|Dr. Farooq Hassan — D.Phil (PhD); BA. Juris. (J.D.), MA., M.Litt. (Oxon); DCL (Columbia); DIA (Harvard); Fellow & Professor of Law & Foreign Affairs, Harvard; Barrister at Law, UK, Atty. at Law, US; Senior Advocate Supreme Ct. of Pakistan (QC); Special UN Ambassador for Family, Special International Ambassador for Ageing|
This Madrid international conference on the “family” is being organized as a part of series of World Congress of Family (WCF hereinafter) being the 6th of such Congresses. Without doubt it is an important milestone in this series as it takes place at a juncture in our modern history in which the world’s only super power has declared officially its opposition to the core avocations of this World Congress.
I am particularly pleased to see that this major international conference is being organized in Spain through HazteOir.org, described to be a “grassroots movement fighting the culture war... for the Family, Human Life, Religious Freedom and Freedom of Education,” and plans to galvanize the local Spanish people by engaging in public debate by “mainly using Internet as a powerful tool to reach out, inform, promote participation...and trying to influence” local and regional politics.
I facilitate the conveners of this meeting for providing a meeting place which aims to provide an open, impartial and independent forum to discuss important issues relating to how the “Family” can be strengthened in the face of what are clearly emerging as the chief current threats.
The theme of the Conference is “Family: Marriage, Children and the Future of society.” It is a theme which would particularly be useful to the average civic activist, scholar and student, since it is both broad yet sufficiently focused to be meaningful. It also gives the ardent scholar an opportunity to adapt an historical approach to the discussions that would take place in the history making city of Madrid during 25th to 27th May, 2012.
Other approved topics include:
It is my aim in my eventual paper to bring out the moral and philosophical foundations of the modern family in the context of the relevant topic that I have in mind to address. While attending to this historical legacy, indeed heritage, it is manifest that we, must a fortiori, go back to the roots of our moral and ethical foundations.
The significance of Faith and Religion and its role in the significant evolution of our civilization’s history and background, including the Laws that the relevant society chooses to operate under becomes self evident.
Naturally, the compendium of such laws that the various important states make assumes special significance. Why? Since norms of international law or the product of the international organizations that are thus created, is of highest significance and unreservedly qualifies as the highest echelon of the available lawmaking procedures. Such is the strength of these laws, that their contents are cited with approval by the highest courts of countries.
In Texas vs. White, the most recent of the US Supreme Court matters (in this case the SC refused to accept the Texas law in which sodomy stood criminalized), extensive citations were given by Court’s Justices, of international legal texts to support their point of view.
I must make this reference to the binding effect of such international laws since in utter naiveté protagonists of the pro-family NGO community, make unrealistic claims that the law in question is somehow not “law.”
Not only this is a trend that needs to be confined and eliminated there is the additional hyperbole engaged in by such NGO advocates of the pro-family groups that they attribute the creation of such laws to bias alone of the UN or other international body that created the laws in question.
As the Madrid Conference topics are available it would benefit the readers to go through the more important thematic articulations of the same. The major themes, according to the daily schedule of the conference, are as follows:
There are also specifically included in the Program a number of Panels; these are on the following concrete subjects:
The panels of discussion on this second day are:
On the third day of the Congress deliberations, the following topics are slated for analysis;
A word about the organizers & the WCF Committee is relevant at this stage; an evaluation of their thoughts and ideas about this meeting are, prima facie, pertinent.
(1) The official publicity material speaks of this particular Congress as being organized by a “grass roots movement.” I am sure that several multi-faith bodies who with the support of other organizations that strongly value the importance of the family would appreciate such comments.
The efforts of all responsible citizens and public officers who encourage and undertake measures designed to maintain and strengthen the Family which, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, Article 16 (3) is the core & fundamental unit of society would like this to be so supported.
But the larger and by fundamental legal cum philosophical inquiry must be faced. Is it really necessary or indeed beneficial for any large scale movement to need such a support from an organization? Conversely the previous five Congresses were never claimed as such by the organizers. Would or should they be any less considered because of this fact? I think nothing is really gained by using such terms as “grass roots level” which have a decided political connotation.
