal of the German civil society that has found its new (ersatz) religion in human rights topic: people (currently especially women) shall be as free and equal and possibly also as well off as the Germans – regardless their historical background.“ Bellers calls this „mission“ the search for an ersatz religion, justified by the trauma of the Thirty Year’s War. Refined by the student movement of 1968 (that did not produce any new values) which lead to the search for a collateral security system: „Up to now we are the world champion of insurance deals“ (S. 5).
Demands for human rights without compromises
There is talk about (political) participation of the civil society. Namely in organisations such as „Amnesty International“. This one, Bellers claims, seems to have fallen victim to the „sickness of the almighty“, meaning it interferes everywhere and controls everything. Thus it might have lost track of its original purpose. As an example Bellers draws the AI attacks against the Catholic Church: „A few at the basis (of AI, the editor) are already talking of human rights abuse in the Catholic Church (no democracy, no women as priests) by now!“
Beller draws the bow back to the foreign policy of Germany by acusing chancellor Merkel of floating with the tide when she meets dissidents and human rights activists abroad achieving positive effects for the next elections. Bellers describes this action as „foreign policy negative process“ which he explains with an insufficient definition of national interests (p 11).
The author defines ‘National Interest’ as „foreign policy goals, which are argued for a certain time by a nation and are backed up by the vast majority of the population (p. 11). These goals are basically determined by the geographical position of a country. Since 1949 that is the „Integration into the European Union“ for Germany.
The sick man on the Gulf: The kingdom Saudi-Arabia
Starting form page 13 Bellers applies his previous findings to the relation between Europe and the Arab World, a region which the western hemisphere might not associate with the observation of human rights.
Whereas Northwest Europe pays hommage to the „Fitness-God“ and praises individual freedom as the most precious asset, masses in the Arab World turned to Islamism in the 80s, placing their hope on it as a „remedy against Western dominance“ (p. 16). According to Bellers that is due to the lack of a (martial) settlement between the confessional camps (Shiites vs Sunnis) on the one hand and on the other hand to the absence of an ersatz religion (such as nationalism or socialism).
The „religiously dominated developement“ of this region, Bellers claims, is characterised by the following factors: (1) no periodical governmental changes (which is common practice in democracies), (2) marginal up to no industrialisation, thereby neither a civic nor a proletarian class could have come into existence and (3) the government system is either based on the military (e.g. Egypt and Syria) or is „sultanic“– i.e. dependent on a multifaceted social basis – such as in Morocco, Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
Bellers summarises: „These social facts do not have to be accepted within human rights policies namely, however it is of vital importance to be aware of them in order to find a successful solution” (p. 19).
The next section is about German human rights policies. Since 1987 there is a subcommittee for „human rights and humanitarian aid“. This committee is basically concerned with the human rights reports of the federal government which are characterised by a „lack-lustred amplitude that is meant to simulate action“ (p. 19). Under the federal governmant of Schröder/Fischer a human rights commissioner was inaugurated.
Bellers attests the German human rights policy that compared to the American option, it acts„on soft feet“. The author favours the definition of a country-specific human rights policy. He illustrates his opinion by giving the example of Saudi Arabia. Granted, but Bellers might have chosen on of the most difficult candidates on the international parquet floor by that. On the one hand this might be due to the traditional- wahabistically shaped society and on the other hand to the economical (the biggest oil reserves in the world) and political importance (a geopolitical block towards Iran) of the country.
Limits of the atlantic-european democracy model
When adopting the atlantic-european democracy model to the Arab Weld, Bellers says, the model might be faced with its limits. To be successful, it is essential to avoid the intensification of the existing anti-western drifts within the Arab and the Third World as a whole. It is rather necessary to incorporate the traditions of a country. The author suggests six points for the implementation: (1) The definition of explicit objections within the meaning of a cooperative human rights dialogue, (2) to show respect towards the characteristics of the Saudi-Arabian society, (3) initially the discussion should be restricted to the basic human rights such as the right to physical integrity, (4) Dialogue at eye level – not doctrinaire, (5) Discussions in realistic and suitable ways and (6) obtain the support of the Saudi royal house against fundamentalist drifts.
At the end Bellers sounds a note of caution when using a sweeping swipe that preaches the normative (-westernized) concept of a free government under the law. He suggests considerations to that effect that also an “alternative traditional justice- and human rights system” could do the job.
What makes Beller’s book worth reading in my opinion is the concept of „showing respect“ towards alternative concepts of life. The adherence to basic human rights goes without saying. Still, it is advised to reflect whether – even well-intentioned – demands of European human rights activists are really expressing the needs of the „target country“. And whether they are not sometimes just drafted out of a western-democratic understanding that (due to ignorance?) neglects the social, societal and traditional facts on-site.
The German „taskmaster“, who – allegedly done for the best – wants to implement the right to individual freedom all over the world would be well advised to talk to the population or their representatives at first to find out what is not best for him (and his humanistic conscious) but for the parties involved. As a suggestion I would like to refer to a typical example taken from the development aid: the failed well construction in the Third World.
- Peace report 2011, comment of the editors
- Bellers, J. (2008): Internationale Erziehungsdiktatur? Sozialer Wandel, imperiale Zivilgesellschaft und Außenpolitik gegenüber Russland und Saudi-Arabien. Diskussionspapiere des Faches Politikwissenschaft: Rote Reihe. Universität Siegen.
- About Jürgen Bellers.