1. REGIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL POLITICS (Prof. Hisae NAKANISHI)
Chapter 1: Liberal Theory and the Middle East
Tri Widodo W. Utomo (M1-DICOS)
Aims of the chapter:
1. Exploring the implications of theoretical trend (i.e. the growth of HR issues)
involved in the ME discussion.
2. Examining the assumption underpinning the trend, by reference to a specific
part of the real world.
The rise of ‘Hegemonic Abstentionism’
Hegemonic abstentionism is a term referred to political theorists who seek to
limit the application of universal concepts of HR The attempt to develop and
implement universal codes is fundamentally mistaken.
Reasons for refusing the liberalization / generalization of the concept of rights:
• Values are specific to particular regions or communities (Plato, Spinoza,
Rousseau, Hegel, Marx).
• The possibility of a rational and universal approach to rights has been
• Universalist or rationalist approaches is skeptical (Hampshire).
• Universalist or rationalist approach is denied, but dialogue between
different groups is allowed (Walzer) Community has “local
• Belief in the universality of Western culture is false, immoral, and
dangerous (Samuel Huntington).
• The law of peoples (John Rawls).
Implications for the ME
Those new political theories mark a new stage (the fourth) in the Western
discussion of HR in ME.
3 earlier stages in the discussion of rights in ME region.
1. The ‘Bulgarian Atrocities’ approach (during colonial period). This approach
concern with the fate of Christians and citizens of Christian state, in the
Muslim world. Non-universalist.
2. 2. The rise of nationalism and inter-ethnic conflict period. This trend invokes
universal codes, but is not universalist.
3. The issue of relativism. This takes the form of a critique of Western
domination and ethnocentric concepts. In the Far or Middle East, this
argument is made not by those whose rights are denied, but by those who
are denying them, or by their Western friends who derive financial benefit.
Hegemonic abstentionism as the forth stage:
• For Western states, it provides a rationale to downplay the issue of HR or
democracy in the Middle Eastern context.
• For ME countries, it provides a rationale to limit external criticism of their
HR practices or the application of universal codes.
The Laws of Peoples
John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (1971) mentions about the basis for a liberal
political order. Values can be universalized through a set of procedural
In other words, this theory could be developed to encompass both the issue of
international relation in the strict sense, and universality. This is known as
However, 20 years later, Rawls changes his outlook. He mentions that the law of
peoples does not entail that all societies should be liberal, but only they respect
certain minimal principles. This is also known as well ordered hierarchical society,
that is, non-liberal but in a minimal sense law-abiding state.
3 requirements of well-ordered hierarchical society/state:
• It must be peaceful and gain its legitimate aims through diplomacy and
• The legal system must be ‘sincerely and not guided by a common-good
conception of justice’. Moral duties and people’s interest must be
• Such a regime should respect basic HR.
Societies / states that do not meet these criteria, can be classified into two types:
“outlaws”, and “unfavorable conditions” state. They lack the political and
cultural traditions, the human capital, and resources necessary for a
3. Application to the ME
There is no one state in contemporary ME can be categorized either as a liberal
state or as a well-ordered hierarchical state. However, there are gradations. Some
Arab states allow certain political freedoms, while Israel permits a judiciary to
function with considerable independence.
2 major problems regarding HR:
• Group or collective rights, especially in Turkey, Sudan and Israel.
• Individual rights, especially in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq.
Therefore, ME countries might be classified either as outlaws or as lacking the
preconditions for being well ordered. Some cases support this classification:
• No Muslim state allows complete freedom of thought for those who seek
their religious belief.
• None permit full equality of men and women.
• Many limit the rights of other religions.
The point is that the denial of HR may be legitimated in terms of religion. But it
is not impossible that religion is used as a means to authorize the political and
social practices. To sum up, the concept of a well-ordered hierarchical society in
ME not only does not apply, but also inapplicable.
Tradition, community, religion: historical and moral problems
1. Historical Distinctiveness
Cultures, religions, and communities are being assumed to separate entities
into which the world is divided. Such historical separateness that continues
in some sense will characterize the contemporary community. However, this
model of distinct tradition has a weak argument. For example, throughout
history, there is no state in ME that has a religious life limited by the
frontiers of that state.
There is an assumption that moral problem is related to a “given other”. For
example, where the religion plays a constitutive role, people tend to say that
their culture or religion, including its interpretation, is the true one.
However, all culture or religion allow of different interpretation and
4. 3. Authority and Interpretation
This kind of problem is about who defines the values of the community and
the criteria for deciding on the accuracy of claims to authoritative definition.
According to Walzer, the answer is “local prerogative”.
4. The Right to Dissent
This kind of problem is about whether the individual loses the right to reject,
criticize or escape the codes of the community. There is no need to labor
such disagreements since there is a claim that something is part of the
country’s tradition. Genital mutilation, public execution, family violence, is
a tradition in which individual can’t deny it.
5. The Preconditions for Liberalism
Based on the model of discrete societies, there is ‘a closed and self-contained
democratic society’ in one hand, and ‘societies that lack such condition’ in
other hand. However, this point is misleading, since there is no society, both
liberal and non-liberal, that is democratically close or self-contained. Both
liberal and non-liberal societies are a product of a historical process of
• This trend in political theory does not offer a way of resolving the broader
debate on HR and its application to areas such as ME.
• The challenge is not to produce theories of community or tradition, but to
address the ethical and practical problems in applying the universal code
that exist and which most regional states have signed up to uphold.
There is never-ending debate about HR between developed and developing
countries. Different philosophical thoughts, cultural values, historical
backgrounds, and socio-political interests, are the reasons why HR concept
can’t be implemented universally. However, the value of HR itself is a universal
thing, but needs modifications when it will be applied in a particular region.
The most important thing is that people in such region have a freedom to
express their socio-cultural practices, while the government should maintain
good relation with the citizens.