OPINION

Humanist values

The exaggerated, if not naive, talk about the impending «end of history» following the collapse of the Soviet system underscored popular hope and anticipation that the values that had won the Cold War above all expressed respect for man and man’s diverse cultures across the world. It was hoped that the new era would be pervaded by a spirit of humanism and by the recognition of certain fundamental rights for everyone – including the West’s enemies. This hope, which united people throughout the world, was not an empty one. It was based on knowledge of the nature of Western political systems and the values enjoyed by the victors in the Cold War. Any occasional lapses were seen as exceptions that elicited condemnation by the public and its political leadership. In the decades following World War II, the experience and the memories of the wartime carnage that swept the world, fueled a desire for a different approach to human problems. After the end of the Cold War, it seemed that the West was set to spread its value system across the world as even non-Western countries were attracted to the ethics of tolerance and respect for humanist principles. Recent developments have dashed those hopes. After launching an unjustified war in Iraq that caused massive human casualties, the USA is now faced with revelations about American troops being involved in the brutal torturing of Iraqi detainees – acts in which the transgression of basic human values is accompanied by an incredible sight of sadistic pleasure. America’s enemies responded with an equally brutal and sadistic beheading of a US citizen. The repulsive incident was recorded on tape after the example of American soldiers who took pictures of their captives’ mistreatment. At the same time, Israel, which is keen to portray itself as the sole democracy in the region, continues to kill, imprison, torture and demolish the homes of Palestinian people. The principles of humanism have suffered successive blows from within. These severe setbacks are at odds with the purported moral superiority of Western political systems while they represent a direct attack on the principles of tolerance, pluralism and the recognition of the «other» as equal. We must all realize the peril facing the West – even more so the US, which has the power and the moral obligation to set the example. Its recent «examples» have been deeply disappointing. They call for a swift and spectacular correction. Otherwise they will have been nothing but a lesson in violence, brutality and backwardness.