There are two Committees that are responsible for such selections, viz: Planning and Selection Committees of the WCF. More often than not they have met together for conducting the business of the World Congress. In this larger Committee of the Organizers I must pay special vote of thanks to Larry Jacobs who has done so well in the absence of Dr. Alan Carlson. Despite myself being a member of this Committee, I could not attend any of the meetings, which I very much regret. However, the objective criteria of any international category are more satisfied when such meetings produce a meeting of the minds of diversified background.
With these preliminary thoughts in mind, it is necessary to now turn to address briefly the themes that would be analyzed in this important conference. In this category there is a strange kind of anachronism.
(2)While list provided above has subjects are really diversified still some obvious ones are missing. The foremost topics that are not on this list include a reference to the historical & ethical foundations of this institution. It is manifest that unless we are able to discuss the progress of problems connected with the pivotal place of the FAMILY in the broad social fabric of different societies, we may be missing the opportunity that is really indispensable. While my own paper would deal with this question, it would be in-appropriate for a variety of reasons to give an index of such matters for now presently in this presentation.
(3) The presentation that I hope to eventually make myself in Madrid would examine this perspective. But in line with this thinking I have selected for conveying my fears to spell out the dire need of examining the foundation of the Family and threats to it from many leading current and traditional indicators.
(4) In order to appreciate the totality of the situation we may with advantage, look at the conference documents issued thus far by the WCF. Amongst the Objectives of this meeting appears the following:
“Objectives: To support the “Family in Western and Southern Europe (particularly Spain)... Learn from the more mature pro-family movement and the experts... Influence the new Spanish Government (Nov. 20) so that it abolishes part of the Zapatero project...”
(5) Again in the heading under Measures of success it provides for to "Craft a declaration adapted to the moral, social and political concept of Western and Southern Europe“... makes it clear that the focus of the conference is geographically on the regions mentioned above.
(6) The focus emphasized above by the WCF itself is more emphatically pointed out by its Managing Director Larry Jacobs who reportedly commented:
“The 2012 Madrid Congress will raise high the natural-family standard in a nation where the family has been under constant assault for the past 8 years. The socialist Zapatero government instituted same-sex marriage and adoption, eased access to abortion, lowered the age of consent and liberalized Spain’s divorce laws, making it one of the most anti-family regimes in Europe.”
The rationale provided by our distinguished colleague really makes it abundantly clear why the Conference was given to Madrid. Without going into the details of my own thoughts on this aspect of this meeting, I find the argument really unconvincing that the motivation of holding it there is predicated by the hostility of the Spanish Government vis-à-vis the Family!
Were this so, then the most marked hostility towards the institution of family is to be found in the foreign policy objectives of the Obama administration. Indeed the compendium of other evolutionary legal measures which have taken place in the US in the shape of constitutional initiatives, legislation and court decisions, far surpass the disadvantageous steps vis-à-vis the Family that may have taken place elsewhere in this regard.
Since the major address of Secretary of State Clinton on these matters, it is not really possible to intellectually discuss the family without reference to US Foreign Policy Declaration on Gay & Lesbian Rights. The Madrid conference under the thematic rubric of “Family: Marriage, Children and the Future of society” could have gone further than its predecessors. Its topics are broad and wide and thus capable of dealing with a spectrum of subjects.
But now I am afraid we must deal the after effects of the Obama doctrines on the relevant issues. Since this is the first academic type of article being written on this subject, I find it necessary to extensively dwell on the contours, implications and nuances of the US developments on the Madrid conference.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could have given some invigorating remarks about the importance of human rights on the 2011 International Human Rights Day in Geneva that occurs on 10 December every year.
She could have taken the opportunity to take some swipes at Iran or the Taliban or other important policy matters concerning human rights in US foreign policy.
But instead she gave an address that made everyone sit up and notice:
“Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an ‘invisible minority’.”
Secretary of State in her comments about this “invisible minority” which according to her consisted of “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people”. It was a milestone address because it made this highly controversial issue sound very simple point that gay rights are part of human rights — an argument that may sounds obvious to her but which has been repeatedly denied by countries around the world.
