• ‘Rise’ – Balancing the Scales

    Posted on by Kim
    During Apartheid in South Africa, two child of different races forge a connection in Cape Town. UN Photo (1982)
    Cover of Rise by Kim Lakin-Smith
    Available to buy from Amazon and Newcon Press

    The story I tell in Rise is not a peaceful one. It was born of my visceral response to a sleuth of horrific news reports – Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ laws, Isis throwing gay and bisexual men from rooftops, the ‘racist’ connotations of Brexit, and Trump’s election. Mostly Trump’s election, and his pledge to build a border wall, and his brutal contempt for immigrants and ongoing maltreatment of refugees. In this increasingly alien world, I saw the vulnerability of my own family, made up of immigrants, members of the LQBTQ+ community, and the registered disabled. I wanted to speak up, to have and voice an opinion. To guard against the horrors my grandmother would describe in stories of her flight from Paris during the Nazi invasion. Taking my cue from the persecuted Vary in Rise and their legacy of storytelling, I sought to tell my version of a catastrophic world where hate is king and the individual can make all the difference alongside a united collective.

    Rise is my cautionary tale. But it is not without hope, and it is not without redemption. Likewise, in our world. All we need do is to find our own way to rise.

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    The International Day for Tolerance is a United Nations initiative, designed to promote peace by advancing mutual understanding between different cultures and peoples. The UN’s International Days are designed to bring attention to worldwide issues while also celebrating and strengthening our achievements. It is this notion of ‘tolerance’ which lies at the heart of both the UN’s own Charter as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Drawn up after the Second World War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted by representatives from all over the world, and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948. It was specifically designed to protect human rights universally and was key to the internationally ratified International Bill of Human Rights (completed in 1966, and brought into force in 1976.) Of 58 member states, 8 voted in favour, none against, eight abstained, and Honduras and Yemen failed to vote or abstain. South Africa’s abstention was read as an attempt to protect its then system of apartheid – a clear violation of several articles in the Declaration. Complications were also brought about by statements in direct violation of Sharia law – namely, that everyone has the right “to change his religion or belief”, and Article 16, on equal marriage rights. The remaining abstentions came from six soviet states who did not believe the Declaration went far enough in condemning fascism and Nazism.

    While many countries have invoked the Declaration over the past 50 years, resulting in an academic acceptance of its standing as international law, others have rejected it as binding. America’s Supreme Court determined that the Declaration “does not of its own force impose obligations as a matter of international law.” Other countries have refused to adopt the articles laid out in the Declaration as domestic law.

    Arguably the greatest criticism levied at the Declaration is that it promotes a purely western polemic. Since Westerners play such a dominant role as funders and organisers of human rights discussions and academic studies, it is their views which are advocated as the universal norm. As a result, non-Western human rights institutions and laws are marginalized. In Europe, for example, circumcision is viewed as a violation of a child’s body, with a court in Germany going so far as to rule it a prosecutable physical act. Conversely, devout Jews and Muslims see these objections as an attack on a ritual which is fundamental to their faith. Likewise, attempts to promote gay rights across Africa has fanned anti-western resentment, resulting in harsher laws, increased funding to anti-gay organisations, and greater attacks on activists.

    What then, is the solution to human rights legislation? How can we guarantee our personal principles do not erase those of an alternative perspective – or even increase human suffering through a bullishly well intentioned, if ignorant, stance? Here, tolerance becomes the mainstay of political amnesty. But can we approach our fellow human beings from a position of balance, with our own inherent morality on one side of the scales and an alternative validated stance on the other? Ultimately, can we tolerate the ‘other’?

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