What Is Culture and Why is the UN Having Troubles Defining It’s Effect of International Human Rights
Here is my opinion about comparing cultures before I get into the international law problems with it:
No culture is superior to another, unless one provide the individual with the right and ability to decide whether to participate in cultural practices and the other doesn’t grant the individual this freedom. A “quality culture”, is a culture that does not govern people but rather acts as a social identity people can choose to take on fully, partially or not at all. These characteristics could be present in a Liberal Dutch culture, Islamic Pakistani culture, conservative Mexican culture and any other. Titles aren’t what matters when it comes to culture. What people do is what we should be looking at. Culture is nothing without people, and groups dynamics are different in different countries and the cities within these countries. The Islamic culture in Bethlehem- Palestine isn’t the same Islamic culture like in Tehran- Iran, or Islamabad- Pakistan, or Dearborn-Michigan. Wait why am I crossing oceans already, the difference between the culture in Bethlehem and Gaza are vast, I guess this is enough to get my point across.
What does the international community have to say about the creation of International human rights? I recently read a statement (attached below) by The American Anthropological Association wrote to the UN commenting on this issue. I will be using it for the sake of explaining my point of view in this post:
This was back in 1947. Long long time ago I know but this statement raises a very crucial issue about the meaning of a “Culture” that is still relevant and still very critical.
The problem I faced while reading it is the lack of attention given to the individuals as their own selves before being part of a community.
Culture is a complex term and one of the words with the most definitions in the English language. I personally disagree with the way it was defined by the American Anthropological Association. In their response they stated: the meaning it [culture] gives to the individual’s behavior, moral values, dreams, hopes and etc., along with its effect of this on his individuality and life makes the individual’s identity inseparable from the larger group identity. Therefore, the personality of the individual can not develop independent of the culture of the society which they belong to. Thus the individual is unable to function outside of their society and culture.
The concept culture is usually used to define any common patterns of behavior a society has and other beliefs of what is commonly regarded as the right way of life. Culture can refer to: common heritage, customs, traditions, themes related to language and religion, foods, and so on. The report mentioned that there is no scientific technique in place to qualitatively evaluate cultures and thus we should not consider any culture superior to another. The question this claim raises is: can a quality of a culture ever be measured? Can a culture be suitable to every individual born into it? The answer is probably no. Does this allow us to conclude that if we are interested in protecting human rights we should value the culture and beliefs of each individual more than the collective group culture:
Culture is just like nationality, gender, race and other things that an individual does not have the opportunity to choose for him/herself; since they are born into them, and sometimes give the choice or “forced” to embrace them and allow them to shape their lives. And culture is different than these categories in the sense that individual has the ability to leave their culture and join another. In other words, a culture can be changed. Certain cultures are more conservative than others and within the same culture some cultural norms are more valued than others. An individual is able to reject parts of the culture, or the culture as a whole. I am saying this simply because humans are free to think the way they want regardless of whether they are able to outwardly act they way they think or not. Different cultures respond differently to their individuals choosing disagreeing with cultural norms. It could be viewed as a denouncement of origin, dishonoring the culture, a threat to the culture, or simply an individual right. The American Anthropologists Association claimed in the report that individual cannot function outside of the societies in which they are part of. This statement assumes that once you are born into the culture, you have no control over how your life is shaped by it, and because of his you are part of it and cannot leave it. I have strong opinions about this issue and it is coming from a personal experience. Leaving my culture was the easiest since I never felt like I belonged. And it is the case for many others too. Culture is a tool to help people “blend in” together and have a form of a shared social identity. If an individual does not agree with the culture, then the culture failed to provide him what it is intended to do and thus imposing it on him is a violation of his human rights.