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Hypocrisy & Human Rights

| by Ruwantissa Abeyratne

As I said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself. Great peacemakers are all of integrity, of honesty, but humility.
- Nelson Mandela

( July 18, 2014, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Hypocrisy has been defined as the practice of claiming to have moral standards and values that are not consistent with those of the person who claims to have such values and standards. Wikipedia defines hypocrisy as the claim or pretence of holding beliefs, standards, feelings, qualities, opinions, behaviours motives or other characteristics that one in actual fact does not hold. Hypocrisy is when one claims a virtue one does not possess and ascends to a level above others. It is said in Dhammapada 394: "What is the use of your matted hair, O witless man? What is the use of your antelope skin garment? Within, you are full of passions; without, you embellish yourself [with the paraphernalia of an ascetic]".

A hypocrite who inwardly does not believe in human rights and wrongs another cannot be accepted as an enforcer and proponent of human rights since, simply put, a human right is a right not to be wronged. In other words, a right is not to be deprived wrongfully of a legitimate right. Therefore, hypocrisy and human rights are inextricably linked with the fundamental glue of "honesty" where human rights are made tangible, accessible and real by those who mean what they say and say what they mean.

A nation’s compassion inevitably flows from its recognition of its people’s rights. An individual’s rights flow not from an arcane institution, nor from God, but from an instinctive recognition of the various needs of that person not to be wronged. Today’s world is full of wrongs and there is no reason to believe that tomorrow is going to get any better. For every citizen of the world, rights have never been so important as they are today, although we tend to take them for granted until they are endangered or eroded. Instinctively, we are inclined to appreciate our rights even more when they are in jeopardy of being infringed. In this sense, the time honored adage that human rights are “inalienable” purely because they flow from a supernatural force is misguided and baseless, not because there is no such force but because such a force does not speak to humans in a single voice and rights should exist even if there were no God. Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University, in his book “Rights from Wrongs” states that rights do not come from nature, as nature is value neutral, nor do they come from logic or law alone because, if rights emanated from law, there would be no basis to judge a given legal system. Dershowitz maintains that rights come from human experience, particularly experience with injustice. Our experience has taught us never again to tolerate a holocaust, never to curb freedom of expression and freedom of faith, and from that experience has stemmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter. These documents, which embody fundamental rights are just pieces of paper if experience is not joined by logic. The marriage of logic and experience in the wisdom of human relations is ingrained in ancient Jewish philosophy, which, according to Isaac Abravanal, recognized that experience is more forceful than logic but logic and experience are not mutually exclusive. Without being applied to experience, logic tends to be hollow and directionless, but without the focus of logic, experience becomes multi directional and out of focus. Good decisions come from experience and experience comes from bad decisions. In other words, rights emerge from wrongs and not from ancient parchments or tomes of wisdom hidden away in a forgotten memory that is subsequently revived.

The essence of a nation should be founded on human rights that are contrived from single instances of wrongs committed against the people. According to this principle, a right becomes something that is legitimately due to a person which he can justly claim as secured to him by law, and which ensures that some wrong committed in the past is effectively precluded by the right so secured. A right should not be confused with power, the former being based on moral justification and expectation and the latter being based on enforceability. Protection by the state of an individual, freedom to attend church or temple, and freedom to educate oneself are examples of a right where as sovereignty of State, authority to censor speech and enforce martial law are examples of power. A wise nation distinguishes between the two and maintains a balance.

The hypocrites of the world are those who assume positions of power by giving the causal illusion that within their positions of power and in their puritanical benevolence, they are ensuring the rights and welfare of those who depend on them, while in fact the opposite is true. The leaders of some African States have been brought before the international courts for depriving their citizens of their fundamental right to life and liberty. Others have been done away with by those whose rights have been blatantly taken away. These are all people who preach one thing and do the exact opposite. They also preach religious doctrines to give an aura of saintliness and virtue.

Alan Dershowitz said: " hypocrisy is not a way of getting back to the moral high ground. Pretending you are moral; saying you are moral, is not the same as acting morally". There is an age old story of a "holy" man who had matted hair and wore old clothes and gave the appearance of a pious mendicant. A wealthy trader, who took pity on him, built him an abode, and for safe keeping kept his family wealth of 100 gold coins in the phoney old man's abode for safekeeping. The old man stole the money one day and went to the trader saying he must now move along so that he would not abuse the trader's generosity and hospitality further. The trader begged of the old man to remain, but the old man went away with the trader's life savings tucked under his belt.

After he went some distance the old man thought he must return to the village and make sure the trader did not suspect him. So he went to his abode, plucked a blade of grass from the roof and placed it on his head. He went to the trader and said: " Sir, I found this blade of grass in my hair which belongs to the abode you so kindly gave me and came to return it". The trader said, "venerable sir, what an honest person you are to return even the blade of grass that stuck to your head". Such was the old man's hypocrisy.

Later, of course, the old hypocrite was caught and the trader's wealth restored to its rightful owner.
The morale of the story is given as: " be careful of a holy man who puts on a big show".