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Promoting ‘liberal values’ or superimposing an ideology?

2 December 2011 06:30 pm - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The attempts to enforce moral philosophies, beliefs and standards by some groups in the West, upon the world’s poorest countries, under the package of ‘universal values’, by using aid as a tool contradict the very notion of democracy that the West purports to uphold. To do so at a price –in cutting off aid – is also absolutely immoral.
Such moves are not about promoting liberal values or broader democratic norms but are attempts to market an ‘ideology’, call it a ‘liberal ideology’! Democracy is all about reflecting the will of a given group of people and certainly not a superimposition of any ideology.
In a democratic framework, if change is needed, it is the ‘insiders’ who must agitate for change. It is perfectly acceptable for ‘outsiders’ to voice their opinion on issues that might be of interest or of concern to them. Indeed, there are times when such ‘outside’ voices can be essential for a country’s overall well-being and sense of direction. One does not hesitate to welcome a candid exchange of views and constructive dialogue through a variety of platforms including the media.
In his keynote address at the inaugural ‘National Conference on Reconciliation’ held on 24 November, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa presented, what is perhaps, the government’s position on the issue when he said:
“It is evident that cultural norms differ from country to country. People living in the United States of America, or Australia, or Canada, or the United Kingdom, or any other country, have no proper understanding of the ground situation in Sri Lanka, nor do they understand our current cultural context. It is not for outsiders to impose their values or their judgments on Sri Lanka.”
Whether donor sanctions should be imposed on countries that do not adhere to a set of mostly moral values of the donor country is certainly questionable. It is simply undemocratic for a foreign entity to seek to impose its ways on others less affluent and powerful.
This explains why some African states have reacted strongly to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s threat to withhold aid from countries that do not reform legislation banning homosexuality.
Tanzania, whose main donor is Britain, has unequivocally stated that the West has gone too far with its aid strings by trying to enforce practices that contravene the country’s culture and religious values.
Ghana has said that it is willing to forego aid rather than pass laws allowing a practice that is frowned upon by the majority of its citizens.
The point is that it is not simply a question of whether or not homosexuality should be decriminalised but more a question of whether foreign aid should be used as a tool to coerce a sovereign state to change its laws. Should the press for change not come from within?
David Cameron explaining his stance on the issue of aid and homosexuality in an interview with BBC One’s Andrew Marr show in Perth, Western Australia on 30 October said, “This is an issue where we are pushing for movement, we are prepared to put some money behind what we believe.”
Is it not wrong for the British Prime Minister to seek to impose such ‘beliefs’ on other countries and to dictate terms to them? This was a question I posed to John Rankin, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, whom I interviewed for the Daily Mirror.
Rankin first clarified that the British Prime Minister’s comments are not applicable to Sri Lanka given its status as a middle-income earner and the reference was for aid that comes under the “General Budget Support” category of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).
The High Commissioner said, “No, I don’t think that it is wrong to promote our values through aid. This is money of UK taxpayers and we seek in our foreign policy to encourage all countries to promote and respect fundamental human rights.”Is Britain, through aid, trying to market its own ideology? Rankin stated, “I would say that it is for individual countries to make their own decisions in this area and we cannot determine what other governments do. But in our foreign policy we try to support human rights and values and I make no apology for that.”
Indeed it is for each government and its people to decide upon the laws that it should adopt. An imposed democracy is a good example of an oxymoron and it is wrong for a foreign country to impose its ways on others through aid or even otherwise.
Money from DFID’s General Budget Support is aimed at poverty reduction in some of the world’s poorest countries, the vast majority of them being African and some Asian.
The people of these countries are in dire need of financial assistance to help them overcome poverty and it is simply immoral for wealthier nations to throw them into more abysmal waters, by tying aid to issues such as gay rights.
It has even been argued that this really isn’t about human rights, but about finding pretexts to slash foreign aid due to the European financial crisis. But irrespective of whether or not this is the case and quite apart from Cameron’s patronising tone, the British Prime Minister’s statement has actually served to undermine the gay rights’ movement in Africa.
At a time when even one’s own elected government is being urged to refrain from imposing ‘values’ on its citizenry, how can it be reasonable or acceptable for a foreign government to seek to impose its values by threatening to cut off aid to countries which do not listen to them?
By Ayesha Zuhair
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  • NISHTHAR IDROOS Sunday, 04 December 2011 12:29 AM

    Neo liberalism and its retinue of active protagonists dispersed throughout the world are defiant on one matter, true to their secular ethos they’ve managed to curve a solid opposition to bequeathed morality or divine guidance, instead have chosen to promote inchoate and socially detrimental values based on individual desire. Propelled by the apparent wave for democracy that’s sweeping the world, especially the Middle East, the social insulation against western evil will soon begin to crumble and disintegrate. Acquiring political rights at the expense of immorality bespeaks of a deep rooted and irremediable malaise. Sri Lanka should not fall victim to this. Never in the history of this world has a prominent politician from the western hemisphere connected homosexuality and aid. This is bizarre and repulsive to say the least, but who are we to inculcate morality to the civilized?

    faqi Saturday, 03 December 2011 08:02 AM

    Beggars cannot be choosers. If so then do not beg for aid. End of story. Of course international aid is tied to issues and policy.


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