The most interesting (and un-American) part of the speech was that she didn’t use her speech to set up the United States as any kind of beacon for human rights or get on a moral high horse. She acknowledged that the American record was “far from perfect.” She didn’t use her pulpit position to just trumpet the Obama administration’s own record — for example, the effective repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the armed forces.
She actually looked abroad for inspiration — to South Africa, Colombia, Mongolia, and India:
“To highlight one example, the Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexuality in India two years ago, writing, and I quote, ’If there is one tenet that can be said to be an underlying theme of the Indian constitution, it is inclusiveness.’”
But I must say that she was legally amiss in saying so about the Delhi High Court verdict as the Indian Supreme Court has admitted for hearing a regular appeal against this verdict.
She was further apparently uninformed that the law in question which was declared as such was none other than a well-known provision of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which had declared homosexuality as a deviant behavior akin go the crime of bestiality the section of the IPC was drafted in London, UK, by Lord Macaulay in 1873, and forms part of the criminal law of over fifty countries even today.
The reference to the Indian court is, per se noteworthy. When foreign leaders decide they need to acknowledge inspiration from India in a speech, they don’t usually look to the Delhi High Court. Their speechwriters do a quick search on “Famous Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi” instead.
By singling out the Delhi High Court judgment at a time when it is being challenged in India’s Supreme Court, did the United States just decrease its stature about the norms of rule of law?
Gay activists in India might bask in the sunshine of that unexpected plaudit, but they should also take a moment to learn something from her speech that in the US itself if the matter awaits the SC decision, it is hardly possible for anyone with any credibility to cite the verdict under appeal!!!
Too often the fight for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people get bogged down in the same arguments. I may further mention that her comments about India did not go well with the Indian leadership.
“We don’t need the West dictating its values to us. This is against our Indian values. It’s illegal, immoral and against the Indian ethos,” said the BJP’s senior leader, BP Singhal. Yoga guru Baba Ramdev claimed that it offended the “structure of Indian value system, Indian culture and traditions.”
Clinton took that point head-on by proclaiming and indeed challenging the mores of Eastern cultures to Western outlook. “Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do.”
But then from this perspective she went further and said that gay rights are human rights, and that you cannot do to gay people what you would not do to other humans. You cannot just hide behind the veil of culture, value systems or tradition. There cannot be a “women exception” or a “Dalit exception” or a “gay exception” to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then it’s not universal at all.
This led her to further defend the liberal philosophy of traditional discrimination against women. This was done by her as an adroit politician by relying on an obviously unassilable point; she took gay rights to a higher pedestal.
“Take women’s rights. Terrible things have been done to women in the name of cultural tradition: This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women, like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal.”
Clinton then went on to say that
“it’s not that honor killings do not happen, but it’s harder to excuse them as just part of culture. But homosexuals still exist outside that circle of protection. A gay man can be hanged in Iran for being gay.
Fifty-two men can be picked up in a boat party in Cairo and thrown into jail. Robert Mugabe can call homosexuals in his country ‘pigs and dogs’ with impunity. We are much readier to hold homosexuals to a different standard because we regard homosexuality as unnatural, not part of our culture.”
Clinton then further said that activists expend a lot of energy to make gay rights make sense in their cultural context. That makes sense. It’s important for us to argue for something that looks like its homegrown and not imported from New York or Amsterdam. It’s vital for us to research and reclaim our own gay and lesbian history, as Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai did in their book Same-Sex Love in India.
But while the fight for equal rights can and should be local, the issue is universal. As the Universal Declaration of human Rights, 1948 states:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Clinton showed in her speech that ultimately there must be a line in the sand before it turns into the quicksand of cultural relativism. Some things are just not negotiable. Otherwise, you slowly strip the “universal” out of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the detriment of us all.
In Geneva she reminded us that whether you are fighting for gay rights in Washington, D.C. or at the Supreme Court in Delhi, it’s actually not about gay rights at all. Because as long as you are fighting for gay rights, you are fighting for special rights. She concluded by thundering: “This fight is actually about human rights.”
This gives anyone to seriously ponder over how best to prepare for the Madrid WCF VIth World Congress to meet the multidimensional threats that need to be focused upon.