BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
20th October 1999
Pakistan has been ejected from the Commonwealth. The idea is to put pressure on its leaders to get in line with human rights and to implement democracy.
In contrast, yesterday began the state visit of the president of China, who was welcomed with a state banquet at Buckingham Palace. Why? Because it seems the right way to convince him to get in line with human rights and to implement democracy.
There are those who think that a ban from international sports or an embargo on pop music and fizzy cola would carry more weight. But, it’s not for me to comment on the effectiveness of a particular political measure. What is interesting is the use of “different strokes for different folks” to achieve acceptance on the universal principle of human rights.
Such a seeming contradiction has precedent. For one, it is found at the heart of Hindu theology. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is said that, “Everyone follows God’s path in all respects.” The same verse then says, “And yet God responds to everyone according to their specific relationship with Him.”
Human rights are principles we would wish to be universally accepted. They are a common theme promoted by the world’s faith traditions. The Hindu scriptures say that exploitation of another is a great sin. No one has the right to disturb the life of any living being. If we receive a benefit from anyone, we must repay them with service and gratitude.
Yet, even when there is a common principle, the application of it varies according to time, place and circumstances. It would be a mistake to think there are repeatable, easy solutions in dealing with life’s complex conundrums. Certainly, the task to influence others to accept such ideals must take into account the different situations and tendencies of all the individuals involved.
But, whatever the chosen method of persuasion – sanctions, warnings, diplomacy or aid - it will be effective only if it is consistent with the objective – a point illustrated in the fable of the wind and the sun when they each try to remove the man’s coat. Despite all the bluster of the wind, the man wraps his coat ever tighter around him. But the sun understands that a little warmth will convince him he no longer needs an overcoat.
A sanction calling for the implementation of democratic rights must be democratic in nature. That goes beyond simply passing a resolution in someone’s absence. It involves dialogue, an effort to understand the specific circumstances and a willingness to contribute to the sacrifices and changes that are asked for. Because that, after all, is how God deals with us© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.